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Sugarcane

BY ALEX ZHANG
 

Phillips Exeter Academy, '16
2016 Adroit Prize for Poetry: Editors' List

 

My father’s calloused hands
force sugarcane broken
as he pulls leaves clean
from stalks.

This dusty town fills our lungs
with stifled coughs. The wind
writhes between fingers clamped
across mouths. The sun
thrashes like a hooked trout. 

I stop and bite a clean stalk
and taste faint honey and dirt.
He smacks his palm against
the back of my head, gestures
to the teeming field.
I begin to pull again.

The wind whips a stem
across my back.
My cries are swept away.

I watch three heavy shoots
smash my father’s face.
He bites and suckles his bleeding lip
and wipes his cut cheek.
His eyes never leave his hands.

A dust storm approaches
on the horizon. Pebbles bite our faces.
My father erodes beside me
as we rip sugarcane with faces down
until dawn.

 

 

Alex Zhang is a senior at Phillips Exeter Academy from Portage, Michigan. His poetry has been recognized by the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and Sierra Nevada College. Most recently, he received a Gold Medal for Writing Portfolio from the 2016 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.