The Rumpus Inaugural Poems: Leila Chatti


Each day from January 7 through January 20, Rumpus Original Poems will feature work in response to the coming presidential inauguration. Today’s poem is from Leila Chatti.





What kind of world will we leave
__________for our mothers? My mother

calls me, weeping. I am
__________far and the country she gave

me could kill me. Or
__________that’s what she’s saying, her voice

clumsy with tears—my mother
__________who never cries, and so

for this, too, apologizes. Sometimes, more
__________often, I want to mother

my mother. I’ve begun to
__________wonder what it is like for her

to have four hearts
__________outside her body, buried

in brown and fragile skin. I never wanted this
__________for my children, my mother sobs

from a Michigan town
__________where once men crowded in white

cloaks, their sons still
__________there lingering at drug stores and gas pumps

with steely guns and colder eyes.
__________What do you tell a mother

you love too much
__________to lie to? My mother

named me Leila because it was a song
__________white men played on air guitars, which meant,

she’d hoped, they couldn’t hate me. I’m so scared now
__________for Rachid, even with his blonde hair

My mother thought her blood
__________might protect us in this country

from this country, her fair genes and castaside
__________Catholic god. Thinks now

she failed us as children because she only ever told us
__________stories of monsters

we wouldn’t recognize. Mother,
__________I know these men

could be your brothers
__________and do not blame you. She weeps.

I am far and the country
__________monstrous. What kind of world

do we mother, knowing
__________what it is, what it’s capable of?

The long night stretches
__________between her window and mine.

As if comforting a child, I say the word
__________kind—as in, the world is still

kinder than we think. I think
__________I believe it. Mom I say

stop crying—no one’s leaving this world
__________to anyone yet.


– Leila Chatti


Leila Chatti is a Tunisian-American poet. The recipient of a scholarship from the Tin House Writers’ Workshop and prizes from Ploughshares‘ Emerging Writer’s Contest, Narrative Magazine’s 30 Below Contest and 8th Annual Poetry Contest, and the Academy of American Poets, her poems appear in Best New Poets, Ploughshares, Tin House, Narrative, The Missouri Review, TriQuarterly, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. She lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she is a writing fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center.

Original poetry published by The Rumpus. More from this author →