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Scent of Qahwa by Tara L. Masih

Because desperate men fight always to control something—
this time it is ma’a, the water as it disappears—
this girl will fight through leech-filled swamps,
forge the vast White Nile,
watch sisters go down in crocodile jaws.

She will survive on rainwater,
green flesh of shea nut,
salty porridge of tree leaves,
while skin swells with ticks and
shreds in Kono thickets.

This girl will reach the refugee camp on petrified feet,
find neither food, nor water.

She will stay, fight a kind of death
behind the camp’s truck barriers,
wrestled down, voice smothered in tall grasses
by three militiamen.

She will not sleep,
must listen, listen for sounds of
helicopters, MiG’s, and approaching janjaweed.

Under a Sahara-stained tent,
this lost girl will fight to remember
the scent of qahwa,
the vision of a mother’s desert-dry hands,
dusted in grindings of clove and fried coffee beans,
offering her family their daily drink
in tiny clay cups.

Tara L. Masih is the editor of a new anthology The Chalk Circe: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays. Read about the anthology here in Writing from the Margins.


Tara L. Masih
Tara L. Masih received an MA in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College. She is editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction (a ForeWord Book of the Year), and her debut story collection, Where the Dog Star Never Glows, was a National Best Books Awards finalist. Tara has published fiction, poetry, and essays in numerous anthologies and literary magazines (such as Confrontation, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Natural Bridge, New Millennium Writings, The Pedestal, Night Train, and The Caribbean Writer), and her essays have been read on NPR. Several limited edition illustrated chapbooks featuring her flash fiction have been published by The Feral Press, along with poet’s farthing cards. She judges the intercultural essay prize for the annual Soul-Making Literary Contest, and in 2012, Wyatt-MacKenzie will publish The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays, a collection she gathered from this contest. Awards for her work include first place in The Ledge Magazine’s fiction contest, second place in Jane’s Stories Flash Fiction contest, and a finalist fiction grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She received three Pushcart Prize nominations, and a Best New American Voices, a Best of the Web, and a Million Writer’s Award nomination. Tara was the assistant editor for STORIES literary magazine, and a regular contributor to The Indian-American and Masala magazines. She now works as a freelance book editor in Andover, Massachusetts. www.taramasih.com
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One Comment
  • Mary

    As an ESL teacher, I work with students who, like the girl in Tara’s powerful poem, still manage to find beauty in a life that has been incredibly dangerous and damaging to body and soul. As they and their families struggle to find a sense of well being and a language to convey their experiences and emotions, it’s incredible–really wonderful– to find brave work that manages to be both raw and beautiful in terms of language and emotion. I’m also excited about The Chalk Circle, sharing it with the students as well as my colleagues.

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