Winner of the Graybeal-Gowen Prize

In Great Aunt Noor’s Salon

Thirty-two years ago, my sister learned to walk.
She simply stood up on her wavering
one-year-old legs, arms slightly raised
in a wing shape for balance.


The sky over our heads in the apartment block—
by an empty sandlot that often filled with shabab
playing futbol—now filled with the cries
of aircraft flying from airstrips in the Hejaz


to bomb targets in Kuwait City—
and by night Tomahawk missiles hurled
along a silent road, flying from
destroyers anchored in the Red Sea.


On the TV set to the left of Layla,
afternoon prayer had begun in Makkah.
The camera zoomed back at a wide angle
to capture the synchronized movement of men.


We had grown used to the interruption
of the televised air-raid siren that cut
into the rhythm of scheduled state programming
of prayer, generals, and diplomats.


Last month I saw a mute swan pull itself
up from the river as it approached the shore.
Its wings and joints flexed into wide worship,
a pose that mystifies biologists: horaltic.


Layla’s legs held. Her knees twitched
away a few dips and wobbles while her
arms spread wider, floating upward into air,
welcoming a wind only she could sense.



Of this poem, winner of our Graybeal-Gowen prize in 2024, judge Anna Maria Hong said, “I’m enthralled by this poem’s movements recollecting recent wars and their reverberations through our current catastrophes, the collateral and casual destructions of empire, as the poet deftly traverses time and place, melding the domestic and the geopolitical, sirens and silence. The poem’s remarkable central image depicting how private mysteries unfold amid those devastations leaves us with an unexpected gift: wonder.”

Majda Gama is the author of the chapbook The Call of Paradise selected by Diane Seuss as winner of the 2022 Two Sylvias Chapbook Prize. Her full-length manuscript won the Wandering Aengus Book Award and will be published in 2025. She is a 2024 Gregory Djanikian Scholar and her poems appear in the Adroit Journal, Four Way Review, The Offing, Ploughshares, Poetry, Under A Warm Green Linden, and are forthcoming from Prairie Schooner, Tahoma, and