By Mackenzie Duan
11th grade, Dougherty Valley High School, CA

With lines from "Fallen Forest: Cambodia’s Political Reforestation Unlikely To Survive" by Anton Delgado, a Pulitzer Center reporting project

In August, bulldozers cleared Phnom Tamao Forest,
                 the land pockmarked with bushes,
                                   uneven as tank treads, the last trees
lurching, limp. A man heaves logs
                 where the sky will be, a sand line
                                   splitting forest from future, mirrored
in the depthless lake. The man listens
                 to the spirits angering, anchoring
                                   like new trees strapped down
by bleached sticks. These straight lines: omens
                 of smoke, heavy air swallowing
                                   Chiang Mai. Tracing a throat’s
outline, squeezed of shade. In this symphonic land, this landing
                 symphony. Still, there are pagodas
                                   built from unrazeable stone, suns
like hot nails, dragonflies resting on a Siamese Rosewood
                 sapling. Orange prayers burn like incense
                                   in the spring. One day the ground’s grooves will crowd
with green heads again. One day the sun will rise
                 over a tract of gold, woodland with a foliage so rich
                                   that the soil will never see sky.

Mackenzie Duan is a rising senior from the Bay Area who has been recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, Youngarts, Princeton University, and The Poetry Society. She believes in language’s capacity to repair wounds, imagine future lives, and chart new paths toward environmental restoration.

Read more winning entries from the 2023 Fighting Words Poetry Contest.