Poetry: Halal Store by Sarah Fathima Mohammed

In “Halal Store,” the white patriarchal society is overwhelming to the immigrant class, as in the language the mother and daughter struggle with, to the literal white man kicking the back of their seats on the bus. Always made to feel like an “other,” the Halal Store, by contrast, is a place to call home, imperfections and all.

Halal Store

Amma & I are soft-limbed & just enough. Sweat-sticky
like the meat splayed out in front of us, growing under a greasy
light the same color as our faces. When the butcher
grips the meat, he rips the fat the same way a white man
strips our dawn—with his fists, a pounding at our mosque
door. I want to stop comparing a nourishment
to violence. I want to stop tasting a fist after
I breathe, something bitter. He wraps the meat in plastic,
suffocating, a mouth still gasping for breath, pulls it under
Amma’s arm like a child. This is a child born from the closeness
between the words skin & sin. This shop where I whisper
the word home to Amma & she understands, drinks the sound
from its middle like a lantern. Still, I language this home
into what I know: the unhealed edges of a bruise, the pain
of it. Amma’s burka swishes, a swathe of dark red, the door
of the shop shutting like an eye. & while we ride the bus, two hours
to get back home, I trace English words I learned in school
on her wrist, foreign, saltless, as a dream: country,
daughter, country, daughter. A white man kicks the back
of her seat, Amma lurches forwards, all the English vowels
lost, another thing we need to search for. At night, Amma
simmers the meat in coriander & yogurt, a dash of chili powder
plumping in her hand like sleep. She holds the cooked meat
out to me at the dinner table, gently, & I bring it to my hands
like a face. It tastes like everything we have lost.




Sarah Mohammed

Sarah Fathima Mohammed is a brown, Muslim-American writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work appears or is forthcoming in DIALOGIST, Diode, Apprentice Writer, Frontier Poetry, and elsewhere. She has been recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the Poetry Society of the UK, and the National Poetry Quarterly’s Editors’ Choice Prize, among others. When she is not writing, she serves as managing editor for The Aurora Review and genre editor for Polyphony Lit.  

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