English-language poem by authors of Arab heritage (14–18), judged by poet Naomi Shihab Nye
I no longer write, my dear.
You know, life behind the cage is no interest, that landscape is no muse behind the barriers.
I no longer write but I’m doing this for you.
This makes no sense, but I believe God has left me for good now.
—not the other way round—
They say that where you are, there are trees, rivers and forests...
that where you are, even God smiles.
At least, you can make better use of the landscape you have than I can with mine.
Well, I haven’t told you yet, but I no longer have ink to write; I’m doing what can.
May I ask?
What does the metro look like? What about the cinemas? The theaters?
I am dying to know, please tell me.
You know, from where I am, I’ve memorized my landscape and I’m seriously starting to get ill.
And... I don’t know how to ask but,
what does the train look like?
You know, from where I am, I have no trains to take.
Doomed I am; where you are, you have spectacles and shows rather than explosions and attacks.
Still I tell you, I have no desire to write but I’m writing for you...
I miss you, weird it is; I can still feel behind barriers...
They say that, where you are, life really smiles back at people.
That you may be a painter, a dancer or a writer and still earn a living.
I’d love to have your life or maybe... your country.
From what I’ve heard, they recount that where you are,
there are vast fields of sunflowers where you can run freely and kiss the sun.
I’d deeply love to witness that.
If not, from where I am, oceans and oceans away, I can see you already.
I imagine you on your balcony contemplating wanderers.
I have made a tableau in my head, please understand.
For my part, it isn’t much different here.
I, too, am contemplating.
But I’m contemplating my days, my years and my youth wandering away from me.
I don’t want to evoke, but still, this letter needs to be written and that’s what I’m doing.
I’m aware, sad things aren’t to be said in our letters, but, you comprehend, I haven’t written in ages and that’s the truth about my living.
What else... from where I am, you torment my spirit.
I’d love to have coffee with you, but you, you’re far, far away... lands and oceans apart.
In reality, I have death to coffee nowadays and got easily used to that.
Well... I’m running out of ink.
Miserably, from where I am, we don’t always have ink.
Maybe, someday, you’ll come back for coffee.
And maybe, on that day, I will have left my prison cell.
I solemnly don’t have ink anymore;
I have to end this. —fortunately—
You, you are over there, faraway.
I am here,
Held captive; a detainee in a country that looks like everything but me.
On "News without news", judge Naomi Shihab-Nye said:
“The curiosity and longing held within this poem reminded me of the work of the great Nazim Hikmet of Turkey—written in epistolary form, the poem contains an intimacy of tone and a natural flow. I was moved by lines like, 'I’ve memorized my landscape and I’m starting to get ill' and 'I have no trains to take.' The disaster of the speaker’s containment or imprisonment is portrayed very specifically instead of just named. 'I’d love to have your life or maybe…your country.' There’s an honesty of tone and pain. That last phrase, 'a country that looks like everything but me' is a stunning closure.'”
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.
Maria Georges Atallah
Maria Georges Atallah is a 17-year-old Lebanese writer who’s found shelter in art and literature. Having roots in a country that feels like everything but safe, she yearns and longs for a change in her wounded motherland only reached through culture and knowledge.