Announcing the Winners of our Food Writing Contest

We’re proud to announce the winners of our first-ever food poetry contest! The judges anonymously scored each poem on the basis of content, form, and adherence to theme.

First Place: Natasha Orzeck-Byrnes, “Food, Family & Fragments”
Second Place: Mohamed Elmaola, “Bah-Leh-Wah (Baklava)”
Third Place: Adam Nye, “Writer’s Block”
Honorable Mention: Sadie Hazelkorn, “Here, Have Another Bite”

Thank you to all who participated. It was a pleasure to read all of the submissions, and the scoring was extremely close. Find the winning poems after the break.


 FOOD, FAMILY & FRAGMENTS

Natasha Orzeck-Byrnes

I am currently a senior English, Women’s & Gender Studies, & Psychology major at Clark and I hail from NYC. 

Monday Afternoon

Monday afternoons meant sacred walks to the cafeteria.

Growing increasingly reverent as third graders bounded past,

their frantic excitement magnifying the importance of my profound anticipation

Approaching my pew I would finger the cool metal clasps, delicately undoing its bindings.

I continued. Lightly fingering the contents of the box, exploring the cool ridges of tinfoil, the hard smooth surface of the daily green apple, and the squishy peanut butter and jelly held together with soft, malleable plastic, searching gently for the hidden prize.

And then I feel it. An elegant sharp corner. A graceful edge. And then in full.

The thin strip of clean white paper. Removing it gently from the pack and holding it carefully in my lap. Shadowed and protected by the table above, I immerse myself in the five lines of poetry conjured from my father’s mind that morning. My weekly Monday verse.

Tuesday Night

Back at the house of mirrors, where the walls change colors weekly, we sit in the dining room with our carefully arranged meal, preparing ourselves for attack.

Steak, potatoes, lima beans and carrots covered in a maple glaze stare up at us from a colorful plate but our faces remain pale in anticipation.

Backs straight, shoulders back, homework finished, heads down, we wonder what form tonight’s battle will take and muster enough courage to exchange beans and carrots each time they turn their heads.

They never can remember which one likes which.

Wednesdays

Quickly turned cold doorknobs.

Backpacks peeled off sticky shoulders. Smelling of sunscreen and asphalt.

Shoes thrown carelessly at the foot of the stairs

We

Race

Down

Eager to unwrap our weekly prize, bought with leftover lunch money:

Cookie Dough and a ripe Mango

A strange combination, we methodically divide our forbidden treasure in half, carefully arranging our triumphant platter, celebrating our one weeknight of freedom.

No gymnastics. No tutoring. No dance.

No babysitter.

We throw off our clothes and slip into our matching turquoise mermaid dresses (bought two for ten at last summer’s fair and brought out only on special occasions) and we watch the fragmented blues and greens dance about the walls as we lift our arms and sway back and forth, delighting in our delicacies.

Thursday Evenings

Baked beans and corn.

The one night a week where isolation is packaged and presented as a prize.

“Tonight you can eat whatever you like,” they tell you. Whatever it is that you prefer.

You choose the canned baked beans, which, each time, tastes vaguely of warm honey and potatoes.

The idea of unlocking the warm secrets within the thin, sharp metal entices you.

You wonder what she’s chosen.

Separated, they whisper provocations of their favoritism. You’re so much more caring. Sweet. Silent. Determined. Across town she hears mirrored nothings while she struggles with the brown sauce covering her fingertips, the plate of spare ribs staring silently back at her. You’re so much more independent. Assertive. Friendly.

We almost believe it.

Friday Night

Pizza night with a false family. Two weekly hours devised for pretense.

Where he begins to forget about the buttons sewn into her eyes and she basks in the dismissal. No longer allowed on the couch where we used to intertwine our legs, drunk and spilling milk from our Saturday morning bowls of cereal (a luxury specific to Saturday mornings), we steal glances at each other like disjoined twins, from our two designated chairs across the room.

Saturday Night

Eating raspberry sorbet in the dark we sat on the linen sheets that mom brought out with the first warm breeze, whispering our secrets in the cool silence and drinking each other’s careful words. Pressing our sticky fingers together we made a pact of sweet summertime blood and warm flesh.

Sunday Mornings

Smoothies, showers, and Sinatra.

Finally free from Friday’s frustration and separated from Saturday’s silence and secrecy, on Sunday’s we sip banana smoothies under the garden window, waiting for the slivers of new sunlight to stream through the slits in the curtain and play upon our faces.

Feeling the fresh creamy fruit cool my throat and settle in my stomach, I step into the shower, letting Sinatra’s words and the dense steam clutch me in its heavy, comforting grasp.


Bah-Leh-Wah (Baklava)

Mohamed Elmaola

She tactfully slid her fingertips
Underneath the opposite ends of the box.
Delicately, unsticking the flaps
As if they were envelopes that contained letters from her almost fiancée.

She stealthily pulled it out,
And unrolled it with finesse and focus,
And examined each rip, ripple, and wrinkle,
To find any major kinks in her constitutional canvas.

She softened some unsalted butter,
In a microwave older than I was.
She dipped her brush into her easel,
And began painting such a life-giving lipid,
Onto each gossamer sheet.

Every five,
Or maybe six layers.
She added the cement,
The chopped walnuts
With some salt,
Some sugar,
And more sugar.

Each stroke of the brush,
As even as a haircut.
Each nut sliced with such uniformity,
Faithful soldiers on their way to Calgary,
And to the cavalry she stacked the paper sandbags,
Hand lags never ‘til she stands back
Then with her hands clasped,
I ask “is it done, ma”
Her number one fan asks,
With a last gasp.

Twenty six minutes,
Until saliva drops turn into an oasis.
The layers are flaky,
My lips are shaking,
My sugary head is racing,
As my patience is breaking.

She pours the final coat,
Ushtah
Such a succulent and syrupy saccharide.
It’s kinda like honey,
Only Arab.
Only Better.

Just before it hardens
The now golden papery flakes,
She dusts ground pistachio.
I watch as green snow
Covers the glazed landscape
That is a prelude to gustatory exuberance.

I reach for the diamond cut pastry,
And bite into utter chaos,
Beauty and destruction,
Millions of tiny window panes shatter in my gums.

Perfected skill,
Utter greatness,
Deliciousness.

She aint made no cupcakes,
No brownies,
No chocolate chip cookies,

She is a pioneer,
An artisan,
An artist,
A mom who makes deserts that you can’t even pronounce.

My youth,
My culture,
My difference,
All stuffed in between the serene strips,
Of culinary greatness.


Writer’s Block

Adam Nye

I enjoy sporting activities and also chillaxing out with canines.

I am hungry, I am weak, I’m more thin than thick,
but my fridge reveals just one wretched carrot stick!
It’s coated in white, could be infested with sprites
even in dim light my eyes shut tight at the sight.

I let the door swing closed, force my feet to obey
my own crooning whisper, “hush now, just walk away
mother will be home soon, she mightn’t take all day.
She left, what, at noon? So still, racing heart, I say!!”

Yet my mind conjures cake, slathered heavy on steak,
dripping juice of cherry yet topped with baked hake.
Filling up my belly and keeping my thirst slaked,
lips wetten, tears threaten, my spirit quickly breaks;

I rush back to the door, searching for what, not sure,
moldy bread, Frank’s red, maybe an aged apple core?
Nothing. I crumble, collapse, sink into the floor.
Crazy. I mumble, relapse, the fates I implore.

“Harken great Moirai[1], heed me controllers of thread,
If I’m not granted a boon, then soon I’ll be dead!
I’ll do whatever you want, forsooth, name the chore,
If you’ll just return mother from the grocery store!”

[1] The Fates in Greek mythology


Here, Have Anther Bite

Sadie Hazelkorn

I’m a graduating senior who has been food obsessed since birth, with the help of my loving mother, who has always kept me full.

Here, have another bite.
She says as she spoons
One more heaping portion onto my plate
And she begs me to eat
Her expression quite trite
On this midsummers night

Just one bite
She pleads
You’re too skinny
Too tired
I don’t want to incite
I’m sure you’re alright-
But you could starve overnight!
Please, have a bite.

 But you see I ate already
Gorged on carne crudo
And linguine con sugo
Then finally il coniglio
So try as I might
I don’t want one more bite 

This is my Italian mother
Concerned
Ever protective, ever protecting
Needs me full
Full of happiness
Her ray of light
Queen of my night

Alas, I give in to be polite
Lift my fork only once
Before placing it back
On my now full plate
When she asks outright
You only want one bite? 

She sits down
Looking down
Down at empty plates
Feeling full- full of worry
Feeding me is her right

But not wanting to excite
Feeling slightly contrite
She gets up for the night
Disappears out of sight 

A moment passes
When she returns
Comes back to recite
Rather forthright
Please, have a sweet
Some dessert?
Try a bit, just a bite
Here, have a Turkish delight


Interested in having your work published on Clark Writes? Check out our handy submission guide. 

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