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2016 Literature Winners

Prizes are awarded yearly to authors of prose or verse works that are considered to be of exceptional artistic and humanistic merit. An outside judge determines awards, which range from $100 to $200. This year’s judge for the Kienle Competition in Literature is Anthony K. Sedun.

Tony Sedun teaches seventh grade English at Linglestown Middle School (Central Dauphin School District). He has also taught a course for pre-service English teachers on teaching writing several semesters at Millersville University. He is completing his tenth year teaching English Language Arts at the middle level, including multiple summer school terms working with at-risk adolescents. Most recently, Tony founded the Life Writes Project, a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit organization with Dr. Matthew Skillen of Elizabethtown College. The Life Writes approach insists on storytelling and dialogical practices as fundamental, practical, and transformational practices that amplify curricular and socio-emotional outcomes in every setting. The Life Writes Project continues to grow into a robust education nonprofit with roots in Harrisburg, PA but with an established global reach as well. As the former Executive Director, Tony worked closely with educators, volunteers, and the Board of Directors to work lead professional development initiatives and collaborations with education partners in Medellín, Colombia (South America), along with interested public institutions here in the United States.
Other affiliations include being a National Writing Project Fellow, a Freedom Writer Teacher, and a former co-chair for the 2016 Conference of the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English Language Arts (PCTELA).  Tony was selected as one of the teachers in Central Dauphin School District’s inaugural presentation of the 2014 Outstanding Teachers Award. Additionally, Tony is a regular contributor to Wild Onions.
Tony earned his Bachelors in Secondary Education in English from Millersville University and his Masters in Teaching & Curriculum in Education from Pennsylvania State University.
Tony lives in Harrisburg, PA with his wife and three children, and they joyfully await the arrival of their twins in summer 2016.

First Place

Strands
© Emily Hess   Patient

Ohmaa pushed the plastic sticks—8s, good for a beginner, in lurid puce—into my intrepid hands. Her own worn fingers, stiff and knobbed by age and arthritis, cradled thin bamboo twigs, pointed at both ends and bound in a loose triangle by their litany of stitches. It seemed a kind of magic to me then, the small, intentioned movements of her hands: wrapping the yarn around the working needle’s slender neck, pulling the tip through the loop, dropping the old stitch from the needle and moving on.

I clacked my plastic needles against themselves, churning out un-intentioned reams of lumpy garter. She showed me the lesson in each mistake. She taught me stitches—right and left handed, how they sat with one leg thrown over the needle like a jockey on a saddle—when I came to her with each and every stitch twisted in a field of mangled stockinet. Dropped stitch tracing Jacob’s ladder between ribs and purls meant the tedious process of frogging, tugging loose each stitch in an orderly retreat. The assorted holes and snarls from accidental yarn-overs and inconsistent tension created their own haphazard lacework, mocked by the delicate intricacy of the fine lace shawls she charmed from her own needles.

But Ohmaa was a patient teacher, and soon I was knitting seed stitch, chanting the pattern to myself in a frenetic rosary: knit, purl, knit, purl, knit, purl, repeat. She gave me a set of rosewood needles, the smooth, polished grain silken against the baby weight angora that accompanied them. I knit myself a pair of cabled fingerless gloves, and, even years later, when I slip them over my palms I feel her hands on mine, guiding my needles to form the gusset.
The socks she knit, prayers twined into a thousand stitches, and teaching me the mystery of Kitchener to seam the toe. I remember the way her hands would move, a different strand and shade of yarn tucked between each finger as she patterned the yoke of a faire isle sweater. Her fingers moved almost of their own accord as she explained to me the intricacy of choosing the colorway, matching heather green and warm mahogany with the faintest rosebud pink.

After the stroke left her sightless, left her hands crippled in stiff, immobile claws, I sat by her bedside and soothed her with the rhythmic clicking of bamboo, knitting a fisherman’s rib scarf in the blues and greys of grief. She lay cocooned in woolen afghans she knit before the neurons that plied the skein of tissue in her skull began to die. One evening she fluttered one paralyzed hand against her breast, murmuring in a broken voice, “The sock, I have to knit the other sock.”
Leaning forward, I filled the stiff bowl of her hands with warm loops of yarn. She clutched the angora in trembling fingers, and her dry lips moved ceaselessly, forming the word as her hands could not. “The sock, the sock.”
I caught her shaking hand in mine, the softness of her aged skin as familiar as the yarn tangled between her fingers. “I’ll finish it, Ohmaa,” I whispered.

Judges Comments:
This tightly written personal narrative provides a poetic, palpable glimpse into the unravelling of a loved one’s physical and cognitive capacities through stroke. The writer recalls the way Ohmaa knitted with seeming automaticity for years. The dream-like passage of time produces a suddenness felt only toward the end of the piece, just as suddenly perhaps for Ohmaa and the writer. Yet, in the reflection of the changed body toward the end of the piece, there is evidence of awareness in both, Ohmaa and the writer, that knitting was much more than a routine to be repeated, but rather a continuous stitching of their love. The gestures once taken for granted have become a generational rite that guarantees much more than items to be made. Far from it, the teaching and learning from Ohmaa to writer have become the living credo of commitment and care.

Second Place

Origami
© Jessica Frey   MSIV

I never knew that seeing someone’s soul would be so
Beautiful and broken
Would be so wide and silver would be so-

I took your tears and your fragile words in the palm of my hand
And I tried to realign them tried to hold them over
the flame of a Bunsen burner and melt them all
back down together again
into the orange and red and blue and green
paper crane with wings that you are.

Just be a color that I can understand.

Because you let me unfold you
You let me see the creases and the cracks and we can’t go back
No matter how many times I try to refold your soul
It’s like an accordion
It all pops out of its neat little box
A slinky sprawled down
And down
And down.
It’s hard to see you as just this thin piece of paper
All stretched out flat with its many many pleats and crinkles and folds.
I want to smooth them out I want to
press them down I want to iron all those crumples I want to-

Its okay. Somewhere along the way
I forgot
that the creases and the lines are supposed to be there.
That’s the only way for you to remember how to fly.

Judge’s Comments:
The physicality of this piece illustrates precisely what occurs in the intersecting folds of one person’s life with another person’s life. The first stanza itself appears almost interrupted by another reflection in stanza two that folds its way into the writer’s consciousness. Also notable are the simple, concrete nouns—mostly monosyllabic—soul, tears, hand, flame, crane, box, pleats, and folds. The writer acknowledges competing desires to “smooth [the wrinkles] out” and “iron all those crumples”. In the end, even these turn gently over to the realization that the needs of another necessitate respect for the furrows and folds that made flight possible at all.

Third Place

Doctor, Patient, Friend
© Xiaowei William (Bill) Su   MSIV  
MD/PhD Candidate

I met her when she was only four
They just moved to town; she needed shots
She heard me talking, asked, “Can I play with Harriet Lane?”
Clutching an examination glove balloon walking out the door.

At ten she was so confident!
Softball practice and slumber parties in fifth grade,
Gave me a drawing – does my tie really look like that?
Wrote: “For the grown-up who makes me feel better” (What a compliment!)

In high school she dyed her hair,
Blonde with green and red streaks – really bold
I saw this when it gave her a rash
Her mother scolded “I told you so!” (Her reply: “What do I care?”)

At eighteen she was so excited, but also wistful,
Moving two states for university, needed a checkup
I asked her what she wanted to study
“Literature, Art… maybe even Biology! But dissections make me bristle.”

Sophomore year I saw her before finals, time didn’t seem right
“Great to see you, but why are you home?”
She replied something… all I heard was “mom” and “cancer”
Had come asking about staging, prognosis… I didn’t sleep that night.

I came for the funeral as a family friend
She looked like – was – a college senior
Talked like someone ten years older
For once I was at a loss for words… she said to me, “by the way, I’ll be studying medicine.”

Four years later a surprise came in the mail – a photo from her, and a letter
Reading glasses on, I glanced at the photo: graduation gown, cap and tassel, fiancé at her side
I was elated, couldn’t have been more proud
“I’ll always remember you, the grown-up who made me feel better.”

By now I was nearing retirement and getting old, hearing going and struggling to listen
My colleagues were all younger, smartphones and PDAs in their white coat pockets,
They gave me a watch at my going away party,
I returned home to my wife, my kids, five grandchildren.

One day my daughter was busy, asked me to take my grandson to the doctor, stop by the store.
My eyes beamed when the physician stepped in – it was her!
Cloaked in white coat and stethoscope, so deft with the exam, we could have talked for hours
As I left the office, tears in my eyes, I told her, “Take good care of my grandson, he’s only four.”

Judge’s Comments:
This piece navigates the roles of the pediatrician and a particular patient through lingering vignettes that span years, life events, and ultimately, a changing of the guard.  The compact stanzas accompany the doctor narrator from caring for a girl of four to her late teenage and post-college years.  Notably, most stanzas include some fragment of dialogue, giving the once-girl-now-grown-woman the power of voice.  The arc of the piece is deliberate and artful.  Early on, the writer acts while the patient speaks.  Later on, the writer retires while the patient now acts.  The changing of the guard is complete as the writer entrusts his four year-old grandson to the care of his own former patient.  Indeed, the orbit of relationships and roles arrives at its genesis and end.


Honorable Mention

Parallel Circuits
© Corinne Landis   MSIV  

“The power is out, the power is out!” Arthur repeats this phrase to himself as he scurries into the basement towards the circuit breakers. “I can do this,” he tells himself. Arthur swings open the aluminum door and stares at the rows of red switches. “Just flip the right combination, and it’ll bring power back to the house.” Arthur’s confidence barely abates as he switches the breakers at random with the hope of finding the right combination.
“Arthur, Arthur!” June yells as she comes down the stairs with Carol. June approaches Arthur, standing behind him as he plays with the switches. Her tired body creaks with anxiety as she thought about the effects of the recent storm. “What are you doing Arthur? The power is out on the whole block. Stop playing with that thing!”
Arthur slowly turns around to face her. He leans on a nearby chair for support looking disheveled. Remnants of his breakfast stain his white Oxford. His determined blue eyes meet hers. “I have fixed this before and I will fix it again—we will have power in no time!”

“Just leave him be. We need to figure out what we are going to do with this freezer anyway,” Carol mutters as she gently touches June’s shoulder. Carol guides June around the corner to the closet with the freezer. Arthur shuffles behind them reaching out his arm in attempt to catch their attention.
He watches Carol and June as they begin to empty the freezer. “Why are you doing that? That food needs to stay frozen.” Carol rolls her eyes. “Arthur, why don’t you go and find us a flashlight,” she says while holding a flashlight in her hand.

Up for a new task, and forgetting his circuit breaker conundrum, Arthur heads upstairs to carry out Carol’s order. He flips the kitchen light switch up and down several times, but, to his dismay, it yields no light.  Once in the kitchen, he looks around confused as to why the lights are not working.
Forgetting why he came upstairs in the first place, he begins to head back down to the basement to check out the circuit breaker. “We must have blown a fuse,” he thinks to himself. Confidently, he saunters over to the fuse box passing June and Carol stacking frozen food on the floor, and he begins to move the circuit breakers back and forth. Nothing happens.

“June, I think the power is out. We need to call the electrician.” June and Carol, still huddled in the small closet housing the freezer, continue to reorganize the thawing food. Frustrated, June tries to keep her voice level, “Arthur, the storm knocked out the power on the whole block. There isn’t anything we can do about it right now.” She turns her attention back to the freezer, helping Carol determine which items absolutely need to remain frozen.
Arthur walks over to where the ladies are working. “I’ll go get some batteries to fix the freezer. That should do the job. You should stop pulling the food out,” Arthur explains. Feeling pleased with his observation, he heads upstairs to get the batteries.

Returning to the basement with batteries in tow, Arthur squeezes past the ladies to look for where he can put them in the freezer. “What are you doing?” Carol exclaims, “You cannot run a freezer with batteries.” Brushing off the statement, Arthur recognizes he knows something that Carol does not.
“Yes you can; I just need to find the place that you can put them. Why are you still pulling out the food? I can fix this.”
Carol and June make eye contact. Without saying a word, Carol takes the batteries from Arthur and slips them into her pocket. June and Carol resume their effort to save the frozen perishables. “Maybe we need more batteries,” Arthur thinks to himself as he heads upstairs. When he reaches the kitchen, he attempts to flip the lights on. After a few tries, he discovers that the power is out. “I should go and check the circuit breakers,” he thinks to himself.

Judge’s Comments:
This work of short fiction appears at first to explore how various characters respond to a power outage in a home setting. The storm in paragraph two likewise seems quite literal. Arthur attempts to fix the blackout and insists it’s a solvable problem he has figured out in the past. Yet, an uneasy undertone nestles within the dialogue of Carol and June, as they suggest more alarm at Arthur’s deteriorating logic in his frenetic response to restore power to the house. What initially strikes the reader as innocuous and absurd about Arthur begins to feel unsettled and tragic. The narrative begs the questions: What is really the problem? What has become of Arthur’s ability to grapple with real-world problems as he seems to deteriorate? The circular pattern of the story leaves the reader to wonder uneasily about these questions, even as the apparent nightmare continues without resolution.

 

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