Three Poems by Sarah O’Neal


it’s petty, how i want you to taste copper
when you remember me and everything that was

you still crave my fingers—strong but timid,
remember how i used them to carve myself absent
promised to swallow whatever drowned me first

until salt grew thick in my lungs
burned through my nostrils like wildfire

my aunt, ankles swollen with grief
from the heartache she survived,
tells me how a lover’s sweetness
is always the first to go,

pain becomes venom finding its way into
the well of the warmest memory— turns it all to dust
so remember the honey, habibti

remember the honey





in the kitchen one morning you name yourself Black
your mother squints as you stumble back


the only other language you have for home came from her mouth
bladi, el maghreb, where the sun sets

she gave you a country, when most are left ghost

so even when they call you aziya, laughing
at how you take to the light, you are still their daughter

you belong to them until sun unearths your skin
until you become dark enough to remind them of your dead father

your mother names you miryish
you don’t exist to be tamed




daughter of

i write mother tongue in poems and mean Arabic

in my dreams j’da says I love you
with words i don’t recognize

i ask mama how to say home in Shilha
she scoffs, asks why i’m always stirring up trouble
with these questions

i want her to know that i feel empty

friends, full of memory, draw forests
of family members going back generations

but who records our history?

i know my great j’da’s name by accident
concealed within the name of my mother
Fatima bint Fatma bint S’fiya

all our stories sunk to seabeds
disappeared in unmarked burials

i don’t know which way to pray






Sarah O’Neal is a Black Maghribia poet, born and raised in the Bay Area. She is a VONA/Voices and Youth Speaks alumni. She is currently an English student at Mills College.

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