, , ,

Yemeni American Poet Threa Almontaser (Photo by Yasmin Ali)
Poet’s Official Website

My Poetry Corner July 2022 features the poem “My President Asks Me about Redemption” from the debut poetry collection The Wild Fox of Yemen (Graywolf Press, 2021) by Yemeni American poet Threa Almontaser. Born and raised in New York City, Almontaser earned an MFA in Creative Writing and a TESOL certification from North Carolina State University. She is an editor for Tinderbox Poetry Journal and a juror for both the Pen America Writing for Justice Fellowship and the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards. A translator and English teacher to immigrants and refugees, she lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.  

Winner of the 2021 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, The Wild Fox of Yemen is Almontaser’s attempt to showcase Yemeni experiences, underrepresented in the Arab American literary world. In an interview with Dana Isokawa for the Poets & Writers Magazine in December 2021, the poet said: “I couldn’t find contemporary work written by an Adeni American of this generation. It makes me sad to know a culture so rich and ancient is hidden in this way.”

In “Guide to Gardening Your Roots,” the poem opens with a reference to Yemen’s history of colonial trauma: The British called us El Bab, the doorway. We are the entrance, our Red Sea the saltiest mother of waters. She is algae-thick, turning her copper as they die… The lines soon shift to the Yemini celebration of life and what has been lost through the civil war.

Hayat in Arabic is to respect the self, which is to respect my forest, my mountain, my wells… I carry it inside me wherever I go, it is who I am. […] What does hayati mean if my world is a desert, desolate, nothing but an empty blazing? / If life is a rose-hued phantom circling the sand, what is the Yemeni? // The country snicked my father’s heart. The hole gushes, Because there are no more green fields and citrus trees. Now it’s nothing and I’m from nowhere.

The fox as a trickster figure appears in different guises within the collection. In “Heritage Emissary” the poet speaks of fears at school following her return from a visit to Yemen. Classmates tilt / at my returned self like I grew horns, can shoot bombs // out my ass… She lies to her parents about her D grade in Algebra and suspension for fighting in school.

At dinner, Baba tells a story of his childhood in Yemen. // About catching a wild fox with his cousin—Arabic / the medium through which his body can return home. // I drown him out. […] So when I hear a line about a lost, / sly animal, I am struck mute. Think he means me.

On September 11, 2001, Threa was 8 to 9 years old when the Twin Towers fell in New York City. The increased suspicion, surveillance, detentions, and deportation of Arab and Muslim immigrants in the aftermath impacted her life. Truth is, she reveals in “Hunting Girliness,” I quit being cautious in third grade / when the towers fell &, later wore / the city’s hatred as hijab.

In “Hidden Bombs in My Coochie,” she shares her fears: when I step outside / violence becomes a rising / of my neck hairs  running / through a murky two-lane / out of breath so I don’t end up / like bambi’s mama shot dead / in my tracks.

“Home Security After 9/11” presents a close-up view of unwarranted home invasions carried out by law enforcement, terrorizing Muslim and Arab households and communities. The following excerpts are from verses one and three:

At the break of moon, a front door Herculesed
to pine dust, children dreaming of [     ].
Forced from sleep,
		Dogs shepherd us into a nightened cave
where a mother is crying, Let me grab a scarf, just a scarf.
Bleary-brained in its meteor glow, static shouts belling
the block, I believe
		we are being abducted by [     ].
I ask the low white light, Where will all the Muslims go?
Blue men bustle me into their van, everything a slow
lucent swing, lashed stiff in this effigy. An old blister
bursts. Blood sieges
		the street in a crucible of war.
It pummels the god-prince. It pleads for [     ].


My father gets a home-security system—darklarge
pupils always watching. Just in case, he says.
We speak in [     ],
		afraid they bugged the rooms,
imaging a device that hunts our [     ].
My parents
                turn down the music, lock the kids up,
place trackers in every car. I fall asleep with my ears:
growling K9s, laughter in the kitchen, click of a [     ].

The featured poem “My President Asks Me about Redemption,” is a found poem, reworked by the poet, that draws on the language from The Prophet by Khalil Jubran—well-known by his westernized name Kahlil Gibran. The poem addresses what became America’s never-ending War of Terror in the Middle East and its effects back home in America. The following excerpts are verses one, three, and six:

Then a president said, Speak to us of Redemption.
And the poet answered saying:
Absolve by mopping your bitter poison off the streets. Watch it flow purple out our living rooms.
For to be redeemed is to girdle the people’s agony.
And to not fasten it around your America, now empty and dark.


For redemption exists in healing yourself. Thus your people.
Let me be clear.
You plucked us like lizards out a crevice for dinner.
Left a man begging by the saguaro, eating sand, crying, I’m hungry, I’m hungry.
Where are his children who learned to never call the cops or they’ll point the wrong finger?
Who watch the moon’s tilting across the border?


And I say, redemption is a golden glade above your head.
In its light, you see the people for what they could have been—a friend, a cousin, a warm greeting through peaceful streets that said,
Brother, join me for a minute on the stony porch with the old tabby, a tray of tea.

The closing lines of the poem speaks to the resilience of the Arab people:

We are still here, we will always be here, we, the dirt under the nails of your country, crusted red / from digging. // God rests in the distant fields, waiting.

According to the United Nations news report dated June 14, 2022, a two-month nationwide truce between conflicting forces in Yemen, brokered on April 2, has been extended by two months. “The “unprecedented” truce has so far led to a reduction in fighting and other positive developments, but action is needed on its full implementation and to address rising humanitarian needs and insecurity.” The United States provides arms and technical assistance to the Saudi Arabian-led coalition fighting in the country.

To read the complete featured poem, “My President Asks Me about Redemption,” and learn more about the work of the Yemeni American poet Threa Almontaser, go to my Poetry Corner July 2022.