Youssef Mohamed

Portrait of Cassus, the Boy Who Stands Still, on a Bus


Sitting across from Cassus,
the boy who stands still,
is a man whose head bobs
like a beach ball caught
in the crest & trough of sleep.

The man reminds Cassus
of the first time his father hit his mother.

Rather, the first time he saw
his father hit his mother.

Rather, what happened right
after his father hit his mother.

It is the man’s bruised hand
that reminds Cassus of walking
into the kitchen before school
& seeing his mother on the floor
among strewn spoons & plates.

There Cassus saw the sea anemone
his father planted on her face
in full bloom, mother’s hair framing
the flower like a crown of dirt,

& if it wasn’t for the millstone
digging into his throat
like a loosed bullet; for his father
making noise–so much noise
picking up the broken plates;
for how slowly his mother stood,
pulling at his pajama pant leg,

Cassus could’ve imagined
the bruise to be like the tableaus
he watches through his telescope
when standing in the yard
alone at night–

       galaxies raging
in gardens pinned to the sky.

Galaxies that are still closer
than his father, sending him letters
every week in the same scrawl
Cassus had seen him write birthday
cards, grocery lists;

       closer than his mother,
face hidden under gauze after
reconstruction, flinching at any noise
too stark, any hand too fast.

Now the bus slows…stops.

A woman’s pre-recorded voice
announces; the speakers pop
like sticks breaking underfoot.

The sleeping man wakes
with the look of someone
at the grocery store who can’t
remember if he has butter
at home. He gets off
& leaves Cassus

       gripping
the overhead rail, still hearing
his father the morning Cassus
walked into the kitchen–
it was a thief or… or…
Someone did this. We should call
the cops. Someone did this.


When officers arrived, their lights
performing in the windows,
they found Cassus standing
just as he is now on the bus, still

as if a step will topple the shelf,
spill him like a dropped spindle.

Head of a Boy, James McNeill Whistler

Youssef Mohamed is a Muslim-American poet and 1L at the University of Chicago Law School. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Nimrod Journal, The Indianapolis Review, Rigorous Magazine, and elsewhere. He was selected as a finalist for the 2020 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. When not writing or drowning in judicial opinions, he stress-drinks caffeinated beverages and binge-watches seasonal anime.

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