Vinamratha Rao, Class of 2028

fresh red streaks in the snow-white bank

seeping through fabric stretched across her back,

scored for each round after round

 in this mouth of hallways eating a tail of rooms.

i stagger behind close enough to see fingernails

with crescents of rust

each time her hand steadies along

the rasping walls of this place.

as our feet shamble dunes of sinking wet sand

towards quenching some fatal thirst,

i have only seen her back

but i know my mouth is just like hers—

clinging drought which now seems more of friend

than enemy.

the permanent children of the ward reach out

 from nests of sick sheets and shackle lines of tubing,

 to pass their fingers through hazy feathers

shorn to the quick and oozing smoke

i am still young enough to see

but old enough to deny.

at the end of this turn,

she will lie down in the mess

with arms twisted around in the dark,

her fingers scrabbling for ghosts of wings.

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