Winners of the ISL Poetry Contest

November 6, 2020

Mask of Submission

We were getting ready to go 

Into something they call a playground

Ready for war, I joined my peers


I put my foot in the middle like everyone else

I prayed to anything that the finger wouldn’t land on me

But it did, like always


They sprinted away knowing I wouldn’t be able to  catch up

As I ran through the battleground, they pushed me around

They called it a circus, and they made me the clown

The audience in the background, their vigorous laughs

Each one a stab, a stab to my securities




Then, as he stepped in front of me, he pushed me down

I hear a burst of laughter similar to an explosion

I fall to the ground as my label reached my ear




I felt my face crash onto the innocent rubber floor

The wood chips cut through my skin

Not hurting nearly as much as when

I tried to get up, with my tears choking my eyes




Another blow, I crash back down and lay there

Frightened of another attack

The roars in the background reminded me of a friendly football match

But in this case, I was the only player on my team


They left me there, frozen

As if I had just fought for my life

Expecting to be treated like a verteran, I was wrongly mistaken

The teachers shout for me to join them back

So I got up solemnly and walked back

Now I know my worth, my label

I know that if I stay down and I’ll be fine


And so as I lay on my bathroom floor,

With my finger down my throat

I know to hate myself

But most importantly, I know that tomorrow 

I should just stay on the ground







How Are You?

A simple question asked various times a day

With an expected answer that sticks to your tongue like clay.

As the beads of water slowly run down my cheek,

I am fine, I say, hardly able to speak. 


I dig down deep to find the believable wide grin 

That directly creates an illusion of happiness 

Injected through your cranium to your skin.


I never thought that a smile pasted to my face

Would taste so sour with a hint of disgrace,

But at least it tastes better 

Than the disappointment in the voice of others

Which is the only thing that currently matters.


However, the moment I step home,

My mouth loosens to form a narrow, morbid line,

Tears carve a path down my cheek

As my mind plummets downwards

Into the darkness, no eye can see. 


Suddenly, the diamond-covered face breaks

Crashing onto the tiled ground, 

As my sorrowful soul awakes.


A wave of misery surrounds the atmosphere,

Melting into soundless oblivion

With depression and anxiety that had no business to appear. 


Unable to look at a mirror,

Horrified by the sight of me.

Each night I’m getting queerer

Yet they never see. 


So I stay quiet,

Quiet as can be;

Swallowed in a person

That’s not quite me.


Thus, here I am 

Back to where I started 

With another fake smile 

That is dragging me down

To my last breath with no one around.


The world is a masquerade,

Each person with a different disguise

To hide what they’ve got, 

The pain behind their eyes.


So, I will ask you too,

How are you?

Take off your mask 

And show me the real you. 





I think “logical”. Logical is efficient.

Mathematics. That’s where I excel.

I stride down the hallway in even steps

And I wave to my friends sitting parallel along two chairs

I swing my backpack on the third

Sit down to face them, completing a perfect table

That adds to four.


419 = 76.

My friends think “emotional”.

“Emotional” is sensitive. 

Mathematics? It solves a problem fast.

The clock strikes 8.45 and the bell rings at mellow pitches 

for exactly 5 seconds.

From their angular rows in homeroom

Students scramble in disorderly clusters

They pour out like vermin

into the neat, gridded hallway

4 classes, 19 people each,

76 individuals- a rational number- heading to first period.



The thing about math is, there’s always a right answer- no ifs or buts!

A fraction of me spits fire as I charge into the math classroom

Laser eyes burn at the first problem on the starter task

Like the exponent gods are cursing at me from above

My hands sweat and my fingers fumble

Where the hell is the cube root on my calculator?

Satisfaction as I find what I know is the right result

That is 15.664

I shoot my hand up and announce it to the class

Until the answer is conveniently 15.665

Because I forgot to round up.

I won’t forget the amusement they get for a god-awful minute

from watching my smile turn 180 degrees

I see reflected in the shape of their eyes a wrong answer


2x2+4x +3 = 0.

Algebra is a little funny.

It’s annoying when you’ve done all you can

And you still can’t



I shuffle around the playground in sequenced, cautious steps

My friends say they don’t get my reasoning.

That I don’t feel their feelings

When I’m so


There’s no x in logical.

Then where the hell is the x I’m missing?


4sin=45°+tan x + ERROR404- no value found for “x”

“Logical” can sometimes feel like a drug

Subtracting my emotional variables

Until the cogs can turn again.

I trudge down the hallway feeling heavier

Than my bag loaded with books

Feeling emptier than the metres of space around me

Feeling more ignored than half the texts I send to my friends

With problems my calculator can’t solve

But when the clock handle ticks to 45 degrees

my feet respond like an alarm to the sixth period bell

marching along a straight line-grid

While my head is still in scribbles




1= 0.99999?

Something’s wrong.

I must have miscalculated it. 

Suffocating in my expectations

I’ve overdosed in perfection

caught in my intoxication

I look at my illogical, broken reflection

Why am I feeling so much emotion?

tears stream downwards and sideways 

crossing lines I can’t find equations for

But.. 1 can’t possibly be 0.9 recurring?

But mathematics isn’t even supposed to have a but in it?


Perhaps  life isn’t like mathematics at all.

My grades aren’t 1% off, they’re 100% my best

My friends aren’t 15% sensitive, they’re 100% real

My classmates aren’t 76% annoying

when they’re 100% alive

And x% of me may be on my way to being perfect, 

but 100% of me wants to be free

Free of “logical thinking”

Free of the calculator that I’ve chained in my head.

Free to disagree with mathematics

1 can equal 0.999999 anytime it wants to

And I don’t find that wrong at all.


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