English-language poem by authors of Arab heritage (adult), judged by poet Hala Alyan
Our bodies have become a carousel. When a rescue dog sniffs through the rubble of a collapsed building—we hold our breaths like hope—before spinning again. Everywhere you look, healers are cleaning the wound but we’ve stopped asking, what will grow of it? Nothing. Our bodies no longer believe us. Look at the sky, how it has turned pink to cover up the ammonium gray. It has never looked so sorry. A thought I like to recreate: joy is the body disappearing, grief is the body collapsing, & before you can disappear, you must reckon with what might come after. Remember when necks were for kissing? Remember when I sang Warda to you, my soft finger on your chin, the wind tickling your earlobes? All this & we knew what would come after. All this & we still pressed our hips close like palms in prayer. Iswadat el dounia fi ouyouni - life has darkened in my eyes. This is what the once home-owners told us when we walked through the streets. Our feet hurt but they dragged us on & on like an unpunctuated sentence. All the places I held you in, gone. I wonder, are eyes considered a body part? What do eyes see after the dark, who do they trail. I spent a year loving the dark under your eyes, the dark of your mind. We swam underwater, in the middle of August, your birthmark lucid like our dreams since that day. The latin etymology of disaster—dis: without; astro: star. Imagine a world without stars. Because I cannot. After the explosion, all we did was look for bodies & I thought to myself maybe we are all the same body, disintegrated into parts that roam the sky as stars. A body-drenched sky. A sky-drenched body. Imagine a world without my legs wrapped around yours. Imagine a world where I don’t fix your smudged burgundy lipstick with my thumb after midnight. Since our bodies have become a carousel, promise me that we will never stop dancing. What is a dancer if not a body disappearing?
On "Body parts", judge Hala Alyan said:
“‘Body parts,’ much like the painting it converses with, is a striking, unflinching piece, an exploration of the body: the body as it heals, as it disappears, as it suffers. Referencing the ‘body’ of cities as much as lovers, we are asked to walk with the poet, reminded ‘(o)ur feet hurt but they dragged us on & on like an unpunctuated sentence.’ Still, the poet seems to believe in the body as much as its destruction, and we are left with the haunting question, ‘What is a dancer if not a body disappearing?’”
The Barjeel Poetry Prize celebrates poetry, in Arabic and English, that opens a worldwide conversation with 20 selected Arab artworks from the Barjeel Art Foundation. This is one of the 12 poems that won first and second place in the inaugural Barjeel Poetry Prize 2020, judged by distinguished poets. Click here for more information about the Prize at Barjeel Art Foundation's website.
Nur Turkmani is a Lebanese-Syrian researcher and writer in Beirut. Her research looks at climate change, gender, social movements, and development in the Middle East. She is also Rusted Radishes' Webzine Managing Editor and currently studies creative writing at the University of Oxford. Her creative work has been published in London Poetry, Muzzle Magazine, The Adroit Journal, Discontent Magazine, and others.