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
“YOU FAT FUCK”
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
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.