Princeton University’s Program in Creative Writing is pleased to announce the winners of the 2015 Leonard L. Milberg ’53 High School Poetry Prize.
Mwamba Juliette Mutale, Mississippi
Lindsey Hudson, Haitian Folk Tale
Madeline Kim, My Father’s Mastectomy as Unidentified Smoke
La Canada, CA
Charlotte Bausch, SKY BURIAL
Darcy Chanin, T.P.
Ella Dixon, Hiss
Oak Park, IL
Brandon Eric Fisher, Before Fishing
Ava Goga, NOTES ON DEPRESSION
Katherine R. Grosch, The moon reflects the light of the sun
Mariah Hall, #1
Beatrice Lee, Spaghetti Western
Joyce Hyojin Lee, Bicycle Falls
Basking Ridge, NJ
Jessica Li, Good Girl
Angela Luo, To Our Friends in China, With Love
San Ramon, CA
Hannah Miao, Dust Bowl
Erika Riley, I’m Not Mad, But
Stony Brook, NY
Xirui Song, The Journey
Winton Yee, Apology to Tarfia/the Girl I Met/Myself
Mwamba Juliette Mutale
I was seventeen and vulnerable, wisdom teeth stunted.
Along the Mississippi River, there are flies
the size of quarters and vinyl records louder than grief.
It’s always humid and the car window is stuck.
I stop at the only gas station in town and buy a warm cola.
It’s sticky, and it reminds me of last summer and all the things
that never happened, but might as well have.
Like how I can remember the entire route
to New Orleans simply based on burger joints
we passed on the way to some idea of hometown glory.
The glory turned out to be your estranged father—
his vulgar slurs as he slaughtered the chickens, and again
when he saw his son with a copper girl.
Haitian Folk Tale
The school was made of bricks that had fallen apart in some places.
One year God planted a rice field. It pleased him greatly as it grew.
Its sides kept outsiders out. Only the students were allowed in.
God received a message: “God, the pintards are eating your rice.”
The wall was topped with barbed wire. I was at a table to paint girls’ nails.
God called the angel Michael and gave him a gun to shoot the pintards.
They were fascinated by the paint. Some didn’t realize it needed to dry.
The angel went as instructed, but the pintards escaped into a tree.
Girls kept returning to the table with their polish smudged on their hands.
As Michael pointed the gun, the pintards began to sing and dance.
To my left was the wall, which had holes just large enough for hands.
The pintards were black birds with white dots and colorful faces.
Children without sponsors for education were placing their fingers inside.
Michael was entranced by their beauty. He began to dance with them.
They waved at me, wishing to be handed something.
God sent Gabriel to kill them in Michael’s place. Then he sent Peter.
I was told not to give them anything, or else more might arrive.
Both danced with the pintards until sundown and returned ashamed.
I painted their fingernails a sparkly blue.
So God went to His rice field, gun in hand. God danced.
My Father’s Mastectomy as Unidentified Smoke
After the radiation, we fed every hairbrush to fire.
My father a twig-thin fist, a crate of unripe oranges
left in the trunk, the half-empty bottle of tequila
I hid underneath spinach tresses. My mother a root,
praying doglike over a stolen hospital blanket.
After the mastectomy, we understood what had changed:
the quietness of being clothed, a chest vast and unmarked,
crushed glass across the kitchen floor as something virile
and dropped. He groped for masculinity in broken doorknobs,
First Blood every Sunday evening, for all skies smutted of light
when a man found a tumor in the embossment of his breast.
We hated pink joggers and home-squeezed carrot juice
and watched him dream of metastasizing under water, out of breath.
There was the night he cried out inz the yard, heaving the stitch
across his chest like an orifice. The hollowing out of light.
Smoke rising from the house like branches. My father in the kitchen,
leaning against muddy countertop. My father with a canister
of ashes, burning what remained of his hair.