Snapshots of the Body as a Bomb

2018 ODU-Poetry Society of Virginia-Academy of American Poets College Poetry Prize Graduate Winner.


Nishat Ahmed


September 12th, 2001: the cop

at my elementary school says, I’m sorry

I can’t let you in.He means to say

You are brown, and dangerous.

My lungs holler to god the first time

I kiss you, barefoot and drenched in Chicago summer,

screamthank you. Your body curving into mine,

marble against copper.

At a stop sign the cop exits his vehicle,

hand on his hip, on his gun, I cork my throat,

thrust my hands out the window. He says

Is this your car?He means to say Give me a reason to shoot.

By this hour even night noises have gone

to sleep. I press a palm to my chest,

count the thumps, and wait for either

the eyes to shut or the heart to miss a beat.

Two weeks following the election,

a patron says I don’t want to be served

by your kind. Says I want to speak to the manager.

Surprise: I am the manager.

In sleep you whisper my name, hand squeezing

my shoulder, your voice soft as your sheets.

Even in the dark your skin glows, unlike mine—

just a thread in the fabric of night.

At seven I hunch over in a tub, nails

scrubbing until skin gives,

think I’ve finally struck gold, go look

in the mirror: still brown, now bleeding.

The curtain pulls back to the sold out pit.

No one expects a face like mine

center stage. My drummer hits the first beat of the kick drum.

My mouth opens every lung in the room.

TSA selects me for the fourth time this month,

motions me to a booth. The agent says

take off your clothes. He means to say take off your skin.

I stand there naked, weeping.

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