Of candy floss and fire eaters, kaleidoscopes and hand readers, sweet treats and horse riders
Magic remains, until it decays
Bite into the cloud candy,
Fight through the crowds
Howling for more –
More food, more drink, more want, no think
The ink from your pen shines on the cobblestones.
From inside, fire singed eater
Misfortunes from the reader,
Sweet turns sickly sweeter
Colour mourns to monochrome-
Black, white, grey,
But red stays –
Deep in the fire, sunk in the streets, the thrum as you weep
You write in the red; shed wine – carnival – carnevale, carnelevamen –
Sounds of screams, of chaos combusting, your soul contorting – sounds like:
Carnivore – carne – levare:
Put away flesh.
Let us revel in this last moment, our last breaths,
Before our blood is shed,
Sucked up by carnations lest nations forget
What we lost, what came next.
Your life depends on this paper page.
Red ink to drown you – a wave.
In this poem Malak weaves together a world of intensity and relaxation to match the feeling of a gruelling exam schedule – the quick movement of the clock during the paper and the seemingly endless limbo as you recover from one exam and prepare for another. The colour theory implemented in the second half of the piece really stands out to me, in particular the multiple characterisations of red, as the colour of wine, of carnivals, of carnations, of fire, of ink, of blood. I love the contrast between the belief that the world outside will remain the same before and after exam season and the realisation that it won’t: “magic remains, until it decays”. That’s part of the emotional confusion of Oxford examinations, where everyone is at a different place in their stressful journeys and once that stress is lifted, there’s limited time for celebration before everyone has to disappear. “An Ode to Oxford Exams” captures that spirit with a haunting, unknowable beauty.