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Watching Arab Idol with Abdelhalim Hafez, One Throne Magazine

"Women of Color" by Diane Montana Jansson.
© Please do not reproduce without artist's permission.

by Safia Elhillo


i speak the language                 but to learn the words

i learn an accent          that is not mine    i learn

halim could be singing                          of a brown

that is not mine          i am reminded by thick lute music

not halim’s melancholy glamour            here the voices crack

the men squat around drums    in their white cotton جلاليب

the percussion urgent               their accent just like mine


i open my mouth         a man in a cairo shop

tells me i look      too clean to be from sudan

waits for me to thank him         lebanese singer ragheb alama

is my least favorite judge          on arab idol

i watch every week as the brownest

are the first to leave    including my favorite

a dark-lipped nubian    from the egyptian side

who parts his hair to the left       & sings

halim songs                in halim’s voice


when ragheb alama says           sudanese women

are the ugliest in the world                   i am afraid

that i believe him        when i see halim       in a suit

in a ballroom               with an orchestra

i think of glamour       then look at my own brown hands

at my own grandmother           hiking a printed توب

up around her knees                 to wash her feet for prayer


her hair parted in the middle

in two fat braids     coiled around her ears


Safia Elhillo is Sudanese by way of Washington, DC, living in New York City. Safia is a Cave Canem fellow, and is currently pursuing an MFA in poetry at the New School. She is a poetry editor at Kinfolks Quarterly: a journal of black expression. At the moment, she is shortlisted for the 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize.


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