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Watch a video of Claire Matway reading "Squint."

January 2012

2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Awards

Poetry: High School

First Place

Claire Matway,
12th grade, Pittsburgh CAPA

And it’s Uncle Steve’s house with the rough blue couches and bright lamps
and deer heads on the walls and sandwich materials
piled on the long low table in the kitchen;
it’s three dogs and a view of wintry hills and red-lit radio towers;
Christmas Eve means
five cousins sprawled on the wooden floor amidst
crumpled wrapping paper and gift cards for T.J. Maxx,
a semicircle of aunts, uncles, grandparents
leaning in from folding chairs, cycling
by age through piles of gifts. Christmas Eve means
my uncle’s best friend is standing by the tree, beer in hand,
gray stubble and plaid shirt and manly as ever
(and you will not know it by watching,
but he and my uncle are best friends in the sense that
they will never leave each other their whole lives,
that they are each other’s
arms). They will not live together
because this is rural Pennsylvania and
they would just be fags—

my uncle’s lover stands by the Christmas tree,
squinty-eyed and chuckling and then
he is next-oldest in the age cycle of
gift-unwrapping (I am picking at the tag of
a magenta velour hoodie I will never wear)
and Mama hands him a calendar for the new year,
pictures of skylines planted in its gloss and
he is surprised and brandishing his beer and laughing and
“Twenty years I’ve been coming to Christmas! This
is the first damn present I ever got!” and his squinty eyes
could almost be watery, but the room is too even or soft
with the rumble of my family talking and
“First present I get in twenty freakin’ years!” and
Christmas Eve means
my grandmother’s on the couch laughing,
picking at a candy wrapper; I am
blinking at the wrong none of us ever saw and at
the plastic-wrapped square of cardboard and skylines
that forms a different story, tucked gently
under a plaid-clad arm. Christmas Eve means
the little pile of presents that forms by his chair the following year
and the sense of “Yeah, you dumb or something? Those are yours!”

View the complete list of the 2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Award winners.

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