cover image Un-American


Hafizah Geter. Wesleyan Univ., $15.95 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-0-8195-7981-2

Geter’s vivid debut invokes the pain of familial dislocation, illness, and death, exacerbated by the twin plagues of xenophobia and racism. The marriage of Geter’s parents (a Nigerian Muslim woman and a former Southern Baptist black man) saw her family move from Africa to various inhospitable locations in the U.S.: “my father leans down the barrel of a shotgun/ house/ and looks in both directions.” “Lesson one: there’s no god/ in Alabama,” Geter writes in “Alabama Parable.” Many of the narratives are moving, and the mother-daughter dynamic is central to the collection: “In America, no one would say her name/ correctly. I watched it rust/ beneath the salt of so many.” There is joy to be found in Muslim prayer and the Hausa language, but every blessing has an underside: Nigeria is “the land where my family will ask/ why I haven’t a husband.” Racism is addressed in poems recounting the murders of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown, and personal compulsions offer their own dangers: “I’ve always been/ attracted to little/ violences.” It is this violence, captured in rich, musical language, that command such power. (Aug.)