By Grace Liang
10th grade, The York School, ON
Second place contest winner

With lines from "In the Trenches of Ukraine’s Forever War" by James Verini, a Pulitzer Center reporting project

near Donbas, a sunflower field
splinters beneath billowing smoke.

                                                                   trenchworks slash through
                                                                                the forests—mapping
                                                                                the land with scars.

rockets land near gardens, their
explosions ripening into echoes.

                                                                                gas pipes burst onto
                                                        sidewalks and blood covers them
                                                        like rust.

                       shrapnel slices through crouched
                                                            and furrowed brows.

wounds open
                                                                       and coffins close.

                    Pisky is unmade into
                    a graveyard

                                                       —three blasts strike two soldiers
                                                       and only one is left alive.

                    from Luhansk, a family flees—carrying fear as
                                       their heaviest baggage.

                    in Zolote, a lieutenant threatens to bury a villager
                    by her home—as if the soil was not already
                    teeming with the dead.

                                       the people who want to return to the
                                       past clash against the people

                                                                                                        who do not—

                        both offering destruction at
                        the altar of a nation’s

                                                                                         distant promises.

                        hope decays
                                        another half-life
                                                                 every minute—

                                        as the world washes its
                                        hands clean of the blood

                                        —and leaves

                                        the will to fight to run dry like
                                        a burst vein
                                        the bombed walls to gape like
                                        starved mouths
                       the war unending to fester like a rotten gash in

                       this place as wronged as one could find.

Grace Liang is a student at The York School, in Toronto, Canada. She is passionate about writing and in awe of its power to transform minds and hearts. She hopes that this poem can shed light on the struggles and lives of those caught in this prolonged conflict, and the individual experiences and perspectives often overlooked in coverage of war.

Read more winning entries from the 2022 Fighting Words Poetry Contest.