2020 High School Poetry Contest 4th Place Winner


4th Place: Katherine Oung

Senior, Dreyfoos High School






Bearing Fruit

my mother never says “I love you” in Chinese

in mandarin, the trio of characters, wǒ ài nǐ 

stumble like unfamiliar travelers rarely seen

my mother never says “I love you”

but peels a pomegranate for the family come Sunday’s evening
back arched over her hands, cracking open its bone marrow skeleton

to scoop a bowl of glimmering red seeds


in America, I watch white families on TV
and imagine that in every household but the immigrant’s,

endearment is woven into conversation so effortlessly
so my father tells me about his father’s father’s farm in Yuyao

after monsoons, the foothills erupted with persimmon-laden trees

what is love but all the cousins together?
cheeks bursting with fruit juice
each bite a small, shining blessing


when my wàigōng dies
I have two tongues but no words for grief
my family both rooted and unmoored
the three of us stuck in the land of the free
so I bike to the oriental market and buy buckets and buckets of lychee

which we sit on the patio together to eat


you say every Asian father is hard-mouthed
every mother tiger-tongued
but my māmā, she cuts ripened mangoes
my bàba, he rinses a colander of fresh blueberries

blackberries in the summer and peaches for the spring,

mangosteen for fortune and papayas for apology

what is love but peeling ribbons of acrid skin to find softness underneath extracting bitterness—pits and piths
so someone else will only taste the sweet


Our Final Judge, Dr. Jeff Morgan of Lynn University, likes Oung’s poem for “the creative paradox and the simile in homage to parents that recalls Robert Hayden’s Those Winter Sundays.”