Excerpt: The January Children



The following is an excerpt from The January Children (Nebraska, March 2017) by Safia Elhillo. In her dedication Elhillo writes, “The January Children are the generation born in Sudan under British occupation, where children were assigned birth years by height, all given the birth date January 1.” What follows is a deeply personal collection of poems that describe the experience of navigating the postcolonial world as a stranger in one’s own land.


to make use of water
i forget the arabic word for economy
i forget the english word for عسل forget
the arabic word for incense & english
word for مسكين arabic word for sandwich
english for ولله & صيدلية & مطعم
/stupid girl     atlantic got your tongue/
back home we are plagued by a politeness
so dense even the doctors cannot call things
what they    are my grandfather’s left eye
swirled thick with smoke
what my new mouth can call glaucoma
while the arabic still translates to
the white water
i want to go home

half don’t even make it out or across you
get to be ungrateful you get to be
homesick from safe inside your blue
american passport do you even
understand what was lost to bring you

did our mothers invent loneliness or did it make them our mothers were we fathered by silence or just looking to explain away this quiet is it wasteful to pray for our brothers in a language they never learned whose daughters are we if we grow old before our mothers or for their sakes they called our grandfathers the january children lined up by the colonizer & assigned birth years by height there is no answer we come from men who do not know when they were born & women shown to them in photographs whose children left the country & tried for romance & had daughters full of all the wrong language

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