Award Winners

2019 Student Poetry Award

Vitoria Perez

Dar Muharram

My mother doused herself in pale blue cloth and lighter fluid.
Inch by inch, she covered her flesh and tightened her shroud;
her eyes screamed regret as soon as her skin touched the match.
Wailing shrilly "ya, Hussain," my mother went up in flames.

I shut my eyes tightly and counted to eleven.
I heard her last choke and the thud that came after the turning.
Her blue skirts turned white, and in my mind they still billow.

Thundering through the doorway my father came unannounced,
he took a single glance at my charred mother and shut his eyes.
Her burqa was no longer blue, her body was a mess of boils,
on hands and knees he swept her up, no sound did he emit from his mouth.

My mother took no path into heaven:
she spoke no gentle words but rather she whirled burning.
Her movements, like a dervish, I watched amongst the pillows.

Selected by Erika L. Sánchez

Erika L. Sánchez on Vitoria Perez

I chose "Dar Muharram" because I was haunted by it. I was torn between several poems, but I kept returning to this one again and again. The pale blue cloth. The blue skirts billowing. Such a moment of desperation rendered so exquisitely. This poem takes risks that I don't often see. That's the mark of a true poet, I believe. What are you willing to say that no one else will? This young writer doesn't turn away from despair, which is what many of us would do. Instead, they hold a mirror to it. Grief is confronted with itself. The speaker is confronted with themselves. This is about both self annihilation and self preservation. It's about vulnerability and loss. We watch as a family falls apart and wonder what can be rebuilt. How does a person go on living after an experience of this magnitude? This is important new voice, and I am eagerly waiting to see what they do next.