Tinderbox is fundraising to support our next ten years. Check out our GoFundMe! Donations will be matched up to our $1,000 goal.

I Have Not Been A Child In Years (Winner of the 2022 Brett Elizabeth Jenkins Poetry Prize)

1

So many sharp edges in the mouth

and still we expect God’s name

to come out soft,

fall into His ears

like the scales of a living fish.  

The man who loves me

speaks to me like a child.  

The child is a boy. 

When he names the boy I change 

my voice. I narrow my lips. 

What did you do today? he asks the boy. 

I cleaned myself by myself;

I played in the vile paradise

of words

I am on my knees filling holes

so maybe the mice would leave.

The smallest one

looked so handsome in the light. 

The boy asks the man no questions.  

It is not part of the game. 

When I used to pray 

near dawn I said God: give me a choice,

and choose for me. 

When I was good I could tell 

how to plan my day. 

A woman who insisted on reading both my palms

told me when I was in my mother’s belly,

someone took my face

and buried it in the dirt.  

It’s in your intestines, she said.

I did not think to ask: What? 

10 

Where I am from, they say

serenade the evil 

you leave behind

11 

The Valley of the Whales houses the remains

of prehistoric whales. When you take me  

we take pictures; I am bleeding like a child. 

12 

Look, the mammal’s teeth 

are still so sharp! 

13 

It is said God likes women soft-spoken

on the occasion 

of both childbirth and death. 

14 

I could try to bleed less if you want. 

15 

When I am not good 

he speaks to me 

just as I am.  

16 

Once I took care of the mouse

I no longer needed

to take out the trash. 

17 

My mother denies the palm reader. 

You were safer than language

in my belly. 

18 

Don’t you think, she asks me, 

You would be happier with a child? 

19 

So many sharp edges in the mouth; 

I must learn 

where to leave my tongue.  

20 

I will not tell her the woman

she does not believe knows Mama

was supposed to have four children. 

21 

The fourth is watching over from heaven. 

22 

That there is a difference  

between it has not been here for days 

and I have not seen it 

pulls calm from me like a tooth. 

23 

It is said on the bridge we will all walk in the end,

a non-believer will find the name of God

has forgotten the tongue. 

24 

In my belly there’s a light that blinks

like the eyes of a rodent, 

so suddenly hungry. 

25 

I have not been a child in years— 

I do not need to be brave. 

26 

Serenading her intestines with God’s one 

hundred names,

the boy sings like a girl. 

27 

Which pulls the evil close. 

28

I love the man most 

when I smell sleep on his tongue.  

29 

My own voice on my tongue. 

30 

I have not been a child in years. 

31 

When I close my eyes I am kissing 

the back of an old woman’s neck. 

*Note: The poem’s title borrows a line from the poem “What I See When I Stare Long Enough into Nothing” by Jeremy Michael Clark.


Sara Elkamel, a woman with dark brown curly hair and brown eyes, standing against blurred buildings in Cairo, Egypt.

Sara Elkamel is a poet and journalist living between Cairo and NYC. She holds an MA in arts journalism from Columbia University and an MFA in poetry from New York University. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Magazine, The Yale Review, MQR, Four Way Review, The Cincinnati Review, Gulf Coast, Poet Lore, Poetry London, Best New Poets 2020, Best of the Net 2020, among others. She is the author of the chapbook “Field of No Justice” (African Poetry Book Fund & Akashic Books, 2021).