Mohamed Hassan (Photo: Supplied)
Mohamed Hassan (Photo: Supplied)

BooksApril 16, 2021

The Friday Poem: And before that we were stars, by Mohamed Hassan

Mohamed Hassan (Photo: Supplied)
Mohamed Hassan (Photo: Supplied)

A poem from Mohamed Hassan’s Ockham-shortlisted collection National Anthem.

And before that we were stars

Can you please look at this poem
and tell me if it’s good?

it’s for my fiancé she’s really far away
I want to say how I feel
but my English is limited, can you read it?

she works retail most nights
closes up shop late and I can’t study anymore
since my mother moved back to Yemen
I am working six days a week driving buses
I want to make her feel special, you know?

she’ll be here in two months
and we’ve been stretching words like this
four years making bridges out of paper
folded like passports

like sailboats

floating into the sky

have you ever tried to fold
your heart into an envelope?

she’s got a green card and works most days
and lives in North Carolina
we skype and I read her poems
the sentences crack her eyes whisper
you’re a poet you believe in eternal love right?

last night she was here
we didn’t sleep crying
the travel document they gave her
at the border is expiring
are they going to let her back in?

they won’t let us stay in New Zealand
she has no passport
will they let me into America?

we were born in different refugee camps
but walk past the train tracks
in Morningside and remember the same smell
the curtain air the turquoise governments
perched on our shoulders waiting
does that count as a visa?

can you build a house out of love
if there is no soil?

but what if we never do?


National Anthem (Dead Bird Books) is a finalist for the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. The winners will be announced on May 12.

The Friday Poem is edited by Chris Tse. Submissions are welcome and will be open until the end of April. Please send your poems to

The Spinoff Review of Books is proudly brought to you by Unity Books, recently named 2020 International Book Store of the Year, London Book Fair, and Creative New Zealand. Visit Unity Books Wellington or Unity Books Auckland online stores today. 

Image: Archi Banal

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