about the author

Threa Almontaser is a Yemeni-American writer, translator, and multimedia artist from New York City. She is a MFA graduate from North Carolina State University and has been a Tin House Summer Scholar, a writer-in-residence at the Kerouac House in Orlando, among other fellowships. Nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets, and included in the 2018 Best of the Net Anthology, her work is published in or forthcoming from Penguin Random House, The Offing, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Adroit Journal, Passages North, and elsewhere. She is currently at work on several projects, including a debut poetry collection and her first novel. For more, please visit threawrites.com.

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One Poem  

Threa Almontaser

After Running Away From Another Marriage Proposal

I’m not lonely, I’m alone. & I’m holy by my own. —Jamila Woods

You’re already too old, my mother said
before I shifted. The dish I was scrubbing
scattered itself. A sudden urge to chase
the shards, pick them up with my tongue.

Slow gold swirl of my eyes—I’d been at
the threshold, hanging on to my last
molar. So when she said it, my muscles
moaned. Black fur fired from my back,

spine greeting a new shape, one that could
run faster. When I see my mother again
a month later, I’m rank with river scum.
Open the door. Behold the crouched animal,

all spasm & itch to bound off again. I smell
the twitch of her nerves when I muddy her halls
with thistle, slap myself on the sofa like a fur throw.
When I bring a black crow to her bedside,

jowls full with the daughterly need to gift,
to please: flicker of narrow maw, its wings
drooped like a silk fan—half-dead prey
in her hands & she must pretend to prize it.

I wait for a mother—s approval, for her human fingers
to tear it apart, fix its feathers behind her ears
so that every nod might lift her up a little.
I want to be a daughter-boy, biggest of all

her kids, hurl barrels & pull cars
with my whole chest for her.
I have her tendency to drift into daydreams,
& is that why I can’t keep a steady interest

in the men that come my way?
I like owning each day, going missing
without being missed, but grandkids
can’t be birthed in loneliness.

I think I’ve described a ghost lover
too translucent to be kissed—lint-blur,
scentless angel, bristling arm hairs
the only thing giving them away.

But I’m also smoke unspooling
from a mouth most days, elusive
as water, distant, out-of-reach
without the right incantation, a full moon.

I ran without a pack. Alone until I reached
a mountain where I watched bodies moving together:
herd of caribou heading north, knees clicking
when they walked—tendons slipping

so they didn’t separate. Baba would whistle
to herd us as kids, tie ropes to all our waists.
Don’t lose them, Mama would say, clutching tight
at the terminal, I, a stain at her side. We were like

the cattle he grew up with, the only way
he knew how to keep us close.
Years ago, a reindeer was found inside
a Greenland shark. How did it get there?

Why did it wander from its warm huddle?
Baba changed the news to Arab Idol.
The only Yemeni group sang. Judges cried.
Baba called right then, I just heard you sing.

It reminded me of home. They laughed & talked,
the singer not surprised to have a stranger
find his number on Facebook, give him a ring
like a war-lost brother catching up. Mama watched

from across the room. I longed for it, to be familiar
& unabashed with someone. Yes. It would be nice
to have my beast coaxed out of the trees, reminding her
of the weight of the loving, their honest flesh & belly-heat.

A cousin says marriage will come for me,
too. Until then, you’re a half-person.
But she doesn’t know that I’ve stolen
my grandma’s beauty marks. Her magic

for mapping the goldest honeycomb.
Always, there was sweetness when she fed me
with her hands. I carry my grandpa’s
dirty mouth. How he can bury a man

with just the curse words that zapped from him.
& my aunt’s skin condition. For finding beauty
in decay. My body like the poplar leaves in fall,
turning rutilant. I keep the bullets embedded

in my uncle’s back. The night air still smells
of his jacket—bison, dying, burnt paper.
Leather that’s seen the battlefield, faced
the water, creased white from shoveling.

I learn my mom’s skill with needle & thread,
her robes that had everyone dancing. I wear
my dad’s resilience like a headscarf—on me
everywhere, the playground where a humid,

gray haze loomed over us, skin hanging
from my knees, tears lost in the mist,
my dad’s whistle so that I found my way
out of the fog. & these things complete me.

My mother damns the moon its brightness,
the wild it stirs. But she, too, wore her own
wolf once. Before my dad, before the move,
when she was a girl like me, & wanting—

in a country run by sheikhs & kings, she
& a friend dressed in men’s thobes, sauntered
into malls, parks, behind the wheel of a car,
moving as suns, their rays hitting

anywhere they wanted. How intently
those caribou had watched the skies
for golden eagles. The sunlight played tricks.

What I thought were two reindeer
rutting in a sudden spell of desire
was instead a cutthroat clash, antlers knotted
in anger. I prayed for a piece of blood-fed

bone, velvet-soft, to break off, hot
& waxy weight with me always.
When I looked up, the moon said,
Go. Gnaw down to the white marrow,

spit their gristle on the ground.
Become a full grown she-wolf,
glutted & content with your wholeness,
each fat heart glowing in your lap.

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