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
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 threawrites.com.