by Leah Vahjen
(Winner, Southern Literary Festival, third place, Poetry)

Looking at the sunlight pouring

like syrup on the face and chest

of the sunflowers got me thinking

about what it really means to panic

at the disco, or to be my Aunt Colleen,

whose body is an earthquake now.


Daffodils with open silk

mouths stuck in ugly O’s that sound

too loud when I look at them.

Buttercups of some new child’s youth.

An afterglow I am sad to say reminds

me of a photo filter instead of this moment.

A butterfly’s blue wings made of taffeta

hide spindly insect legs I would once

have let land on me.


I befriended a chipmunk once.  I rode

my Cinderella bicycle to our rendezvous

in these same early-morning pillars of sunlight

in a cul-de-sac that smelled like syrup

and waffles on weekend mornings.

The white woman who cut everything

short in her black-shuttered house made

breakfast for her suit-wearing husband

and a pad of butter cascaded down the lawn

of green leaves and ivy, into our pink,

hungry noses which would not be stopped

from smelling, however unwelcome.


To please the pull of society, Cinderella

and I have whittled our waists and dyed our hairs.

Despite the pull of gravity, my chipmunk died

and decomposed.  In the face of an abundance of ways

to be redirected in space, only one reigns here.


In how many directions can I walk?

Will probability ever allow me to arrive?

Can I see bleeding hearts again

and peel their skin and pop their breasts

as if their shape does not mean comparison?

Maybe I need to stop moving, to give myself

a chance to catch up.