A poem which may be mistaken for the thank you letter I read out loud to the funders of the prestigious fellowship I won last summer, a fellowship which did absolutely fuck all to save my Autistic Black Muslim Body from being interrogated by those CBP/TSA terrorists at the airport
- It strikes me as odd that this school, this fellowship, has no protocols in place for students that are forcibly interrogated at the border. I guess I shouldn’t expect much from an institution, and I guess I should bite my tongue and do the polite thing, talk about how amazing my trip was. But my trip was not amazing. It was fraught, painful, nerve-wracking. I was sick from the moment I got there to the moment I left. I walked into all types of bureaucratic walls—people not believing I was actually there to do research, and so forth. Worst of all, when I needed medical help, I had to pay out of pocket because the insurance was a formality. Oh sure, they reimbursed me for the expenses, but only partially. The idea of a medical evacuation was dangled before me, but I quickly lost hope in that. I was sick to my stomach the day I boarded my return flight, cutting my trip a full month short. Besides pain, all I had on my mind was TSA/CBP. Would they harass me? Where is home for someone like me? I am an Autistic Somali Man traveling from Kenya—that’s a perfect terrorist profile I fit. 20 Some hours later, I arrived in the states. They ask me pedantic questions about my research and MN Nice me with “good for you.” They do all this as they shuffle me into a tertiary screening line, confronted by lazy feds with mustard stains on their plaid shirts. I know what questions they want to ask me, because I’ve seen this movie before. But I refuse to answer their questions. I watch the older Somali man – the only other person asked to go to this special line before we can leave the airport – duck his head and smile and comply with their hellacious line of questioning. I stand my ground like a Zimmerman defense. But I am also weak. I can barely stand. They threaten to go through my luggage down to the underwear. To confiscate my devices and see who I’ve been talking to. We can do this the easy way or the hard way, they tell me. I can feel my heartbeat racing every time I recall this memory. There are no words to describe how livid I was when I finally got home—after answering their stupid questions, knowing I had no choice, feeling like a failure for acquiescing. I emailed my contacts at the university, both in my department and at the fellowship. There were a bunch of emails back and forth, a lot of concern and apologizing, but I knew nothing would come of it. I knew I would not see justice, just as I knew I was labeled a terrorist from a piece of shit country the moment I was born. I reached out to CAIR, the ACLU, filed formal complaints with CBP. Nothing nothing nothing came of any of it. All of this reinforced the idea that my life is worthless. Absolutely meaningless. And that is why I do the work I do, write the way I do, and live the way I do. I have no choice. I wish I could say I’ll be applying for this fellowship again. I have no reason to. And if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have applied in the first place. Thanks for your time.
*Author’s Note: All of this really happened, from the events in the poem, to my reading this to the people who partially funded my trip. I was supposed to be more grateful, I guess? Funny, I’ve never felt good about thanking white people for anything, least of all a few measly dollars. Sometimes poems are all we have to cuss people out with. And if they wanna cuss back, well, I guess they’ll have to learn how to write poetry first. That’s a joke. Laugh./
Said Shaiye is an Autistic Somali Writer & Photographer. His debut book, Are You Borg Now? was a 2022 Minnesota Book Award Finalist in Creative Nonfiction & Memoir. He has contributed essays to the anthologies Muslim American Writers at Home, The Texas Review’s All-Poetry Issue, and We Are Meant to Rise: Voices for Justice from Minneapolis to the World. He has published poetry & prose in Obsidian, Brittle Paper, Pithead Chapel, 580 Split, Entropy, Diagram, Rigorous, Night Heron Barks, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from the University of Minnesota, where he was a Graduate Instructor of Creative Writing, as well as a Judd International Research Fellow. He teaches writing to Autistic kids through Unrestricted Interest, as well as in the English Departments of several colleges in the Twin Cities.
This poem is from South Broadway Press’ new anthology,
Dwell: Poems About Home. Purchase here.