Claudia Ann Seaman Award
Runner-Up for Poetry
Sarah Fathima Mohammed
San Jose, CA
The Harker School
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.
Genuine and raw, "Swollen Mouths" tackles difficult topics of discrimination and sexual assault in a seamless and beautiful narrative.
EDITORIAL PRAISE FROM TARA BETTS, POETRY JUDGE
In a poem that begins with lips swollen from a kiss to lips parched from a grandmother's long journey, the poet ties together two different utterances that tear the speaker with the kind of hurt that arrives brutally. However, the poet offers these two events braided together into a narrative poem with careful couplets and soft turns toward the lyrical.
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