Claudia Ann Seaman Awards for Young Writers, 2017, Poetry
1st Honorable Mention: Valery Tarco, Newark New Jersey
From Adolescent Psych: A Sestina
In the hospital, we’re allowed two
phone calls a day. Cards litter the ground,
next to them indents in the carpet from where children
lay in peace once. But twice every day, we abandon
our full houses and sit in anticipation, numbers scratched on paper.
The smaller ones clutch onto their hastily scrawled-on scraps of home.
The attendants are cast in the worst roles. If there’s no one home
to take a child’s call, they have to look straight into
teary eyes and watch as small fists shove crumpled paper
into pockets, “please sit back down.” New kids try to stand their ground
but after the fourth fifth sixth try, they learn to abandon
hope. In between voicemails and carpeted seats, we forget how to be children.
Many people say the worst decision a person can make is having children.
I can see a person preferring an empty home
to wondering every day if it’s too late to abandon
ship, and why they haven’t already. But is it really too
much to ask? picking up a phone? We need something to ground
ourselves in. You signed off our existence on a few pieces of paper.
When kids grow up and move into the adult wing, it’s a pay per
call system. I once heard of a woman whose children
never answered the phone. Coins scattered on the ground
around her, evidence of her haste. She wove tales of a home
with a doting husband and two loving girls. No one had the heart to
rid her of her delusion. They say she was the only one who refused to be abandoned.
When a man in a black suit handed her a fountain pen, she chose to abandon them all (but told him she’d sign the dotted line of the release papers
tomorrow). The next day they found two
bobby pins jammed into her wrist. The scared children
masquerading as adults stayed away from the phone for days. Home
hadn’t brought them anything good, anyway. Their eyes searched the ground.
In the hospital, kids have no grounds
to complain. Our parents didn’t abandon
us, they’re just trying to help. Desperate cries for another call home
is direct insubordination. “Don’t leave your crumpled paper
on the floor, or we’ll throw it away.” They say kids like us shouldn’t have children. “They’ll have enough raising themselves; they shouldn’t have to raise you, too.”
One night I couldn’t sleep and sat on the ground amongst trampled pieces of paper.
I knew the next day we’d receive abandoned newly broken children.
I wondered what my mother did when she saw her phone glow with “Voicemail(2).”
Professor Chapman writes: From Adolescent Psych: A Sestina shows superb technical control, especially in the way it balances the demands of the form—the notoriously tricky and complicated sestina—with the demands of the situation described, namely the rules of using the phone to call family while in a psychiatric ward. The way that Tarco uses the form to reframe the situation, examine it from different angles, and continually raise the emotional stakes bespeaks an experience far beyond her years—and, far more important in poetic terms, the craft to capture that experience. By the time we get to the last two heartbreaking iterations of “children” and “too/two” we are not only convinced by the authority of this poetic voice, but genuinely moved.