Sara Elkamel


When I was 14, I bled a clot of blood so big it looked like a liver. Mother banished, I took it to my father, wrapped like a gift in toilet paper. All color but white left his face as he asked if I had unbuttoned my jeans in recent history. I still walk around half-naked, looking for my orphan liver.


In The Nightingale’s Prayer, two girls live in the belly of a mountain. They carry water on their heads in clay pots. The wind carries Hanady to a man who spoke the tongue of goats. No string of wind passes between them in the night. We see the girl in sunlight, belly bulged like the ribs of a pot. Dishonor turns to dust the promise of gold—her uncle blocks the desert like a door. Here the camel kneels like a mountain crumbles.

The nightingale’s prayer.
Tongue of knife in the neck.

All the movies of my childhood obscured the true color of blood.
It was something staining the white sand black.

The nightingale’s prayer.
Tongue of knife in the liver.


I try, but I can’t sit down and write everything I fear all at once because I don’t fear it all at once.


I keep track of how soon I bring up my intact hymen in conversation.


I feed my liver sugar to purge old blood.


I crave dirt. I carve a house out of salt. I cover the holes with names.


The name I gave my body I thought meant dream but it doesn’t it means this small thing.


Sometimes I want to call us Rare Birds.
Then I pluck small knives from our eyes.
Pick a new color for my liver.
I recall my orphan,
and I scurry in search of a mother.


If I want to want you, isn’t that enough? I ask
as I realize: love is like digging

a hole that’s already been dug. Love is like a hole
I start, but say nothing about the digging.

Giant white rocks rise like dead trees
from the hard earth. Because our bodies are alloys

of pain and pleasure, we play with them.
In a way, what else is there to do?

We try everything: we scream, we pray,
we curse, we climb the giant lily rock,

the flying saucer, the mushroom, the winged lion
and the frog, but we are so alone inside this desert.

The desert is alone inside itself, one of us
cries. Last night I doubted myself without mercy:

When you said love is black and white,
did you mean….at the same time?

Everyday I bend and harvest black
stones like berries from the hard chalk

floor and fix them over my eyes. When you ask,
I say: You are the light of my eyes.

Sara Elkamel is an Egyptian poet and journalist living between her hometown, Cairo, and New York City. She holds an MA in arts journalism from Columbia University and is currently pursuing an MFA in poetry at New York University. Named a 2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholar by The Adroit Journal, Elkamel has had poems appear in The Common, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Rumpus, American Chordata, Winter Tangerine, and as part of the anthologies Halal If You Hear Me and 20.35 Africa, among other publications