The Woman Inc Sakhi Award is an annual award, highlighting the best voices writing for women. We were astounded by the huge number of submissions we received, for this first year of starting, and to shortlist down to this final ten has been difficult. The poems were read blind and judged by The Woman Inc editors, Vinita Agarwal, Anu Mahadev and Jhilmil Breckenridge.
Final winners to be announced on March 8, 2018, International Womens Day.
For your reading pleasure, in no order of preference, here are the poems that made the cut!!! Our congratulations to our Top Ten, we love you! The world needs your voice now, more than ever. Write more, change the world.
1. Green Thumb
— Matilda Berke
When you wake on the mornings when coffee
is not enough to stir the ashes in your stomach,
brew a misty carafe
& take the grounds out to the garden.
Every seed is welcome here, each layer of leaf a gift,
each fruit wrapped in perfume.
Tubers grown plump on synthesis, we know
the value of serenity. To be woman is to be born with thorns,
to be walled in cellulose & defiance,
to be hardy, to be buried & survive.
Scorched earth is a stranger to allegiance
& no matter who pulls the trigger,
pale green things always end up caught in the crosshairs
with fresh sparks running through our veins like sap,
poised & ready for the sky to ignite.
We’ve learned the fact of living as resistance.
We are sunspots springing up in sidewalk cracks,
roots deep & damp & tangled in rocky substrate. We are always healing,
over & over & over again —
there’s a reason dandelions burst with medicine. Any weed worth its salt
has learned to handle spiteful ground
but we flower best with a little tenderness.
So stretch your toes into the soil;
there is room to grow here,
there is good clay & loam & chamomile
& the firmament will leave you watered.
All this light & birdsong is for you,
a balm on wind-chapped leaves
in frostbite & smothering drought.
When the world throws us winter we become our garden beds,
the hardiest blooms this earth has known.
There has been enough war waged against us
to fill a litany of herbicide: dioxin & steel-toed boots
& locust swarms & trampled shoots,
those who look at us like fuel for their own burning. & yet
in all those days of degradation,
no man has ever stood in the way of spring.
2. In Jullundur, Punjab
Inspired by the novel, Witness The Night, by Kishwar Desai
— Eloise Stevens
mothers birth binary code.
A one, a one, another son.
The zeros are buried at the back with the dogs.
Since when was a cunt its own grave?
— G Akila
A lament flickers the evening lamp
For nine nights
the Goddess carves herself
in beige and jewels
draped in silk and strapped
with silver- foiled cardboard weapons
I am a mannequin
tongue tied with paper flowers
Her geometry does not rest
on mythology and offerings
The revolving disco lights
decorate her avatars
in turmeric and vermilion
I fear for her safety pins.
— Lisa Zou
Ten times over
she says, if you say marriage enough times,
it sounds like cage. In Nepal, Shanta scrawls
numbers in italics and paints scenery you might find
on the oldest of cave walls. Every other woman
cannot read the books Westerners come in droves with.
There are too many lessons this world has left to teach.
In Pokhara, an old woman cures a village and has no degree
like the English doctor who traveled a hemisphere to be here.
He says, an educated girl grows up to be an educated mother;
she says, and if I do not want to be a mother? There is only
silence. In Nepal, one girl writes a poem that brings an audience
a continent away to tears. In the afternoon, I translate Dickinson,
Austen, and Woolf to Shanta. She says, bearing life means death
for education. Her family name precedes her own; and her caste
is now a chain. In Kathmandu, a girl buys enough food for her family,
rat poison, and a rope. There are too many lessons this world
has taught but not the right ones. In Nepal, there are temples
more beautiful than the night sky and there are too many bowls
and not enough rice. Nights where the distance between
morning and mourning is a thread. I tell Shanta in broken Nepali
that hope has such a short lifetime.
She says, if you teach a girl enough poetry,
humanity itself becomes immortal
–ten times over.
5. They Come For the Old Women
When the neighbour came for my aunt
she was alone
as was more often than not;
husband long dead,
to bigger towns,
daughter in a home
of her own.
This place haunted with echoes,
the piano at family gatherings
her fingers now too gnarled to play.
She was the stylish one of three sisters,
with bright red lips and
perfect ’40’s pinup hair,
smart matching suits,
a cheerful woman.
We were welcomed there warmly
in her home, now
clung to fiercely
with stooped spine,
more practical shoes.
Her sisters gone or relocated to more
for old ladies.
The neighbour came for
shoved her down the basement stairs
she clung to the railing,
but they pushed
until she tumbled to the bottom where
they stood over her,
and she played dead.
Broken spine, three broken ribs,
they stapled her head
to stop the bleeding,
two broken wrists,
she’d pushed the medical alert button
with her elbow.
When they came for my great grandmother
she was alone.
It was a good neighbourhood
when they’d bought the house,
a place to raise the three children
who’d survived of eight,
to grow old;
rich dark woodwork,
a somber place bleeding memories.
Her husband and children
since devoured by cancer,
she was a resilient Irish woman.
But these days they drove down her street
and smashed the side mirrors off cars
with baseball bats.
When they came for her,
and they came twice,
she did not know them.
Just some old woman alone,
perfect for pistol whipping and
locking in a closet to
steal what they could scavenge,
a little money,
her wedding ring.
There are places on this earth
where wars rage,
children murder children,
rape is a strategic tactic,
explosions are indiscriminate,
food and water are fought for,
Safety is an idyllic concept.
In this place, far from those
those who created us
can only cling to the past for so long.
Home is only that while you
raise your children, while your grandchildren
visit on Christmas.
But once they’ve dissipated
from this place,
no longer tribal
with telephones and internet and airplanes,
where far away is the optimum destination for the young,
then you are a frail old woman
alone in an empty house where
there must be something valuable
an easy score,
you won’t put up much of a fight.
— Neha Mathrani
Sometimes I want to stop living my life.
Slip it off like a dress,
Hang it on the doorknob,
(Like we’re done for the night.)
Every man that has come and gone,
Has left scars like gifts,
(Wounds that heal, wounds that don’t)
Some offering them as if at an altar,
Some throwing them at my feet,
(Like I don’t deserve even those.)
They leave, soft footsteps in the night,
Or I leave, putting doors that turn into rivers and cities between us.
(Like leaving and forgetting are one and the same.)
(Like memories aren’t sewn into our shadows, anyway.)
7. Things that a Bra Contains
— Kanupriya Dhingra
Mobile phones, candies,
shopping lists, stretch marks,
your gaze, cash and coins,
cuss words and their meanings,
and, at times, also,
a pair of breasts —
Things that a bra contains
Because there were never
in our bonnets and blouses.
8. Keep Me Burning
— Preeti Vangani
I practiced crossing my legs the way my father daggered
his eyes at mother if I wore shorts. Twin openings
exposing more than what they could hold inside.
It took me three sex-ed classes & a crushed pamphlet
to know that I must fold and hold my body like a score
of eggs on a crowded subway. My period premiered
the night we went to watch Godzilla which wasn’t as scary
as the sports teacher asking bleeding students to sit separately,
in a lotus pose, a quick whip if the line of our panties showed
through the pinafore. We played telephone with our hands
instead of running in the sun. In Moral Science, the only girl
with waxed legs passed a chit under the smooth wooden desks
When he touches, I feel hot & cold at the same time. I lay
naked on our marble floor, fevered. Under his ripped, full-body
poster. I touched myself the way my sister braids and wiggles
her toes, over the phone, under the sheets, coral pink, her words
submerged seeds on strawberries (who knew those are achenes,
the berry’s ovaries). I asked mother what was the big deal
about sexing and she asked me if I’d eaten all my fruit at lunch.
What would Madonna have done? I vibrated all around
my pimpled years with a Walkman or a home karaoke mic
between my thighs knowing there was a sound inside
that would leak on any given Sunday in choir as he’d hit
his solo bits of Give Me Oil In My Lamp. If only there was a way
to touch the difference between fill and feel. If only I knew
how I could make origami of my shame and let it fly fly fly.
9. White Noise
— Catherine Murphy
There’s a space between the stations
On the radio dial.
A space where words are lost,
Where nothing makes sense,
And where the connection isn’t made.
I live in that space.
It is my voice you cannot hear
As you twist the button,
Searching for life that cannot be found.
— Meera Nair
All it takes
Is one look
And I pack them swiftly
In little boxes
On the top
Light and languid
The ones who live
In the bliss of ignorance
In the middle
They who bear it well
With coats of paint
And designer blouses
At the bottom
The precious lot
Staggering under the weight
Of choices made
I watch the women on the streets.