By Fiona Lu
11th grade, Hillsdale High School, CA

With lines from "A New Vision of Artificial Intelligence for the People" by Karen Hao, a Pulitzer Center reporting project

i. lingua franca

They came in ships as sharp as knives, with hands
shaped like so many synonyms for slaughter. 
They laid claim to anything that could be held.
Tried to destroy everything that couldn’t:
words peeled from our throats, tongues 
coaxed from children’s mouths.

So it is true what they say about a classroom 
& other bloodless massacres. Soon, 
the children will no longer remember the name 
of their own country

“Aotearoa. Aotearoa. Aotearoa,” we say to them,
lips sweat-slicked like an animal forgetting how to live.
Like a deer caught in some perpetual headlight of loss.

& it is to no avail. “New Zealand. New Zealand. New Zealand,” 
they respond. It is the only name they remember how to say.

ii. kaitiaki

in the back room
of an old & graying
building I found my
country’s missing words. 
The a’s & o’s tucked
inside motherboard,
i’s wrapped around wires,
consonants flashing
on a 14 inch display.

Today, I will press my 
ear to the monitor,
hear every line of code
falling into meaning,
every processer learning
how to speak. 

Maybe it will sound 
like my grandmother’s 
sunken cheeks. A 
bygone elder’s breath. 
That day when your brother 
trembled with laughter 
in the sand, 
his palms 
stained with ocean.

Maybe it will sound like home.

Fiona is a student from the San Francisco Bay Area who is passionate about storytelling, no matter what form it may take. In addition to writing, she's very interested in computer science (and math), which is part of the reason this Pulitzer Center article caught her eye! She is super happy for this opportunity to learn more about and create art for the world around her, and she hopes more solutions like this one will be innovated in the future. In her free time, she likes to explore her city, read fantasy novels, and eat really, really good food.

Read more winning entries from the 2022 Fighting Words Poetry Contest.