Writing Portfolio- Kathryn Jagai Age 17 Grade 12, Hunter College High School, Gold Key


The news is droning on
in the bedroom and she brushes
her teeth, listening to commonalities
of deaths, a pileup on the highway,
to tell people a tragedy
will inconvenience their commute, and
she thinks back
to her childhood, standing on a subway platform, listening
to dying screams while businessmen in suits
stood in circles and complained
that the jumper had made them late –

and she is eleven and she is desolate –
mothers stand, children whining,
hipsters prattling to friends about clothes –
and the only one crying and trying to catch a peek
is the bantam girl in her first year
of travelling alone.

And maybe life is always like this, strangers
ignoring unpleasant things in life
as if pretending others’ pain
away has the same effect on theirs, so
they look away from vagrants
and crying children – death –
in favour of a shopping list:
the toothpaste, the skim milk,
the vitamins for your son.


See the first memory – charting a course
through brokebruised psyche, wistful
grief docks in small, dark stairwell – sobs, knees curled
in foetal position, the dark dry, damp
and claustrophobic, soundtrack a symphony of crashing china,
chairs, and unintelligible shouting, heavy
footsteps all steeped in the thick musk of curry
and the unsettled feeling of freshly-broken home.

This is the baseline – violence first remembered
breath into strange new world – the next
stop small Stuyvesant apartment, Formica chipped
under weathered plastic alphabet placemats, a cold glass of
milk drowning revelations through the mouth of three years
older and infinitely wiser eight year old; “You know
that’s abuse, right?” “No.
What’s that?”

Take a step away – four or five
years later, trembling in an arena
of boys with eyes like wolves – and watch
violence beget violence, breaking turf wars into sport, all
pent up fear and frustration ex-
pounded in dry white flesh. These boys
Holden Caulfields looking to be pushed
off dangerous, unending rye-laden cliffs, and so
wish granted, watch the fall
into pockmarked wetred concrete.

Skip to the end – scars
diagramming a keloid map, land travelled, battles
lost and won, all insignificant
compared to internal damaged hull
fracturing from the inside out, rot seeping
into weathered fibres of mended ribcage boat bottom –
and there is only scar tissue – all
bruised and battered and hardened into diamond,
cold spark adamantium; at harbour,
a broken family weighs

its dues in slurs,
its sins in tears,
spits out a girl too big
for baggage loaded off wreckboat.

For Antoine Lavoisier

You can feel the earth exhale
on a Sunday morning, the way the world shifts
quiet and sacred, like wonder
at all the little parts
of us that tick and click, slick hearts
pumping dendrites and lungs
billowing out like the sails of the first
ships to come to this place
of feeling, flatlands, tall grass, sweeping plains,
and when you walk to church or
the grocery store, can you feel that air
inside your chest? The air
that brought forth Odysseus,
the air that Lilith spoke.

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