A Nightly Bargain — an exclusive poem
For National Poetry Day, award-winning poet Momtaza Mehri on this year’s theme of refuge
Momtaza Mehri, 29, is a Somali-British poet and essayist. She started writing as a teenager and in 2014 began to be published in literary journals and magazines, including Granta and The Poetry Review. From those beginnings, she has become a critically acclaimed writer and was named as London’s Young Poet Laureate in 2018.
Mehri’s work speaks strongly to this year’s National Poetry Day theme of refuge. A Nightly Bargain, written exclusively for Hyphen, examines the fear of leaving home for a new life and “how you land on the other side and develop tactics of survival”.
“I wanted to capture some of what’s lost on the way and what you inherit as a member of the generation that is born from that sense of displacement,” she says. “A lot of us are just making it up as we go along in so many ways. That sense of reinvention was really important for me to write through.”
Audio: Momtaza Mehri introduces her poem on Hyphen’s weekly podcast
A Nightly Bargain
A dream is a costly thing.
How did you come to seek it?
Buoyant hope. A basket held aloft.
Your cargo brimming in your arms.
Your throat clogged with a fading autobiography.
A flung seedling, you watched the familiar shore disappear.
Behind you, the remembering began.
A set clock destined to hang on the walls of your heart.
There you were, a shudder of expectation,
Wrapped in a second-hand coat.
Caravanner. Your journey of winter and summer awaits.
Keeper of old keys to doors long since torn down.
A talent for hoarding what you couldn’t let go of.
Polishing a gift for throwing yourself on the altar.
At the feet of strangers, mercy is returned as often as it’s denied.
You swallowed swords, a trickle of humiliations.
Made it look easy, like a circus act you were born to perfect.
Burnt your teenage dreams on the pyre of sacrifice.
A box of love letters singed into your memory.
A country can be as changeable as a lover.
One hisses behind you. The other withholds.
How did you find it? How did it find you?
Faith like a rope in the dark.
Born of interruption. This precious ribbon you clung to.
Fingers clasped, you sought refuge from expelled devils,
From the jaws of the unknowable closing around you.
Al-Falaq. Al-Nas. Verses muffled into pillows.
Daybreak follows Mankind. Mankind follows Daybreak.
Prayers scattered over the heads of your children.
Your radiant guinea pigs, the ones who would ignite your life into sense.
You oiled their brows.
Licked them into a sturdier shape.
Bled for their shelter.
Cracked the eggs. Mixed the batter.
Taught them how to rub vaseline over accidental burns.
One answer remained, the one you couldn’t give.
A question that needled you into insomnia,
As unforgiving as city traffic.
Did you find it? Here. Temporary relief.
Or the blueness of gratitude.
A lifetime is too long for a held breath.
What’s worth having is worth risking.
Safety is a sealed envelope.
We couldn’t avoid the paper cuts, even if we tried.
In the insistence of your laughter, I hear the strain of an instrument.
An answer I will spend the rest of my days deciphering.
Momtaza Mehri’s poetry collection Bad Diaspora is published by Pengu
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