Literary Prizes

12 by Sarah Tsiang

Sarah Tsiang made the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for 12.

2019 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist

Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang is the author of 10 books including poetry, picture books and fiction. (Bernard Clark)

Sarah Tsiang made the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for 12.

She will receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have her work published on CBC Books.

Alycia Pirmohamed won the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize for Love Poem with Elk and Punctuation, Prairie Storm and Tasbih.

Read 12 below.


The moon
pebbles light against her window,
like a drunk admirer.

her body a tide
that rises. She is water, 
caught between.

My daughter is coming
to the gravity of a body not wholly
her own anymore.

She is drowning, lungs
catching light like water,
panic weaving an orbit around her.

For the first time in her life
she can't see herself
as anything but reflected light,

as anything but alone.

When we were trying to conceive
I read fairy tales
of childless women

instructed to catch
two fertile fish and eat them
by the river, dripping with moonlight,

bellies distended with food;
bodies aching fullness
and emptiness

When boys come to puberty,
their desire defines them,
stains the sheets
their mothers wash
and hang to dry in the sunlight.

Imagine being defined by what you desire.

It's like watching an eclipse,
this sudden erasure
of everything she knew

of the sky. People used to
bang drums and pots,
shout at the veiled light,

try and frighten off the dragon
swallowing the sun. Now, we hold
hands and watch the moon's

shadow through
pinhole cameras.
  a sun the size

of a newborn's fingernail.

maybe our bodies are
more honest.

pain, deep within
the recesses of her body,
an ache she can't point to;

blood without
a wound.

I remember
so keenly being 12,

standing naked in front
of the mirror. Thinking
no one will desire me,

this body will be hated
and reviled.

I was wrong,
and right.

I am teaching her to fight.
this, I say, is how to drive
the soft bone of a man's nose

into his brain. This is how
to get an attacker off
from a mount position,

this is how to thread
your keys between
your knuckles when you walk.

this is how, when confronted 
with a blade or gun,
you leave your body.

In fairy tales the women supplicants
find their children disguised as animals,
or once, a round ripe melon.

The mother is sanguine about a fat gourd
as a daughter. Sends her rolling past 
lions, demons, men.

The melon goes to school,
teases her mother, tumbles about the town.
This child, rolled tight as fist,

every road unspooling before her.


Anxiety curls onto her chest
like a cat, suckling her sweater,
claws kneading her sadness.

Aretaeus named the womb as
an animal within an animal; 
a kind of wandering sorrow.

she knows now
that people are looking.
She learns to fake a smile.

October, and on our walk home
the harvest moon is gold
against the velvet sky.

she talks and her words
spin like a revolver
in the hands of an old west gun-slinger.

When did she learn to bridle
the night, to call in the sunset
for her ride? 

In the story, no one breaks
the melon open. The daughter
simply unfolds herself

from the rind. A miracle,
all she has escaped,
how unbruised

her flesh. Even in our stories
we can only imagine freedom
as tucked inside a hard shell,

as having escaped, unbroken.

The moon edges closer,
nudging your arm but looking away. 
A cat at the door, it waxes

and wanes, wanting in and out
and howling at the existence of doors.
Hold the screen open, let light trickle at your feet.

Your daughter sleeps,
her bones and dreams stretching
like the horizon in its golden hour.

All you can do is stay here,
propping open this creaky door,
letting her leave and come

back to herself,
and to you. 

Read the other finalists

About Sarah Tsiang

Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang is the author of 10 books including poetry, picture books and fiction. Her 2013 book Status Update was nominated for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award and her 2011 book Sweet Devilry won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. She has been anthologized in collections such as Best of the Best Canadian Poetry, Poet-to-Poet and the Newborn Anthology. Her poem My Boy made the longlist for the 2018 CBC Poetry Prize. She currently teaches poetry through UBC's optional residency MFA program.

About the CBC Poetry Prize

The winner of the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, have their work published on CBC Books and attend a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. The remaining finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their work published on CBC Books.