By Oliver Lee
11th grade, Arrowhead Union High School, WI
With lines from “Georgia ‘Doesn’t Care About Me’: LGBTQ Struggles Worsen Under Lockdown” by Chloé Lula, a Pulitzer Center reporting project
The thing about fire is,
it’s not just one color.
It’s orange, yes, and yellow and white,
and blue, sometimes, if you get it hot enough.
And if you’ve ever tried to draw it you know that it’s
the agglomeration of flickering flames that make the fire;
it’s the combination of stroke upon stroke upon stroke;
you cannot draw a fire without lifting up your pen because what you produce
is nothing but a pale comparison to fire;
it is orange scribbles dressed as the blaze.
You were born in the middle of a bonfire
that was already raging years before you existed,
and every generation before you had to choose,
whether to throw water on the fire or to drink it.
You live in the bonfire with others and you make love
desperately, viciously, denied aid but not AIDS
and the CCTV camera lenses all melted
but there’s no need for them in this circle of fiery friends.
And when you feel you have no options left
you jump into the flames, following in the footsteps
of those who came before you;
those you watched leave, the pain scribbled across their faces
until they had no options left.
Some fall. Some run.
Flickering fingers of the fire
flutter like shadows, each one a person.
Classmates, neighbors, friends.
Apparent reluctance, a parent’s reliance
on the boots from the government ready for kicking (out).
You can fall and let the flames—the people—consume you,
or you can run.
Oliver Lee is a rising senior at Arrowhead Union High School in Wisconsin. A life-long lover of words, literature, and social justice, Oliver is ecstatic to be recognized by the Pulitzer Center. He has previously been recognized as a finalist in the New York Times "Coming of Age in 2020" multimedia contest. As a trans, queer, second generation Chinese-American, this piece means a lot to him as he wants to continue fighting for recognition of the struggles marginalized people go through.
Read more winning entries from the 2021 Fighting Words Poetry Contest.