Swollen Mouths

Sarah Fathima Mohammed

San Jose, CA

The Harker School

Poetry

All covered up, aren’t you? Well, that’s okay.

I like my girls exotic, a blonde boy murmurs into


my mouth, his fingers palming the flesh

of my hijab. The words blister my throat, a type


of searing heat I cannot swallow. Innocence

escapes my body, now emptied


and hollow. Outside, San Francisco holds bitter

stars in its trembling, gray mouth, glittering


buildings only a parched mist. If Amma

were with me now, she would clasp my hands so


I could feel her hardened calluses between

us like the raised, pulsing valleys she once crossed


barefoot, holding only an extra hijab and coconut

milk that spoiled in the American sun. When Amma


arrived, she had pressed her mouth to hot dust, trying

to hold this country like a second scalding mouth.


A pregnant second passed before a man ripped

the hijab from her head. Get up, you terrorist, he said,


slapping her mouth, which was already burnt

by the land she worshipped.


The man tightened his grasp

on the gun under his belt, an unpronounced threat.


Last summer, Amma and I traveled back

to her tiny village in Kumbakonam.


Vappa shut the creaking

kitchen door behind us, throwing the onions


and cotton thread. The cardamom and raw

branches of turmeric laid thick in front


of our newly arrived bodies, sprawling on the cold kitchen

floor like a burial ground. We were just another


vehicle for housework. We wiped the sweat

off our faces before it entered the masala


we made for Vappa. What love is nestled

in our hometown? What life remains for us,


where the only thing Muslim

women can hold is the water sputtering


out of the kitchen faucet?

Even God's holiest water runs


out. Now, pressed between the boy’s

body and the San Franciscan sky curling


loose fists in the dark, I can taste Mama’s condensed

syllables in the infinite space


between our bodies.  She is telling me

this is why we live in America.


Because freedom comes

before untouched, softened mouths.


If Amma were here,

we would clutch each other like


amnesty, desire and intention spilling

shallow prayers from our crumpled mouths.

EDITORIAL PRAISE

Genuine and raw, Swollen Mouths tackles difficult topics of discrimination and sexual assault in a seamless and beautiful narrative.

Sarah Fathima Mohammed is a first-generation, Muslim-American immigrant and emerging writer. She attends The Harker School in San Jose, CA and will graduate high school in 2023. Her work appears or is forthcoming in DIALOGIST, Rattle, Diode Poetry Journal, Apprentice Writer, Canvas Literary Journal, and elsewhere.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR