By Emma Lee
9th grade, Stanton College Preparatory School, FL

With lines from“Finding Moments of Grace and Gold in the Midst of a Pandemic” by Naomi Marcus, a Pulitzer Center reporting project

a lukewarm berry
engorged by a sticky web of dew and tears
unfurling with the sour decay of reality
pushing back against my grip

what’s the point of eating if all i can taste is
the inevitable taint of what-if
because no matter how hard i pray,
i cannot stop the rot

after all
some things are beyond saving
this world has taught me enough
about the harshness of permanence

(statistics are just numbers until they claim the framed sunbeams from your childhood / detached, aloof until that’s him / the one who brimmed with life and pushed you to spread your wings when everyone else clipped them / the one who made you laugh until hiccups tumbled from within, sweet with the glimmer of popsicles and inside jokes / the one who told tales of faraway places as your parents hurled words at one another on the other side of the door.)

sickly sweet with unspoken promises
clogged with the flavor of goodbye

i see his glittering mischief
reflected in their gazes
i wonder if my children know
that a part of their mother
died with him

and then my youngest
who used to weep for a cracked crayon
sees the pitiful groceries i brought home
“you’ve worked hard, mama”
delicate hands curled in mine
the embrace of forgiveness 
four tomatoes

and all of a sudden my tears were not of sorrow
but a cleansing acceptance
draining me of weight from within
so many years, passed
coming and going
going and coming
yet now we’re here
present, with each other.
and it is gold.

in this moment of love’s benevolence
four tomatoes well with untold stories
bold strokes of red challenging fate herself
today i will make soup for my family
tell tales of faraway places
smile and weep and feel
till i shed feathers of hurt
and it is gold
till we spread new wings
and it is gold.

Emma Lee is a rising freshman at Stanton College Preparatory in Jacksonville, Florida. She is honored to have an opportunity to share her passion through words. Emma thinks it is crucial for younger writers to consider and interpret emotionally mature issues, and use poetry to shed light on otherwise overlooked stories. She aims to continue using her writing to instill hope and empathy.

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