Volume 69, Number 1 · Fall 2019

Short Essay on Property

it is helpful to pretend that ownership
      is the antonym of loss    that we own anything
becomes a fiction if the weapon is cruel

back home we all know the story
     about the woman whose house   wallpapered & warm
scrubbed white & gleaming   caught the eye

of the president’s wife       &    still furnished
     was taken away             or the story about [         ]’s body       or
[         ]’s body       or [             ]’s      or mine

as a child i would sit for hours   in tepid bathwater
      & play at falling in & out of myself   spread the fingers
of my hand & think  [how do i know this is my hand]

& then the hand is no longer mine   the face crooked
      in the water    no longer mine       the form burnished by
fingerprints     by teeth    evacuated & no longer mine

once    i fainted in the front row of a twigs concert
      & lost my place    when i woke i’d been moved away from the stage
& cursed my dilapidated body   longed to discard it

& watch the show from above          once      i fainted
      on the    subway platform & arced into the dark track    once
in a patch of greenery by the nile        during a game

played with my cousins where we pressed at each other’s
      throats until the body folded & came to    a sensation identical to blinking
swift darkness        then waking in the soft black dirt

to the reddening sky above     scorpions shimmering
      the sparse grass     my body a house i could depart & return to
body an unlocked door        body my small & failed container

[how do i know this is my hand]     the story continues
      this way the woman whose house was taken   said nothing    found another
hung curtains & beat the carpets        & peeled the plastic

from two brocade sofas   & installed her children
      in their rooms & sank   her body into a chair & the president’s wife
came again to call        touched her fingers to the walls

Safia Elhillo is the author of the poetry collection The January Children (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), which received the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets and a 2018 Arab American Book Award, and a novel in verse, Nima on the Other Side, which is forthcoming from MAKE ME A WORLD/Random House. She is coeditor of the anthology Halal If You Hear Me (Haymarket Books, 2019) and a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.