Poet Antonio López on the “Road Rage” of Clashing Histories

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Antonio López won the Poetry Award at the 2017 Santa Barbara Writers Conference with Which Cobija Feels Most Comfy?: A Letter to Sister Nabra, about the murder of a teenage Muslim girl beaten and killed by a bat-wielding motorist near a Virginia mosque.

Nabra Hassanen murder

People hold up signs during a vigil in Washington, on June 20, 2017, for Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year old Muslim girl that was killed in a road rage incident on June 18. Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Antonio López on Incorporating Ancient Culture into a Poet’s Present Moment

Read an interview with Antonio López with Poet Melinda Palacio at La Bloga

The murder of a teenage Muslim girl beaten and killed by a bat-wielding motorist near a Virginia mosque was likely a “road rage incident,” not a hate crime, US police said, prompting outrage from many who say the teen was targeted because of her religion. Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, has been arrested and charged with Nabra Hassanen’s murder in an incident police say began as a road dispute with a male teenager who was among Hassanen’s group. – Al Jazeera, June 20, 2017

Which Cobija Feels Most Comfy?: A Letter to Sister Nabra

by Antonio López

As-Salaamu Alaykum Sister.

All is know
is that my brother
killed you

with a baseball bat. The same palo
slammed against birthday piñatas,
chased you out of a Fairfax highway.
Paper maché tapestries that bursted
with dulce and confetti stuffing,
now weaves into a hijab.

The slurs cross-haired.

All I know
is that my             brother                         grabbed your bo-
grabbed             your             bod-            bo-

the papers said “dump,”
like your body was kitchen sink sewage,
the weight of chicken bones
and peeled carrots.

They said “road rage”—
your death as no more taxing
than a busted taillight

like when they said
Deah, Yusor, and Razan
were a “parking dispute.”

Ay hermanita,
I’ve spent the past four days
whispering your name
with hands             cut by the blades
of grass that pillowed your hair

with hands             willowed in dua,
but my palmlines fled
to trace their ancestry elsewhere,

across the Atlantic, to the Birth of a Nation’s
Nation, where the ghoulish white hood
of a van drove into Finsbury park
shouting “All Muslims!
I want to kill             all Muslims!”

And for the first time,
I saw             an Islamic extremist—
Imam Mohamed Mahmoud
protects the suspect from the mob,
and issues the anti-Western fatwa
“We pushed people away,…
until he was safely taken
by police….”

Anti-Western,
because John Wayne
and all those aging saloonistas
who hawk a one-lunged Marlboro
would’ve shot the sucker in a tacky catchline
that would’ve earned 24% on Rotten Tomatoes.’

Imam Mahmoud!
Imam Mahmoud who professed to Sky News
“I am no hero,”
but then who is ours?

Ya Allah, I beamed for a DC comic adhan
to call for a sunnah superhero.

But there’s no star-spangled shield
to guard your glasses and Jannah-gated smile
because Captain America wasn’t made for you.

No Wonder Woman to sway her jiggling thighs,
half-naked feminism, to deflect blind-eyed
bat swings with an 8 karat belt buckle,
20% off a Macy’s rack.

Sister Nabra, let me make wudu
for you, and pluck from your hair,
the highway-thickets
of sound bites.

Sister, let me still pay
for next year’s prom dress—
a mermaid lavender,

so after iftar, I’ll sip chai
and hear the fiqh disputes
of uncles slamming
their hairy-knuckled
gavels,

“Istirgfilillah, there’ll be boys, drinking,”
your father will interrupt,
“and me.”

Let me stand
over the Mexican minarets
of Univisión and Telemundo
and la pinta and the bus stop
and la clínica, and the good bench at recess
and tell el pueblo, mi pueblo
to enshroud you in our finest cobijas—
those linens not even hawked at flea markets

and quietly clean tu cuerpo,
over my grandmother’s pila
and wipe away the darkened bloodstains
with our finest jabón

over el agua nacida de la barranca,
the river mountaintops to see the heights
my people could’ve soared for you.

Let my apolog—
take a lifetime,
take my lifeline—
hang on the word,             ‘y?’

Why             must this land learn Arabic names
at the eight o’ clock news?

Why             must sister Aydin write a Facebook post
warning her muslimina girls to travel
in groups, even in broad daylight?

Why couldn’t you just finish Ramadan first?!

Why?

Why?

Why?

Why.

Dear. Sister. Nabra,
All I know
is that every Muslim in America,
before Monday’s fajr, became an atheist
to American Progress.

Antonio López‘s poems have appeared in PEN/America, Acentos Review, Hispanecdotes, Sapelo Square, and Sinking City. His nonfiction has appeared in TeenInk and The Chronicle. Antonio works at the intersections of language, faith, social justice movements, and education. His undergraduate thesis, “Spic’ing into Existence,” explored the concept of ethnopoetics as people of color’s artistic-political response to regimes of power. Originally from East Palo Alto, California, he is currently pursuing a Master in Fine Arts (poetry) at Rutgers University-Newark. He can be reached at Twitter @barrioscribe

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About Jack Eidt

Novelist, urban theorist, and environmental journalist, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion -- Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Planners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow him on Twitter @WilderUtopia and @JackEidt