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6 May 2024

Sing Up The Ruins by Jess Thayil

Wasafiri is proud to publish the 2023 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize shortlisted pieces. These poems, essays, and short stories detail a range of emotions and experiences, produced by promising new writers from all over the globe. This shortlisted poem by Jess Thayil explores one’s personal relationship to places — physical or metaphorical.

The 2024 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize is open until 1 July 2024. Read the full guidelines and submit your work here.

So natural to want to know the names of places, or be given a few hints of where

the worst things happen.   Even in poetry, everyone wants a place to land, even if

that place is another’s wound —

                                                        no one understands unless they’re told and this is

understandable.   When a child gets beaten   too often in a day    for years on end,

she grows into this alert young    shrew-thing   who’s looking   for ways    to make

the beatings stop.   And heck,   she forgets to note the names of places –

no escape anyway from a place that allows a child to be terrorised,

                every terrified child-woman knows this.

These places are everywhere.     Does it matter where these things happen?       Or

does it matter more that sometimes,    someone somewhere cares less for the city,

the coordinates of locations on maps     long enough to hold a hand? It means

so much to be chosen    that our eyes ever ready for what will present

well before it presents    somehow fail us.    How we eat

ourselves up    over not having known because

we should have known better.    How our eyes    were so busy looking

out for danger    we didn’t know   we were walking   into danger’s belly:

how one’s body     is one place and too many places at once.   Some of us

unable to tarry too long in these towns, some of us bird-things always ready

for flight. The whole exhaustion of being ready all the time.    So, if you hear

nothing of place, imagine a shrew-bird trying: so beaten,    our places have a way

to go   before they can utter their own names.       Listen,      listen anyway as we

Jess Thayil’s work has appeared in Magma Poetry, Ink Sweat & Tears, Poetry Wales, The Seventh Quarry, Black Bough Poetry, PoetryNI, Poetry Ireland Review, The Tangerine Magazine, The Stinging Fly, AbstractMagazineTV, Whale Road Review and Potomac Review with more forthcoming elsewhere. She/They are of South Indian origins.
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