a girl disappears & another sprouts in her place
identical unblemished takes her name
& washes it clean of old disgrace

i wash my name of its every tyranny its purity
& wrap it tight about myself my body
is ancient is mine & hers & hers before

fallen like milkteeth only to grow eternal
into the waiting aperture before i arrived
my same body was mottled collected

under fingernails between teeth my name
taken outside my body first daughtered
& then disgraced taken from a dead woman

but in my custody will never die not ever
not again a girl is plucked & another grows
in the space she leaves behind

unfurling like mint leaves girls like weeds
like heads of hydra cut down only to multiply
to double twin girls where once was only

one a girlchild is buried alive & three push
through the soil come harvest a girl is taken
from her bed at night & in the morning four wake

from peaceful sleep their voices echoing in chorus
the world is dense with girls lush & saturated
with girls assembling dark as knotting sugar

into each wound caulked into every absence
every name returned from its tombstone every daughter
reinstalled blood a dark blue blood unlet

Part of SAWTI Zine Issue 1
Safia Elhillo is the author of The January Children (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), which received the the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets and a 2018 Arab American Book Award. She holds an MFA from The New School, a Cave Canem Fellowship, and a 2018 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. In addition to appearing widely in journals and anthologies, her work has been translated into several languages and commissioned by Under Armour and the Bavarian State Ballet. With Fatimah Asghar, she is co-editor of the anthology Halal If You Hear Me (Haymarket Books, 2019). Elhillo was listed in Forbes Africa’s 2018 “30 Under 30” and is an incoming 2019-2021 Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.

Photography by Amaal Saaid