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7 March 2023

At the Allama Iqbal International Airport by Hera Naguib

Wasafiri is pleased to publish the pieces shortlisted for the 2022 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize. The poems, essays, and short stories in this series showcase the best new writing from the best new writers across the globe – in all their diversity and complexity. In this bilingual poem about the cosmopolitan nature of international airports, Hera Naguib contemplates distance and the decision to leave.

The 2023 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize is open for submissions until 30 June 2023. You can read the full terms and conditions and submit here.

                At the Departures gate, you wave away

                             porters who swarm and offer

     to carry your luggage. A small choice,

you know, though in this,

         your trivial defiance. Mostly, these are affable,

middle-aged men who don’t hasten you,

              but urge for tips in American dollars.

                            At the ticket counter, they while away the line

of passengers by sometimes turning to ask

           unsolicited what it is like

           for you, a woman, to live

                       alone, abroad. They’re curious,

without judgement, and though this

                              mildly surprises you, and though you know

an international airport is as cosmopolitan

                as it gets, that you could reveal here, safely,

how you love each night alley

                       tinkling its curfew-less hours

& in that faraway country, 

that room of one’s own, 

                 bounteous as a fugitive tunnel,

                 you don’t. Instead, you say kerna parta hae, 

one has to, shouldering necessity

                                or whatever it is that your mother

and her mother always made up

               for themselves because what perplexes

here more than a woman

             who claims her life as her own?

To this, the porters never say much.

             Maybe they, too, have daughters whom

they send off each daybreak into the dank,

               panting jaws of a public bus. Maybe they, too,

admit to necessity, but never the way

             it may mother invention.

So, when the officer scans your I-20

                           at Passport Control and nods at you,

laurelling mulk ki beti, nation’s daughter,

               you nod to his hollow praise

for which you know you have no feat to claim,

                            but this exit ticket you clasp in fist

as you climb the narrow Airbus aisle

               that will soon lift to breach from land

a gulf wide as your regret and deep as your satiety.

Hera Naguib is a PhD candidate in creative writing at Florida State University. Her manuscript-in-progress ATLAS OF DISQUIET won the Gasher Press 2022 First Book Scholarship. Hera's work has been published in The New England Review, Poem-a-Day, The Cincinnati Review, World Literature Today, and elsewhere. Currently, she is Editorial Assistant at Guernica. Find her at  The 2023 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize is open for submissions until 30 June 2023. Submit here. Photo by Rita Ox on Unsplash    

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