Threa Almontaser

Meeting with a Ghost Friend at Starbucks


She orders passion-tea lemonade, sweetened, her way 

of weaning off coffee. Because ghosts already have a hard time 

falling asleep. I have a hard time

speaking. It’s like there’s always two wet

fingers in the muscle of my throat. 

When she drinks, I watch the juice

travel down her see-through body. It puddles

at her transparent feet. I’m heavier 

next to ghosts, feeling all the cuts 

of meat I’m made up of, all the myths

and metaphors. 

An employee arrives to mop the spill. I see the centipedes 

creep across the tiles and I let them. That’s the immigrant 

crumb, she finally answers.

It takes time to cough out. To let your eager

mouth drool a light that is listened to. 

Until then, America won’t hear

beyond what it takes. How do I fix it? 

Know the antonym of every word, she says.

Talk in gestures that resemble blows. 

Tell your concerns to the doctor, and when

refused treatment, ask to put that on record,  

watch them change their minds. When you find your voice 

and use it, your long, full name will slide out the sludge. 

You will be fed the tough meat

of an animal, the last of its kind. So speak

up. Speak first. Curve your vowels. 

Keep your foreign tart and scuff.

Bring it all along to the next BBQ. Fake

your name and your citizenship. Then swing

your big fat ass, scot-free, 

something snazzy in your pace because

 your body is yours and yours alone. 

And where you stand is where you call home, not 

where you were forced to flee. Suddenly, the ghost friend 

is my aunt. Funny how ghosts work.

How aunties work. Remember the ESL

teacher you bit in first grade, she says.

Those days, you didn’t let stillness

stop you. Yes, I remember. How solid 

and sweet that forearm. The first of many

unfastenings. Now a dentist

can roam the cavern of my mouth

without fear, check for sharp, find only

cavities, flat surface—span of wormy fingers reaching 

for what won’t bite back. My ghost auntie pulls out 

her wedding photo. Pushes it across

the table like a bribe. See how happy I am,

she says, then disappears into 

the mocha-thick air. All I see 

is her awake at dawn, patting henna in her

hair to hide grays when her husband

isn’t home, practicing her b’s and p’s

in the mirror, trying to render herself in

language so she can go back to the store 

that overcharged her by fifty bucks, ignore the long line 

of groans who see her waving the receipt, babbling 

like a broken bulb flickering out

speech and think this loud brown lady 

doesn’t understand how things work here. 

Who see a fully garbed woman 

and believe she’s only fluent in the language

of grief. I look harder. In the photo, 

she hides her joy with a modest 

hand. No teeth, no tumbling caw. We have 

so little, even more taken away. I ask ghosts

to bless me behind the travel mugs. They tell me 

I’ve used up my long-distance call card on a country 

covered in scabs. And to add 

more cardamom into my prayer next time.



Threa Almontaser is a Yemeni-American writer from New York City. She received her MFA from North Carolina State University and is the recipient of fellowships from Tin House, Community of Writers, the Fine Arts Work Center, Idyllwild Arts, and the Kerouac House. She is the winner of Alternating Current’s Unsilenced Grant for Muslim American Women Writers and Tinderbox Journal’s Brett Elizabeth Jenkins Poetry Prize, among other honors. Nominated or included in the Pushcart Prize, Best New Poets, and Best of the Net, her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming from Random House, The Offing, American Literary Review, Oxford Review, Frontier, and elsewhere.  She teaches English to immigrants and refugees in Raleigh and is currently at work on a debut poetry collection. For more, please visit