By Emma Karn
12th grade, Sacred Heart Academy, PA
2nd place contest winner

With lines from “‘Buzz of a Mosquito...But With the Sound of Grief’: The Lives of India’s Women Prisoners” by Jahnavi Sen, a Pulitzer Center reporting project

A callous optimization problem:
to fit 45 women in a room so small
We lie, outlining each other’s bodies,
Craving the silence of an empty place,
Hearing instead the tears, the beatings,
The sounds of no control
It’s as if we bear a mark;
a stronger sanction than the law
Binds us. We have done the forbidden,
Living in a way you say you don’t approve;
We can tell you, there was no other option,
And we had no control
Your body is always watched
and there’s nothing you can do
Their gaze makes you shrink to nothingness,
Confined, denied, treated as soulless flesh,
They weigh each grain of rice to feed us
With what they can control
We have been taught the
work women "ought to be" engaged in
Sew, chant; time will flow at its pace,
Our families may be waiting for us,
Our families may already have abandoned us
And given up control
Tell me all that you have lost.
they didn’t care that we were leaving
A child, sliding out in a bloody storm,
A memory stripped away with every blow;
Cursing the walls that forget our grief
We have lost control

A firm believer in the power of words, Emma Karn has penned several award-winning poems throughout high school. She is a graduating senior at Sacred Heart Academy in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She enjoys both reading and writing poetry, as well as other genres. Emma will continue to use her voice to bring awareness to social issues. She is honored to be recognized by the Pulitzer Center and hopes her words will reach a wide audience.

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