Nowhere Home

What is homeland?
Homeland is an illusion
never understood by this pen.
It is said to be where the heart is.
Others think homeland is where a person finds herself
whenever she closes her eyes.

My heart
is buried in my chest,
and my chest is no home.
I see nothing when I close
my eyes but black curtains embroidered
with faces whose mouths are agape and eyes are wide.
And stars. They aren’t stars.

that don’t brighten
my nights when the sky is clear.
They’re floating bullets. The bullets
I witnessed in Baghdad’s skies. The same
bullets that tore a hole in my bedroom window and gifted
me with an everlasting scar.

A scar
I never forgot and never
remembered until many years
passed when I went for a fireworks show
celebrating the United States Independence Day
in Williamsburg. People’s mouths were wide in awe.
That day, the scar poked its head up.

That day
I learned that I belong
to Mesopotamia. I belong
beneath its soil, between the rivers
that history told me once turned red and black
when Hulagu invaded. History taught me that our beloved Tigris
turned black.

It turned red,
for both the books
and the martyrs swam in it
together and forever. Mesopotamia,
I belong to you. Why am I in Williamsburg?
Why am I in another Hulagu’s home? A Hulagu who taught me
a living history when

I was seven.
This Hulagu showed me
that history isn’t over but alive
and Mesopotamia is still under slaughter.
The rivers hide history beneath and teach history
to the dead and to the living. Why am I here? Where must I belong?
Am I a pariah?

I can’t keep my eyes
closed lest the bullets penetrate
my eyelids and shoot delicate people
sitting across from me in class, listening to the
teacher condemning the racist history of the United States.
Lest they shoot

my friends
whose eyes haven’t
seen what mine have.
Whose souls aren’t scarred by
the shards of glass nor by the sharp helicopter
blades that pierced my eardrums. Whose noses aren’t
saturated by the smell of death.

Yalda Al-Ani is a writer from Iraq. She holds a B.A. in English and a minor in creative writing from William and Mary. She completed an honors thesis in creative writing, where her poetry collection explores the concept of home through her own experiences with familial abuse and war. At William and Mary, she placed first at The Goronwy Owen Prize in Poetry, first in the Glenwood Clark Prize in fiction, and second in The Academy of American Poets Eva Burch Prize. Al-Ani is currently applying to MFA programs in creative writing.

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