First Place: Staycation

by Pamela Yuen


Is it a sin to think - I admit, even relish - how easy it is to make peace
with the world? No, not the outside one, all scars and shameful sores. 

But these close quarters. The empty chairs at breakfast. Peeing 
with the door open. All my subdued languishing in low expectations 

in the days since anyone has come to call and collect their social taxes. 
Oh, sweet Jesus. To be spared the fake embraces and awkward handshakes 

wrenched from fingers more suited to shooting tiny beams of light, 
pew pew! than these forced social niceties. Excuse me, I’m sorry. 

These days, I am more spectral than solid. Like ghosts
fleeing from shipwrecked bodies. 

To think that our time could be measured in 21 grams of soul, 
Or, if I remember the song correctly-- in midnights or cups of coffee,

in inches or miles and miles of our ancestors lined up
in their omnipresent benevolence.  So many hungry ghosts, 

who never spoke in life of the countless ways one can suffer
degradation in foreign lands. My God. To survive 

all the lashes and everyday abrasions. Then finally die 
and regain holy consciousness. Just to come back and watch 

a descendant alone, peeling oranges and writing poems. Poems. 
About peperomia planted last spring, with its funny coin leaves 

growing slowly like a living statue busker towards a patch of sunlight. 
I will spend the next week sketching, trying to bend my graphite 

pencils to fit her alien hollows, all those green mousetail flowers. 
I promise to water and feed her. Tend to her needs and be tender.

And if I do this—and nothing but this stupid, clumsy thing—
I might pickle some seismic nothingness and pray that it be blessed. 

Judge Anna Yin’s comments:

On the first reading, I thought this poem strangely bizarre.  But its ironic humor and detailed self-interrogation invited me to reread it. I was happy to find plain truth and ancient wisdom behind the poet’s self-proclaimed “And if I do this—and nothing but this stupid, clumsy thing—”. Somehow, I too enjoy “growing slowly like a living statue busker towards a patch of sunlight”.  In this intrusive, unsettled world, we might need this kind of staycation to make peace with ourselves.


Pamela Yuen was born to Hong Kong migrants in rural Ontario. She is an expressive writing facilitator with the Toronto Writers’ Collective and serves as an executive member of Canadian Authors Association—Toronto Branch. Her spoken word can be heard through Brickyard, an audio/visual hub of Brick Books. You can visit her at @peameala. 

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