december 25th [First-Place Winner of 2023 National Poetry Month Competition]

Clarisse Kim
Here's what Isabella Ramirez, contest judge, said about "december 25th":
What makes this poem brilliant is the way in which the writer advances me through the narrative as time itself propels backward and in reverse motion. Pad Thai “flies back,” strands are “once-chewed,” words “unburn,” and baubles “fall up” to not only cleverly defy the laws of the physical world, but to shatter and reconstruct them completely while employing a powerful command of voice bursting with emblematic language. The role of the title, “december 25,” is both subtle and striking throughout the piece, and alongside the driving imagery of food, the nod to the holiday ties the restaurant to the home, melding the two scenes the writer navigates into one seamless setting. The poem is as complex as it is simple, but still I am gifted with an air of curiosity and intrigue surrounding the writer’s connection to the unnamed “you”—and yet, I feel as though the lines push me until I am well-acquainted with the relationship, one that feels intimate and perhaps familial. In the ending, there is something incredibly effortless but meticulous about the punctuation and word choice, and it keeps me satisfied while leaving the poem with me even beyond the last line.

december 25th
pad thai flies back into the plastic
clamshell box. broken rice noodles
fuse back together, egg bits re-attach
themselves to once-chewed strands.
the memory of you explaining
wok hay dissipates like breath to the
wind, fast as it came. the fog peels back.
the anger sharpens from dullness. tears flow
in reverse-waves uncresting from the shore.
i swallow a gasp. one absence of a beat,
then another. at the restaurant, the waiter
pays me $12 to leave the take-out
on the counter. return a candy cane to the jar
nearby. back home, the door flings open
and the walls cease their shaking
for a negative second. the baubles fall up
onto the pine branches. wrapping paper
mends its tears and the folds iron out.
a rejected gift flies out of my hand into yours.
it nestles in your palm like a grenade.
vacuumed screams suck the fallout
from the air. the words unburn
their way back down our throats.
in the thai restaurant down the road,
a cook leans over the ingredients for a pad thai.
tofu. tamarind. a preheated wok.
Clarisse Kim (she/her) is a Korean-American student and aspiring writer living in California. Her writing has been recognized by the SFCAHT and the California PTA; some of her works have been displayed in the Marin Poetry Anthology and the State of California Reflection’s Art Gallery. She wants to use her poetry to give voice to the unsung stories and to show the beauty of the (seemingly) mundane. When she isn't writing, Clarisse can be found reading the latest sci-fi novel, eating her weight in MadeGood berry granola bars, or playing/losing crane games.

"Beef Boat Noodles - close-up - Pad Thai AUD6 small (weekends only)" by avlxyz is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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A magazine for teen writers—by teen writers. Under the Madness brings together student editors from across New Hampshire under the mentorship of the state poet laureate to focus on the experiences of teens from around the world. Whether you live in Berlin, NH, or Berlin, Germany—whether you wake up every day in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North or South America—we’re interested in reading you!