THIS PIECE APPEARS IN THE HIGH/LOW ISSUE OF THE LARB QUARTERLY JOURNAL, NO.29.
My Father Finds Home Through the Birds
Pigeons on Broadway follow him like winged guards. He bargains
with a yard finch to peck us
when we cuss. Someone’s love birds let loose
in the hood & my father calls them
with a whistled song, the soft clapping
of his heart. Along broken leaf light, he marvels a hawk’s lonesome flight
into the emptiness, its feathered breast
a qibla. He can’t trace his footprints.
He still wants to belong, even after leaving.
How does a Baba know when to remain, & when to unravel the nest?
He grew among the ancient zaytun his whole
childhood, & see how they spill
their oil on his arms
like an invasive species. I peck for something daughterful,
something that won’t chip
his teeth, leave seed pits
in his shoes. I long to hang our homeland
on the wall, eat it like a beak hammering at bark, the violent
hunger. For someone to point me on a map, take their finger
& say, Here she is. Darwish wrote, Words are a homeland. So I bring my father
to listen to a white professor describe
the village his family comes from
to feel less alone. It is stunning, words I would wrap
in a gift box, place in front of his mother’s prayer rug.
But somewhere in the bucolic, a cousin digging, ruby-throated, searching
for his leg. The neighbor, grass in her mouth, spit-
feeding her baby. Maybe it’s how the man says soil, the way he uses crimson
to evoke our mud brick homes.
Or maybe it’s how he compares noon
reflecting off the mountain’s fog to fire. My father’s America
has a thicker mist
than those Yemen woodlands. My father’s America has a glass window
where he sees someone like him,
flies forward too fast, concussed
& caught in the long wind.
I bite into olive stones to feel my Baba’s migration.
I hurl them into ponds — the way Zeus hurls his bolts of jewel orchids, lamping the sky.
There is a raptor collecting fox fur in his beak, held by
the sky like large spectral
hands. Who decides to extend
into that deafbarren gap, but the thing
that wholly gives in? There is a submission in flying, in the wind
that gathers him, feathers splayed
& begging the sky to grant
just an eighth of its tribe to call his.
Threa Almontaser is the author of the poetry collection, The Wild Fox of Yemen (Graywolf Press) selected by Harryette Mullen for the 2020 Walt Whitman Award from The Academy of American Poets. She is the recipient of awards from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Italy, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fulbright program, and more. She teaches English to immigrants and refugees in Raleigh.