By Dylan Ragas
11th grade, Germantown Friends School, PA

With lines from "Unbroken Courage” by Ingrid Olivia Norrmén-Smith, a Pulitzer Center reporting project

They may be in a hibernation state
at the moment, like the frog in the dry season.
Like the bear resting snug in the winter, or the
bats hanging soundly in the cave.
They may be in a hibernation state,
but it will not last forever.
They sit, now, bodies pulsing with potential energy,
at the ready to bolt from their seats, to brandish
their arms in the articulation
of physically conveyed critique.
Paint their faces with powders
and their eyes with smoke and ink.
Modern performances diverge from their ancient roots.
They think about the baksbat, even though
they shouldn’t: "I am bak after this" or
"I am baksbat." When bak is broken
And sbat is form,
I am “broken form,”
I am “broken courage.”
I am the frog in the dry season.
Forms swaying like laundry in the wind,
like fabric curtains in the breeze, like
velvet. Sherry-coloured sheaths of fabric billow
and she is all form and control and anti-
There is a sense of eternity.
Before the next set, she takes one hand
and pulls her fingers backwards, stretching
them into one of the shapes of the dance.
Her hand a white crescent moon, bending,
shifting with the force of the other.
The crescent, the hand—these shapes,
passed down through generations, are evidence
of the physical memory of the dance, the
culture, the formations they all know.
What about the formations only I know? she asks.
I don’t have baksbat. Maybe because of ballet.
Exceptionally high rates, psychological scars.
Psychological fallout, major depression.

Decades of conflict...
I don’t have baksbat. I have to walk forward.
I don’t have baksbat. I want to walk forward.
They have not yet found a way through baksbat.
They are hibernating.

Dylan Ragas is a rising senior at Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, PA. She is very passionate about all art forms, and loves writing poems that incorporate different types of perspective and narrative, so as to be able to present a more comprehensive viewpoint on the issues on which she focuses. She enjoyed learning more about the history of dance in Cambodia through this contest, and is grateful for the chance to help the Pulitzer Center spread awareness on this topic.

Read more winning entries from the 2021 Fighting Words Poetry Contest.