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Georgia High School Senior Wins Narrative Magazine’s ‘Tell Me A Story’ Writing Competition

Westminster senior Sarah Lao was the first prize winner of the Narrative Magazine writing competition.
Westminster senior Sarah Lao was the first prize winner of the Narrative Magazine writing competition.
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Narrative magazine publishes works by established and emerging writers. Their annual Tell Me A Story high school writing competition is usually an essay contest, but this year was open to poetry submissions. Westminster senior Sarah Lao was this year’s first prize winner with her poem “Triptych.” Lao was also the 2020 Teen Georgia Poet Laureate.

Salvadoran poet and former Narrative prize-winner Javier Zamora worked with each of the contest finalists when revising their works.  “Javier is just so brilliant. When we were talking about my work, he let me first ask questions I had about this poem and where I should revise it. Surprisingly, we had very different questions and concerns about this poem. And I think that’s largely because I spent a very long time on this poem and Javier really helped me hone into what might have been a weaker part and how to fix that,” said Lao. She continued, “I also really loved talking to him about poetry and the life of a poet in general. It’s very rare to get the chance to hear about the industry part of being a poet.”

Her piece will be published in Narrative magazine and it will be featured on their podcast “Narrative Outloud.”

Triptych by: Sarah Lao

I

I come home in the evenings to Mother scraping my scalp for God. To ward off the lice: she pulls my hair up with a ribbon & tells me to face the home altar: the lamplight spilling & God’s face: peeking out, yolk-colored & shameless. Because I study faces:
I count lashes until dark icons wink & molt in my image: a specter: no: a parasite: no: a reckless fluency in pigment:
Yes. The altar shimmering into a mirror: I let vanity out to take hold of what it must. Leave a pear: flagrant & bitten through: as offering.
II
Twice in a sporadic dream I turn sexless in fear
As in intimacy worn bitter & blue
Nights I lie to touch myself without reason
As in blameless light silk ribbons unspooled into the whip of a flagellan
& Mother lies in her rough halo of hair limning the fringes of my shadow into thread
Mother could never recognize who was there
III
Her grief: a steepled beast with no tongue. I teach her with the prongs of a fork how to pronounce the th in thank
& place the stress of amen there on the men. All the lush syllables to sickle for a vanishing. But Mother’s always liked the tongue of the God in the television best: how the family gives a circle of thanks: how the Mother’s tongue pushes out her cheek as if it rolled around a stone to uncork her speech.