By Jacklyn Vandermel
10th grade, Northern Valley Regional High School, NJ
1st place contest winner

With lines from “The Victims and Those Left Behind” by Mary F. Calvert, a Pulitzer Center reporting project

          claim 28 uranium mine, february 2020

          bits of rheum
like uranium glass form
          around the navajo

children’s eyes. over
          time, the bits even
with their dust

          powdered skin. afar,
miners uncover bits
          of uranium, their eyes like they’ve blinked

away clouds. the water wells
          sorrow in impurities. when water comes out
of the side of the walls, the miners

          put cups
right there and drink out of them.
          they work until they don’t

have one ear to use.
         at home, yellow dust fades
into their suppers when the children turn

          away to cough
blood. disease holds
their lungs close, and the navajo exhale

until they can’t,
          until their breath is silent
with their killer. mourning follows night,

          and they pray and pledge
their allegiance
          for the life there is

past the gift
          of earth. they tell
their stories to a savior

         they don’t know the name of yet.

Jacklyn Vandermel is a rising junior in high school from New Jersey. As she keeps up with current events and the pressing issues surrounding the world like water contamination, she is grateful for this opportunity to highlight those impacted by these problems. You can catch her writing poetry while drinking an iced matcha latte. 

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