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GAZA

By Kiran Masroor
Adult Category, First Place

Gaza did not destruct for us to watch.
The way the word Gaza stays in the back of the throat.
I didn’t know I loved Gaza until it became so small.
Small as a word in a sentence. We fit such enormous things
into our mouths and expect that the meaning still comes through.
You cannot say a country’s name over and over until it is
reduced to the last bitter syllable. You cannot condense a million lives
and strain them and slice them and dice them and season them.
You cannot fit every angle into the words you say.
You cannot hold the beating love story of every citizen
and move the camera to their feet and catch
the smirk when they turn the alleyway onto the main road.
You cannot capture the slap of their soles
or the bend of their ankles as they run. If you could grab
a pitcher full of water but the pitcher was big and impossible
as the moon and you poured it all onto the page until
the water became an ocean and the faces of every
loved thing resurfaced, maybe then
you could approach the entirety of things—
the eyelash that fell and was forgotten,
rain caught in a woman’s eyes,
the dopey grin of a kid in love.

ELEGY IN WHICH THE CHILDREN WERE DREAMING

By Jody Rambo
Adult Category, Honorable Mention

“The house we used to live in was completely destroyed, but part of the closet in the house on the north side remained intact, so my mother and younger brothers slept there, and I slept in the air-raid shelter behind the house.” -Mutsuhiko Segoshi, experienced the bombing as a grade 5 student (aged 11)

In their dreams, a few things were made of ocean. Blue was a new color lifted from its deepest regions, and they held it in cups made of their hands. No one went thirsty. Nor had ever known the scent of fire. A door lathed in wavelengths of blue light could be opened to the memory of summer swims. Floating, they grew lighter—bodies made whole & abiding. And there was a room into which one could step and feel the breeze of a momentary belonging, which felt something like the gentle brush of a mother’s thumb across their lips. Some dreams opened into fields of rubble where one could climb a set of stone stairs and shout across a great distance for a father or mother. Everything carried its echo. Anyone could be searched for and found. In one dream an entire city beneath the city was discovered. It held memories composed of light and shadow that could be touched when cast over the surface of a river or against a stone wall. The air of their dreams carried a lingering scent of radish leaves & rice porridge, which lifted a hunger. And the absence of love grew up in bluets along the roadsides. Silence on their lips shaping nothing became a language they could speak. Some heard music come through a thousand darknesses. Faithful in all dreams were their hands, restored, and useful as tools for grief and longing. Palms were mirrors in which clouds could be seen and made their faces beautiful once more. Merely holding a fragment of glass or wood, small bone dug from the earth, gave them strength to live on with their wounds.

play pretend

By Katherine Ong
Youth Category (13-18), First Place Tie

“Since 1963, 186,239 children and teens have been killed with guns on American soil—four times the number of U.S. soldiers killed in action in the Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined.”
-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics

the swingset creaks its regular song
as the sun beats down on a scuffed plastic slide
in these days of candy
you’ll find scraped knees dusted in asphalt sugar
tiny shoes full of millennium-old sand
pearls of sweat and the imaginary masks of
knights, princesses, mud cake bakers
and the boys who tuck two fingers into their palms and run
giggling pew pew pew in an innocent game of play-pretend
the endless ring-around-the-rosie
until they all fall down

they can play pretend within those four walls just as well
either to crawl under their desks like turtles when the earth trembles
to run out to the field as if flames swallowed the classroom
or perhaps the game where the teacher turns off all the lights
shuts the blinds and locks the door
and they all scurry to the darkest corners of the room
where the shadows speak in tongues they’re too young to understand

but as the news and numbers scream louder and louder still
they’ll one day come to realize they were not pretending
but practicing

if only there was a place
where those days of candy never turned stale
so they could learn how to dance instead of hide
to write fairy tales instead of goodbye text messages
and drift away not to the sound of a bullet ricochet
but to old melodies heard through grey hair

the abc’s and baby tears

By Daniella Levick
Youth Category (13-18), First Place Tie

i was taught the art of staying still
before i’d memorised flashcards of farm animals
i knew how to hide under desks
before the correct use of a capital

we were taught we were in danger
but wondered from whom?
we’re in 1st grade being taught the world is kind
but they lock us in rooms.

teach us to wield canned soup as a weapon
though he’d have a gun
and that staying where we are
is safer than if we’d run
(don’t run)

if he came in the room
you choose fight or flight
but we haven’t even perfected
our left and our right

(quiet)

we cover our heads and hide on our knees
still grass stained and scuffed from playing in trees
hear the loud speaker say “lockdown”
who will hear our symphony of pleas?
my mom is just down the road
have mercy on me please
i’m only 6 years old,
i haven’t even learnt my abc’s

a b c d
e f -f
g h

-ella

Solace for My Silence

By Hayden Hughes
Youth Category (12 and Under), First Place

Surprise attack adjourns the radio’s band;
each word flies through me like a Zero bomber,
piercing like the ray in a tiger’s eye.
Promises pour, a declaration of war;
each word Mama doesn’t say speaks to me, “papa.”

Seeing the invisible: a telegram boy…
his knock a hammer
pounding my head,
swallowing my thoughts…
so I aid as papa fought.

Night falls and Mama departs,
white cap and cape in tow.
I drag my wagon door to door,
searching for answers
in rubber and metal.

Her hand gestures to the door
I obediently open.
She sighs, snatching urgency from me.
Her tears, pounding as an explosion,
marring the words as she reads them.

Its burdensome ounce falls into my hand.
How can I keep safe
the very envelope
which tells me my father couldn’t be kept
safe?

Grieving interrupted,
my grip tightens,
war spurred by war,
solace for my silence…
so I tear it apart as it has torn me.

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