MOHAMUD AT THE MOSQUE
By Susan Rich
~ for my student upon his graduation
And some time later in the lingering
blaze of summer, in the first days
after September 11th you phoned –
if I don’t tell anyone my name I’ll
pass for an African American.
And suddenly, this seemed a sensible solution –
the best protection: to be a black man
born in America, more invisible than
Somali, Muslim, asylum seeker –
Others stayed away that first Friday
but your uncle insisted that you pray.
How fortunes change so swiftly
I hear you say. And as you parallel
park across from the Tukwila
mosque, a young woman cries out –
her fears unfurling beside your battered car
go back where you came from!
You stand, both of you, dazzling there
in the mid-day light, her pavement
facing off along your parking strip.
You tell me she is only trying
to protect her lawn, her trees,
her untended heart – already
alarmed by its directive.
And when the neighborhood
policeman appears, asks
you, asks her, asks all the others –
So what seems to be the problem?
He actually expects an answer,
as if any of us could name it –
as if perhaps your prayers
chanted as this cop stands guard
watching over your windshield
during the entire service
might hold back the world
we did not want to know.
Today’s poem was published in the collection Cures Include Travel (White Pine Press, 2006), and appears here today with permission from the poet.
Susan Rich is the author of four poetry collections including Cloud Pharmacy, recently shortlisted for the Julie Suk Poetry Prize and the Indi Fab Award. Other books include the The Alchemist’s Kitchen, a Finalist for the Washington Book Prize, Cures Include Travel, and The Cartographer’s Tongue: Poems of the World (White Pine). She is a co-editor of an essay collection, The Strangest of Theatres: Poets Crossing Borders published by The Poetry Foundation and McSweeney’s. Susan’s poems have been published in 50 States and 1 District including journals such as New England Review, The Gettysburg Review, Poetry International, and World Literature Today.
Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is a stunning and moving commentary on racism in America today. A thoughtful reflection, now, with the 15th anniversary of September 11th this past weekend. How far have we come in moving past anti-Islamic sentiment in America? In the world? And how many steps backward have we taken in America’s racism against black men? What of the poem’s notion that “the best protection” is “to be a black man / born in America, more invisible than / Somali, Muslim, asylum seeker”? And what of those asylum seekers? How, in a country whose emblem bears the words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” have we opened our doors to Syrian refugees? And what of those Americans who are threatening to vote for a man whose response to our neighbors is to build a wall to keep them out?
Today, as much as it did when it was written, this poem asks: Who are we, America? Who are we, and how do we treat our fellow human? I, for one, fear that this America–this world–is “the world / we did not want to know.”
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