Back to Issue Twenty-Eight.

Portrait with This Country

Semifinalist for the 2019 Gregory Djanikian Scholars Program


Kiss someone. God
                      will rat you out. He’ll deliver a dream   
to your mom     where she learns what you’re up to, 

awakened from her deep slumber 
with prophetic visions    of your sins. 
She’ll bust your door 

                       down in a rain of spark-
spittle, fireworks, shout,      this would never have happened 
if we hadn’t come to this unholy    country. This country blamed 

for every fallout, failure, clash   for freedom. 
But this could have happened     back in Yemen, too. 
                       Remember: No new land     

can change what has been set.    Your book is already written, 
your thread-thin soul chosen      especially for you. 
                       Stay alert: You’re in a car 

at a redlight in Apex, NC.    A white hand in the truck beside you leans 
over, draws 
                       a gun, points it at your window.  

And at school you speed-walk, picture     your spinal cord 
shot, barbell knobs scattered     on lunchroom floors, 
the lids of your eyes      blood-scruffed, 

smelling like jitters, singed sulphur.     You glance behind 
brick buildings every four seconds,       hijab a lighthouse,
                       fulgent white flash. 

Pretend to read signs, tie     your shoe, in case you spot 
                       the gun again, dull heat 
in another pale hand.      You’re sweat-itchy,

drunk on fright, always ready  to rabbit-kick away 
from anywhere.    Then a cousin, sharp-slick 
whiz, hexing smile      dead at nineteen 

in a hit-and-run in his own Florida front yard. 
His parent’s home filled     with fresh melons, grilled kibbeh, 
                       mourners with cups     of black tea crying

Islamophobia, hate crime,    about their place in the food chain -
not just a human body, ripe, a little 
                       titled, nails gnawed, breath-starved,

throbbing with panic.    They’re rough husks hauling 
their bellies through crowds at grocery stores, in line at the bank, 
waiting to become     another dark absence,

                       bleeding hub, another murder bloomed 
lurid. All of them still plagued     by the uncle in Yemen
who never made it back      home from the market, ten years 

missing. The child shot walking    to school. The daughter 
stoned for staying out late    with a stranger - yet 
                       all still agree this would never have happened.

                              O, this country ruined
                                            our children    this country 
        is a ruin    this ruin
                         is our children
        this country
                          is our country 
                     is this      our ruin

                     is this 
                                    our country 
                                                              is this

Threa Almontaser

Threa Almontaser is an Arab-American writer, translator, and multimedia artist from New York City. A first generation college student, she is a MFA candidate at North Carolina State University and the recipient of scholarships from the Tin House Summer Workshop, Winter Tangerine, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and others. Nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best New Poets, she is winner of the 2019 Claire Keyes Poetry award, the 2018 Brett Elizabeth Jenkins Poetry Prize, the 2017 Unsilenced Grant for Muslim American Women Writers, and more. Her work is published in or forthcoming from Nimrod International Journal, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Baltimore Review, and elsewhere. She currently teaches English to immigrants and refugees in Raleigh, edits for the Sun Magazine, and enjoys traveling to places not easily found on a map. For more, please visit


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