When they ask you where you are really from

Tell them
You are an unrequited pilgrim
Two parallel lives that never touch
A whisper or a window
To what your country could be
If only it opened its arms
And took you whole

Tell them about the moon
How she eats at your skin
Watches you pray and fast and cry
While the world sleeps
How she gives birth to herself and dies
And you wish upon her children

How you wander her night
Plant cardamom in your friends’ eyes
Cumin in their teeth
Zaatar on their brow
Lick the rest off your fingertips
It tastes of visa-on-entry
Heaven with no random checks

Round the iftar table everyone speaks
Of politics and God
Trans rights and colonialism
We forget we didn’t speak the empire’s tongue


When they ask you why you speak so well
for an immigrant:

Tell them about your grandmother’s laugh
How you never quite knew whether she was story or myth
The upper lip in your conviction
Or a song ringing in your bones
Drifting through the kitchen window
With the fried shrimp and newspaper voodoo dolls

Tell them how you have always been a voodoo doll
Your feet licking the flames
The stove-top eye a television screen
A news bulletin
An open casket
The needle pushing and pulling through your skin
Every puncture a question played by an accusation
Every bullet hole an answer you have to fill

With silence
With religion
With Xanax and daytime television

And when the muazzen calls you to pray on the radio
You will wrap your limbs in cotton sheets
Walk through the crowd with your hands in your mouth
Waiting for the gun.

LISTEN to ‘When they ask you where you are really from’ by Mohamed Hassan

Mohamed Hassan is an award-winning journalist and writer from Auckland and Cairo. He was the winner of the 2015 NZ National Poetry Slam, a TEDx fellow and recipient of the Gold Trophy at the 2017 New York Radio Awards. His poetry has been watched and shared widely online and taught in schools internationally. His 2020 poetry collection National Anthem (Dead Bird Books) is shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

​Poem source details >


Mohamed Hassan's website

National Anthem (Dead Bird Books)

Twitter: @mohamedwashere

Facebook: @mohamedhassanpoetry