Carnegie Mellon University

“Searching the Lines of My Palm”

First Place for High School Poetry (Tie)

The hands of thieves, sliced
like deli pork, stretch the skins
of their palms wide. God offers
no rain to populate
their flexion creases with gifts
of life and erosion,
only copper pennies,
crafted from Congo mines.
The latest autopsy
of a country reveals lungs
lacerated, breaths overthrown
by blood diamonds that gleam
like my mother’s kitchen knives,
illuminated by stove and dishonored
by mango’s flesh.
            I’ve heard it costs
two cents to make a penny.
            The thieves pay only one—not a cent,
but a hand, much like my mother’s,
            its weight darkening with shadow
forgotten grids of the globe
in my bedroom.
Thank God we are alive, say the teachers
at my school’s annual Holocaust remembrance
assembly. I pray the way sinners do; not Thank God
my family survived, but This shouldn’t have happened,
and my father won’t ever buy
a German car, but while my parents fast
on a holiday I can’t remember
the name of, I fall asleep
in the back of a Volkswagen,
wondering why I have never felt
lucky. I wake with my body
not emaciated, with my limbs
intact. I dirty my mouth with fruit
            and say no more prayers.
Nobody’s going to grieve
            over us, the Jewish
boy I’ve just met says. Everyone is just going to forget.
His whole body convulses,
a VHS tape rewinding.
Antisemitism is like a fire,
my grandmother says. It simmers down,
but never goes out. It’s always ready to be stoked
again. My grandmother and her daughter, both rabbis,
            carry a righteous gene I lack.
Still, I listen to their preaching.
At the first red flag, go.
Pack your bags and only take what you need.
            Leave the country.
There's an active shooter at Tree of Life,
I tell my sister, reading from a text message,
as we watch a horror film
on the couch on a Saturday morning.
We switch to the news
and see our street. Outside, a helicopter
My grandmother, a reverse hoarder,
refuses leftovers. Her apartment is a child
unfed, rich
with promise but devoid of food.
I won’t waste, she says.
On her door, a HIAS sticker—my people
were refugees
too—models a Magen David.
One week after
the synagogue shooting, my mother
enters my bedroom crying. What’s wrong?
In the corner of the room, a tapestry
bearing my name—the Hebrew
word for tree—wrestles against wind.
I’m holding so many people’s pain.
The gunman’s Twitter feed
claims, HIAS likes to bring invaders
in that kill our people.
            I scoff at the irony
to splint the silence.
I count my own breaths
like the worshippers
counted corpses. I sleep.
I breathe.

Read more award-winning entries here.