ZW13 – Second Place

Alchemia Calendula

you are a scientist.
In your laboratories
you pull apart the cadavers of women
studying each of our internal organs
scrying for the source
of both our delirium and our defiance.

You plunge
into the hymens of virgins
with blunt blades.
You steal babies
from their mothers’ wombs
in miserable abortion houses
veiled in labyrinthine mazes
crowded with donkeys
and incessantly honking horns.

Your vegetable-sellers
in their mud-stained abayas
call out their specials of the day.

You smash the skulls
of sixteen-year-old girls
raped by their uncles
plummeting from atop
the roofs of your houses
to their dust-covered
concrete suicides.

You mourn the deaths of your men
in your makeshift funeral tents
And you ululate at the weddings
of your hopeful brides.

You sweat
in the suffocating heat
of your summer months
and you toil and you burn
in your sugar-cane fields.

You spit in the dirty faces
of your child-beggars
forcibly crippled by street pimps.

Your outreached hands
extend for alms
or for halawiyat from the bakery.

You beat the sand out of your carpets
on your honey-coloured balconies
And you speak your silent du’a
upon the lips of your pensive servants and doormen.

You utter your dhikr
as your fingers furiously click
through prayer beads
in your street-corner masjids.

Your knees are calloused
from scrubbing the floors
of rich people’s houses
and from begging for rahma
from your masters.

Your eyes are red
from weeping out tear gas,
dam ‘ayn
washing the stairwells
of the apartment blocks
of wealthy families.
You wring out the washing
of black hijabs, of lacy underpants,
of the blood-stained shirts of heroin addicts
and wives beaten by men,
of the skull caps of your scholars,
issuing fatwas,
of the prayer mats of the muadhins
calling your faithful to prayer
in your cold, sullen dawns.

you are the tortured heart
of the absent lover on a ceaseless layal.

You are a secret circle of women
hiding from the police
and from midnight gazes of taxi drivers.

Your niqabs and your gloves
cover your skin but not your sins.


Masr – Egypt
Halawiyat – sweet pastries
Du’a – Supplication
Dhikr – Remembrance / utterance of the Names of Allah
Masjid – Mosque
Rahma – Mercy
Dam Ayn – tears, literal translation ‘blood of your eyes’
Layal – an endless night where a lover is tortured by separation from their Beloved

Masr also received the Best Poem award


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