Garissa / Burning Frankincense

by Sadia Hassan


There was the lorry that carried aye Fahmo and Bahsho across

baked earth, and that too was Garissa.


There were the questions that came back half chewed,

ambapo ni kipanda yako? Where are your papers?


The Swahili we swallowed in terror, the eyes yellowed from heat

darting across skin and the answers panted back slick with sweat: Sujui.                                                                              


I don’t know in one language

Somali-Kenyan in the other.


Garissa, where I’d become a woman

swimming in a language too big for her body

until my body

favoring loss

learned to speak

in absence.


There were the soldiers red-hatted—toothpicks

an extra appendage hanging wet and alert—that tried once

to woo me off a bus with red eyes and a wink.


Told me I’d been the woman

smuggling children yesterday,

and today a baby goat.  


The goat’s not mine, I said,

knowing maybe no longer

was Garissa


nor the refugee camp which housed us

nor the dust lining my toes

nor this language

and the tongue around it


Burning Frankincense


“He showed me how a drop of tequila on its tail can make a scorpion sting itself to death.”

Amy Hempel, reasons to live


We found him after Raxma left,

A moldy pile beneath the covers.


I checked for breath beneath the rubble

and found him wet with sleep and tequila.


Mama checked the walls for shit stains,

found only a film of sweat.


Baba burned frankincense to hide the smell

Of trapped heat and urine. I stood


close to the bed, protective. I stood

over the edge, unmoving.


The radio played Mohamed Mooge

Plucking strings on a tin banjo


In the song, a young man laments

Hadad laheyn maxaad siin?


If you have nothing, what are you to give?


Baba hides his watering eyes behind the smoke.

Mama busies herself with the window.


Sadia Hassan is a Somali writer living Oakland, CA. Her work has previously appeared in The Dartmouth, The Dartmouth Radical, Black Girl Dangerous, Documentum and is forthcoming in VQR and Halal if you Hear Me, an anthology of Muslim writers. She writes obsessively about the geography of loss, about displacement and belonging, wars and borders, trauma, refugee migration, and healing through ritual. She is a graduate of Dartmouth’s African/African-American Studies and Creative Writing program and is a Fine Arts Work Center Summer Fellow and the inaugural Terry Tempest Williams Fellow for Land and Justice at Mesa Refuge. You can contact her at: