Published in Overland Issue 242 Autumn 2021 · Poetry / Judith Wright Poetry Prize Judith Wright Poetry Prize: Border control: mediations Sara M Saleh Some of the questions two young soldiers asked me at the King Hussein border crossing checkpoint… Were you born on a Thursday in Cleopatra Hospital? Did you come out silently, as day- break smudged the night sky? And why was your father absent? What is the name of your father and his father and his father? Do your neighbours Mohamed and Faduma water the orphaned houseplant whenever you are away? Are you aware your parents first arrived in Australia with their life savings wrapped in brown paper, their only English the lyrics to We are the Champions? Did your mother bring two dresses, red polka dot and turquoise taffeta, in her peeling 60s suitcase? Did you correct her thanks God? Did she put up a fight when you said you were leaving? When he left? And how was your first Ramadan alone? Did you miss the walnut maamoul and Allahu Akbars tossed at you Eid mornings? Have you told any- one about the Enid Blyton books you stole from Stanmore library, because your mother worked three jobs? If you flatten your gutturals is it still Arabic? Why did your childhood best friend run away? What man siphoned her dry? Why does your grief stick to everything? Did inhaling an onion help with the tear gas they threw during the protests of ’03? What remedies did you inherit from your ancestors? What skeletons? Who taught you to roll wara2 3enab like that? Does 2am still grab you by the throat? Amongst the Gitanes and sewage and Roman ruins, can Beirut forgive its people? How many times have you phoned your mother since? Does your grandmother always boil her water twice? And why are you still shocked at how things (don’t) work there? What other city turns its war bunkers into clubs? Its prayers into curses? And why do the wretched always sell roses on Bliss street? And how do you revive the dead? Why did they take your brother? Could you make out his face amongst the thousands flickering in the waters of the Mediterranean? Did he return months after the funeral to ask you, what wrongs did I commit? What village do you carry on your lips, balance on your breath? Have you been to Jerusalem during olive harvest season? Did you pick and press, before the settlers gathered like acid in your chest and poisoned the ancient trees? Have you tired yet of the may Allah have mercys? Have they tired of you? Were you afraid of the men with guns those nights the power cut? Did you splutter your amens and sweat out your tasabeeh? Do you remember the countries you’ve lost? Do their crooked rivers still cling to you? Did you hear the aunties, rusted arms, coarse hairs on chins, call you lonely? Call you nobody’s mama anymore? Did you tell your mama you named him Omar Al Farouk, after the revered warrior? Why did it end with your Great Love Who Changes Everything? Did he make your wide hips tremble with jazz and derbake? Did he linger long enough on each letter of ya leil, ya ein and the evening news headlines? Did your hurts trail behind him like tangled fishing lines, too much for the life he lived? And does weight like that settle or lift? And what of the days you feel the earth greying? And when will you stop writing about borders and bloodshed and war and death and home? And home? And home? Read the rest of Overland 242 If you enjoyed this piece, buy the issue Or subscribe and receive four brilliant issues for a year Sara M Saleh Sara M Saleh is the daughter of migrants from Palestine, Egypt, and Lebanon, living on Gadigal land. A campaigner, writer, and poet, Sara’s work has been published in English and Arabic, and she co-edited the anthology Arab-Australian-Other. Sara received the 2021 Peter Porter Poetry Prize, and is developing her debut novel More by Sara M Saleh › Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. Related articles & Essays First published in Overland Issue 228 3 November 20233 November 2023 · Poetry our neighbours poem Ender Başkan our neighbours face appears above the fence – hello. our neighbours have a chat with us. our neighbours learn our names. our neighbours become our friends. our neighbours landlord thinks the market is ripe. our neighbours are told to leave. our neighbours try to buy their house at an exorbitant price to keep their kids in the school zone. our neighbours are denied. First published in Overland Issue 228 25 October 202325 October 2023 · Poetry The inhabitants Elif Sezen I died today, among many others, my grandpa died too, and our neighbours, / my best friend, the one with braided hair yes, and our sweet sweet doctors, / our motherly nurses... We heard a blast, then a whoosh of some kind, / and all gone.