Poetry Friday: Fire Escape Poetry Contests

Did you know that the Fire Escape is accepting entries for the fourth annual poetry and short fiction contests? Writers must be teens "between cultures" (find more about the rules here), and I'm delighted to present the winning poems and stories from the past three years. Please spread the word, as this year's contest closes by the first of June and (cash) prizes are sent out by the Fourth of July.

For this week's Poetry Friday, I offer the winning poem from the 2006 contest, written by Amelia, age 15:


an onion dome of gold
defies the pale blue sky
and glitters like a Christmas card
the small Orthodox church, a time machine beckoning
to a place lost but remembered in dreams
a genetic gift
as tangible as eyes the color of the Baltic sea

American Idol is on
and i should be watching it
but instead i find myself
lighting a candle
and breathing in incense so pungent
it makes my nose bleed

instead i find myself
in the remnant of a world
that smells of boiled cabbage
and feels like velvet
because it is lent
even in New York
and my Russianness clings to me
like soot on a humid city morning

i would like to tell you that i feel out of place
surrounded by old women dressed in black
whose prayers sound like chickens cackling softly
my ears not attuned to a choir singing in Old Church Slavonic
a language nobody seems to understand

born Yemelia Nikolayevna
i am now Mel
just Mel
Mel who wears birthday-cake lipgloss and lavendar flip-flops
who takes hip-hop on Thursday night
and knows pizza is far superior
to paper-thin pancakes stuffed with fish eggs

but somehow the deep, gold smell of the incense
and the glow of fragile white candles
and the walls filled with sad, dark saints
tell me otherwise

for when the fates were weaving my future
they used a memory yarn
that keeps stretching back
to its original shape