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
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
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.