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‘Tripoli Dreaming’ by Rebecca Stonehill – first prize winner in the 2021 TripFiction ‘Voyages by Verse’ Poetry Competition

25th July 2021


'Tripoli Dreaming' by Rebecca Stonehill - first prize winner in the 2021 TripFiction 'Voyages by Verse' Poetry Competition‘Tripoli Dreaming’ by Rebecca Stonehill – first prize winner in the 2021 TripFiction ‘Voyages by Verse’ Poetry Competition

Rebecca Stonehill is a historical fiction author and creative writing teacher living in Norwich with her husband and three children. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys reading, walking, playing the piano, wild swimming and spending time in nature.

In Tripoli Dreaming, she wanted to challenge herself to write about a place she’d never visited and began reading prose from Libya to help her. With this poem, she seeks to paint a picture away from the news headlines we hear about.


Tripoli Dreaming

Blow out the candles, jida, they tell me,

these small faces clustered around that nudge at the edge of my memory.

So I close my eyes and take a deep breath


but I am not here, where sunlight pale as paper

filters weakly through the blinds and I cannot feel my real story with

my fingertips. No, I am


somewhere else;

in  a place where the scent of the Sahara settles at night on the city streets

once the day has been drained of its white-hot heat


and now, only now with the exhale of darkness

can I feel the welcome, roiling breeze of the desert tingle my skin

and hear the soft hum of the Mediterranean.


A day flooded with sunlight, and we walk along

the seafront beneath palm trees staunch as sentries, my hand clammy around

sesame sticks twisted up in white waxed paper


and as we stop to eat, Baba points towards the ocean,

can you see that habibi, he asks me, can you see Malta in the distance?

Yes, I can see it and yes,


I can smell the bitter cardamon rising up

from the coffee and the steam laden with sage and mint as tea is poured from high;

the whitewashed walls are infused with the scent of parsley and lemon


and the sweetness of pomegranate seeds soaked in rosewater.

Mama plays the tabla as my aunties dance, hips swaying side to side and wrists twisting

against a frame of limpid skies and eucalyptus branches.


I collect plums, mulberries and oranges

from the garden in a Bedouin basket, warm with the day’s heat

and as plump as the shrimp


we buy from the ramshackle fish market

that skirts the medina, a labyrinth of secret courtyards behind wooden doors, crumbling

Roman pillars and narrow alleyways.


And as the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer,

we walk past shops set within elegant arched bays where columns of red caps are stacked

and black silk scarves billow in the sultry wind.


We move beneath minarets, wrought-iron balconies and

wooden shutters until we reach Piazza Italia where I look up and gaze at Septimus Severus

standing on his bleached marble pedestal, arm flung towards the sea.


At the restaurant in the harbour, they grill our shrimp,

tossing it in olive oil as I tear hot, fresh bread apart with my fingers whilst

old men gather in white jallabias to play dominoes.


We walk home through a city

flooded with dying sunlight and in my bed, air as heavy as wine, I am rocked to sleep in the

sweet embrace of certainty.


Blow them out, jida, they implore me,

we have put eighty four candles on the cake for you! I feel the warmth

of the flame against my skin


and I swear it is the warmth of the Libyan sun.

I inhale a tangle of memories and dreams of my homeland before it tore out its own heart.

And I blow.


Catch Rebecca on Twitter and connect via her website

Click on the titles below to read the other two prizewinning poems

In Search of Baghdad by Karen Quevillon

On Cefalù Beach by Tom Benjamin

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