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Winning Poem: "Playing Dead" by Jamie R.

The afternoon loomed with the promise of fluorescent lights and blinding sunlight.

Packs of people trampling over jagged pavement, stumbling along as if in a trance.

Behind closed gates, behind closed doors, victim to linoleum floors

that squeaked under your shoes and gave away every move.

The people fell away one by one. Not in time. Not in appropriate attire. Not in complicity.

They’re stuck to seats that all look the same, to desks that can barely hold them.

The windows are locked, the blinds are shut.

The leader asks a question and no one says anything.

No one says anything at all.

The leader does not like this, but this is what the leader has trained them to do:

to play dead.

They hold their breaths,

they hold their tongue,

they hold themselves steady.

They push down pangs of hunger.

They cross their legs and curse their bladders.

Despite this, nothing changes.

How can they live if they’re playing dead?

How can they live if they’re locked in a place meant to suck the life out of them?

They’re shuffling along like lambs to the slaughter.

Because this is how you survive here, by not questioning the leader.

Because with surviving there’s always the later promise of living,

and yet- living has never been within reach.

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