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Judith Khan Memorial Poetry Prize


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Orooj-e-Zafar fancies herself a spoken word poet and certified overthinker. Most recently, Orooj has been published at Off the Coast, Melancholy Hyperbole, SEA FOAM and in the America is Not the World anthology by Pankhearst. She won the first Voices in Verse Poetry Slam 2015 and was a runner-up of the Pakistan Poetry Slam 2016. She likes her poetry with tea and writes too many self-addressed poem-letters in hopes of salvaging her relationship with herself. She thinks she's getting there but until then, she allows herself quiet mornings in Bani Gala with Troye Sivan, Perfume Genius and not enough time to read.


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Two Poems by Orooj-e-Zafar


My Sister, by Land

I taste sea-salt at your mention, friend
as if your name runs deeper than the sensitivity of coral,
as if the ocean exhumed you for causing it insecurity—
friend, your depth is a wonder the earth has not seen yet.

You utter, “lovebug,” in a shade of comfort I cannot help
but force the black on my back into perfect concentric spots,
burning in my red. Friend, I would topple the horizon
just to tattoo your upper lip with the Big Dipper.

Afghanistan bled right into my city–
it excised parts of my heart before I knew your smile.
You are the reason Pakistan will ever know it was kind,
you were always running towards me.

Friend, I don’t envy the blind around you. I only wish
your heart bleeds gold right into their good intentions;
I can only hope that your skin, dyed congenitally
with anger and too much strength, does not sink
into your own bones. I pray for the day, heaven breaks its gates
just to ask you how you have managed to grace the earth
before its time.

I don’t know if you’ve ever swum an ocean at night, but I know,
when you live vicariously through me you see the purple winking
in the skyline, past the two dots tucked behind the moon–
crazed into oblivion till dawn. You are my point A, friend;

when the world cannot walk the white line
and laughs for being tipsy, I want to know we were buried in the debris
together so even in the end, when hope feels a lot like suffocating
under the same earth too scared to spit us back home,

you know that your hand is not one I’m letting up,
your glow isn’t one to lose its lustre with abuse,
your eyes tell more stories than all the ears in the world can hold.

I hope you know, friend,
heaven could not help but crack open its soil
to search for the white we could only find
in your eyes.



My friend tells me my fingers are more flexible than hers—
I laugh and say, “That’s what happens when you let water
run on your skin for as long as I have.” She stares, confused,
like she doesn’t know how land was once carved
into riverbeds with the same drops leaving her every breath.

At seven, still new to the concept of a short shower,
I’d make a maple leaf of my hand to watch the water
leave my fingertips like a superpower. I was convinced
of my gift and I knew the hardest part, was getting others
to believe it too.

At twenty now, superpowers don’t look the same.
Sometimes, they’re in the crack of my hips when I remember
to reach the tennis court on time;
they feel a lot like the reinforcement of my slouch
on a spine still learning to stand tall.

My superpower, lately, is turning my heart soft to the anger
corroding way past its fill, but I don’t get oral ulcers
from the vitriol of my tongue anymore;
all my ears do is bleed.

I’ve heard of water healing PTSD, burning with its cold
cleaning away the earth’s dirt and growing it with eroded silt;
seventy percent of me is water, I am almost
three-fourths a superhero and my kryptonite is hearing
the thunder long after the sky lights up just to fall
back on the land it left like rain.

Where I live, the monsoon is always late–
I try to remember the flowers here forget
to bloom on time.

Orooj-e-Zafar is the winner of the 2nd annual Judith Khan Memorial Poetry Prize (link). These two poems were her entry for the prize. Read the complete winner announcement for the 2016 prize at the DWL blog (link).

JKS Poetry Prize




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