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Elhillo, Safia

Elhillo, Safia


A Pushcart Prize nominee, Safia Elhillo is Sudanese by way of Washington, DC. A Cave Canem fellow who received an MFA in poetry from The New School, her debut The January Childern (University of Nebraska Press, 2017) is praised by Kwame Dawes as “The first sound of what will be a remarkable noise in African poetry.” Recipient of the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets, Elhillo’s work appears in several publications, including POETRY MagazineCallaloo, the anthologies The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop and Again I Wait for This to Pull Apart.  Her additional fellowships include that with The Conversation, and Crescendo Literary and The Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Incubator. She has shared her work at such venues as the New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway, the Kennedy Center, the South African State Theatre and TEDxNewYork.



the arabic word هواء   /hawa/ means wind

the arabic word هوى   /hawa/ means love

test: [multiple choice]

abdelhalim said          you left me holding wind in my hands


abdelhalim said          you left me holding love in my hands

abdelhalim was left                empty


abdelhalim was left                full

fairouz said                 o wind take me to my country


fairouz said                 o love  take me to my country

fairouz is looking for              vehicle


fairouz is looking for              fuel

oum kalthoum said     where the wind stops her ships   we stop ours


oum kalthoum said     where love stops her ships    we stop ours

oum kalthoum is                     stuck


oum kalthoum is                     home


the lovers

khartoum in the eighties
my mother with ribbons in her hair
dress fanning about her nutmeg calves

my father
who i hear
was so lively & handsome
that only bad magic could have emptied
& filled him with smoke

the borrowed record player
the generation that would leave
to make nostalgia of these nights
to hyphenate their children
& grow gnarled by
every winter

but tonight motown crackling
into the hot twilight
mosquitoes drifting
near the lanterns
my parents dance
without touching

second quarantine with abdelhalim hafez

the lyrics do not              translate

arabic     is all verbs        for what

stays still         in other languages

تصبح    to morning       what the

translation      to awake      cannot

honor      cannot contain its rhyme

with تسبح      to swim   tomake

the night a body               of water


i am here now &  i cannot morning

i am twenty-four        & always

sick      small for my age & always

translating                i  cannot sleep

through the night


no language               has given me

the rhyme            between ocean&

wound           that i know to be true

sometimes            when the doctors

draw my blood                       i feel

the word   at the edge of my tongue


halim sings       أغرق             aghraq

i am drowning                      i am drowning 

the single word       for all the water

in his throat          does not translate


halim sings              teach me to kill

the tear in its duct          halim sings

i have no experience              in love

nor have i a boat & i know he

cannot rest                   cannot swim

through the night


i am looking     for a  voice       with

a wound in it         a man who could

only have died              by a form of

drowning                 let the song take

its  time                let the ocean close

back up


The January Children (University of Nebraska Press, 2017)

asmarani (New Generation African Poets: Tatu) (Akashic Books, 2016) [chapbook]

ars poetica (MIEL, 2016) [chapbook]

a suite for ol’ dirty (MIEL, 2016) [chapbook]

Winner, 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets

Nominee, 2016 Pushcart Prize,

Winner, 2015 The Brunel University African Poetry Prize,