My Father Finds Home Through the Birds




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.

 

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