2017 Poetry Contest Winners

Congratulations to Laura Cok (BA 2010 UTSC, MA 2011), who won our 2017 Poetry Contest for “Somewhere Between Me and Desert.” She will receive $1,000 and publication in the Winter 2018 issue of U of T Magazine. Kudos also to Olivia Oi-Ching Or, who was runner-up for “A Mother in Six Tones,” and Jessica Concepcion, who won the “People’s Choice” contest with “An Open Letter to My 13-Year Old Self.”


Somewhere Between Me and the Desert
by Laura Cok (BA 2010 UTSC, MA 2011)

There’s a trick to it, the twenty-nine bullets
shimmering to the floor.
You could use a screwdriver.
You could use a different part of the gun.

How best to telegraph my harmlessness:
arms extended, blood still pumping
through the chambers of the heart.
Palms out: away from my body, away from yours.
The universal signal, the hope for recognition
across a great distance. How long would it take?
To see whether I was a danger to him?

He says he was never a good shot.
He says after dark, the sky arced with red light.

There’s boredom, mostly, then panic,
then boredom again. I grew up
between the ocean and the desert.
Then I opened a book and saw it: that other sea.
In a way it was still mythological.

The grime-streaked children. The helicopters lifting off,
a whirl of dust. I don’t know what it sounds like
when you stand that close. It’s only cinematic:
the boots, the guns, the pregnant woman
walking towards the border from the other side
with nothing and nothing behind her.

In class, we divided into two camps. As an exercise.
That was when he was learning his party trick, with the screwdriver.

I don’t know what sound it makes, the bullet in the chamber.

Listen to Laura Cok read “Somewhere Between Me and the Desert”



A Mother in Six Tones
by Olivia Oi-Ching Or (BA 2015 Trinity)

It was not long after my birth
that I discovered the faults of this language, this
arbitrary mouth slosh, 
zero-sum tonguing game,
this slap of syllables inside teeth
that could disorient this iron tower of stoicism 
called father.

I was not warned that to learn 
was to lose,
that every iota of Anglo-clarity,
every instance of Enguistic mastery 
was a willful forgetting
of a mother I never knew:
a mother in six tones
who was not prepared 
to be hosted in the bodies of gwai mui daughters
across the Pacific.

Not until I was told
(by the only mother I’ll ever know), 
that prayer is a sigh, 
would I remember 
is the language
of home.
Listen to Olivia Oi-Ching Or read “A Mother in Six Tones”


People’s Choice Winner

An Open Letter to My 13-Year-Old Self
by Jessica Concepcion (BA 2016 Victoria)

You sit cross-legged on the carpet
Painting your nails black and red, each fingernail either black or red
Because you are so emo and so cool
Telling your older sister, “It’s not a phase! Gosh! I’m gonna be emo even when I’m 30!”
You listen to My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy on your CD player and think, “Wow. They ‘re so deep and they totally get me.”
And you write poems about unrequited love
Because you keep thinking about that one time you had a crush on Kevin in 4th grade but he liked Diana instead and you were really sad about that – understandably

And you dream about getting red highlights to contrast your dark black hair and to match your black and red fingernails
And you dream about being the lead singer of an emo band and having pale skin
Most importantly pale, white skin
I mean after all, all these emo gods and goddesses you look up to are so ghostly pale, so remarkably beautiful, so unlike you
When you look in the mirror, you don’t bother asking who’s the fairest of them all because it’s not you
Instead, you regret ever playing basketball under the unrelenting and unforgiving LA sun

And you hear the unmistakable squeals of your classmates when they walk outside because they don’t want to get dark
So they run back indoors or someone pulls out an umbrella to hide from the sun
You look down on your skin, at least 3 shades darker than theirs, and the next day you come to school in long pants and long sleeves in 103° weather
One of the teachers asks you, “Aren’t you hot?”
You tell him, “No,” as the sweat runs down your back as if to shame you for lying
But despite the sleeves, despite the umbrellas, you’re still too dark

To you, you will always be too dark
You will always yearn to be devoid of color
You will look at strangers too closely and for too long
Just wishing you could grab their ivory hands, have them run along your whole body, and have them wipe it clean like a whiteboard – erasing everything you no longer desire
You will still be too dark when you grab that whitening soap off the store’s shelf
And you will still be too dark when you rub hydrogen peroxide on your face
To you, you will always be too dark
Just like the black diamond will always be too dark compared to the pearl
But remember, Jess, the black diamond still shines brightly nonetheless