Listen to Sarah Lao read her poem:


                         I come home in the evenings
            to Mother scraping my scalp for God.
                         To ward off the lice: she pulls my hair

up with a ribbon & tells me to face the home altar:
            the lamplight spilling & God’s face: peeking out,
yolk-colored & shameless. Because I study faces:

            I count lashes until dark icons wink
                         & molt in my image: a specter: no:
            a parasite: no: a reckless fluency in pigment:

Yes. The altar shimmering into a mirror:
            I let vanity out to take hold of what it must.
Leave a pear: flagrant & bitten through: as offering.


Twice in a sporadic dream    I turn sexless
in fear             As in intimacy worn bitter   & blue

Nights I lie      to touch myself            without reason
As in blameless light                         silk ribbons unspooled

into the whip of a flagellant       & Mother lies
in her rough halo of hair      limning the fringes

of my shadow into thread          Mother could never
recognize       who was there


Her grief: a steepled beast with no tongue.
I teach her with the prongs of a fork
how to pronounce the th in thank

& place the stress of amen there on the men.
All the lush syllables to sickle for a vanishing.
But Mother’s always liked the tongue of the God

in the television best: how the family gives
a circle of thanks: how the Mother’s tongue
pushes out her cheek as if it rolled around

a stone to uncork her speech.

Read the other prize-winning works from the Sixth Annual Narrative High School Writing Contest:

Ivy” by Aman Rahman
Aubade in the Aftermath” by Elane Kim
And see our interview with Sarah Lao and Javier Zamora

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