SENIOR CATEGORY: SECOND PLACE
The voice in “How to Look at the Sun” moves with confidence and fluidity, sustaining a fine balance between an almost-submerged narrative and images that both mask and convey it. Light that “puckered/ your skin and ran across your forehead like a halo,” “Rare clovers crumpled under your thick/ knees in perfect obedience and bad luck,” “cupping/ rainwater and kind animals in your brown, callused hands” – these fresh and surprising phrases have a dream-like potency, rich in emotional reverberations. Kevin Spenst points out that they achieve “a kind of North American magic-realism that is brought to life in astonishingly unique detail.” Aaron Tucker observes that their intensity “weaves a stunning picture of growing up.” They are complemented by phrases that provide narrative underpinning: “another Californian summer,” “Your mother passed down a ritual …” while the poem’s focus remains on the texture of what is remembered and felt. This is a poem that engages us in a resonant complexity of experience and leaves its remarkable images echoing in the reader’s mind. – juror Sue Chenette
“This poem is inspired by South Asian beauty ideals,” says grade-11 poet Farah Ghafoor, “which include light skin, a slim body shape, and certain facial features. They originate from colonial beauty standards and are still enforced in the lives of people of colour. These standards are so prevalent that there is a certain courage in confidently defying them, since just defying them is what most people do on a regular basis by simply existing. It is especially important to encourage confidence in kids because they are so easily affected by these negative attitudes such as these.”
Farah also runs an online literary magazine for teens called Sugar Rascals!
“How to Look at the Sun” by Farah Ghafoor, grade 11
Your mother still talks about how pale you were as a baby, how
beautiful in your smallness. She could wrap an entire
hand around your spine if she desired. And then you grew
the wrong way, your back stretching out your best
dress as you and the boys from class dove into another Californian
Your mother passed down a ritual of patting sour yogurt
and lemon juice on cheeks until they glowed from copper to gold.
But you could not stop conducting light even as it puckered
your skin and ran across your forehead like a halo. Even as you filled
a room’s shallows, your mother’s shadow.
When your house turned blood-
orange in a season, you started to play with the prettier children.
How they rubbed crushed cranberries on your lips and tucked
dried violets behind your ears. Rare clovers crumpled under your thick
knees in perfect obedience and bad luck. It was 2008, and you didn’t like power
you couldn’t hold in your hands: your mother staring at your body all
cedar beside the other girls’ willow, the wind that shook you
senseless with its teeth, the sun and its mighty tongue. Your mother turning
away as you nurtured a forest with a mouth you made tiny, cupping
rainwater and kind animals in your brown, callused hands. The fireflies
looked up to you, blinking embers that loved as much as they burned.
Read an interview with Farah and the other winners here!