First Place: Kate Li

Names of Leftover Men and Women

In Chinese, idioms are four characters.
           Only the flatness of a tongue keeps 
four(​sì)​ from bleeding into death (​sǐ)​.
           Each family knows the difference—

rain-slick boulevard streets, carpets
           of flattened millipedes. Uncle slips 
open the apartment window, watches 
           beyond beer belly as hills knuckle 

into fishless rivers. My cheeks ripple
           too loosely when I laugh; my grandparents 
eye me, say I’ve gained weight. They’re refusing
           to un-teeth & I’m noticing mosquito-infested ponds, 

how the wounds here are raised & livid
           on skin, as if hiding larvae that can’t sleep. 
The cities, swimming in shadow, bring Uncle
           & every other unmarried man 

the same wish: a woman to call his own,
           jaws from which to unhitch a name 
of three characters in a country
           mechanized by ​si​. At night,

my grandparents drape a wet towel
           onto my bed frame 
like a canopy, repeating my name
           as if to burnish it.