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Of aching knots

Claudia Ann Seaman Award

Winner for Poetry

CAS for Database

Rachel Brooks

Trumbull, CT

Christian Heritage School


Brezel, my mother says, is German for pretzel,

but it isn’t enough to pinch dough into knots.

The rite’s rigid, divinely mathematical,

so she rolls each body of flour and sugar,

water and yeast, twisting till the two ends touch.

Taste, she pleads. Her voice a rising cadence, a

punctured syllable. My teeth whittle the salt into bits,

grains of bitter earth lingering on lips. I throat

for the swell of sustenance, pry into cookbooks

the size of hymnals. In the kitchen—

pot boils, while I sit cross-legged and mother kneads

with calloused palms, dropping each shape

into the steam. How I wait for the vapors to condense,

form a ghost, my thoughts to settle like precipitate

and myth. I search for old tales sighing, find legend

between loops. Remember monks in northern Italy,

twisting strips of bread as rewards for their pupils’

holy efforts—kneeling, chanting hymns, slivered

tongues reciting scriptures. If you flip a pretzel

verkehrt herum, meaning upside down, it resembles

arms crossed in prayer. Now I picture that knot

in my stomach: calcified. This mouth has not tasted

brezel since I was nine and no wiry nymph of willow

limbs, free from the plagues haunting my thinning

wrists, sifting the rifts of my clavicles. My ribs

protruding each dust-filled breath. I've forgotten

that hour where my body didn’t scorn me for

eating wheat's bounty. I want absolution. To taste

blessing and bread as one. The pain’s sharp,

hollowing out my organ. Jagged. Like a knife slicing

fish belly to the bone. For now, I’ll fold my own arms.

What else am I to do but pray?


An impressive poem about pain, born of hunger and culture. Everything about it urged me to feel.


The subject may seem deceptively simple. Imagine the poet making and eating pretzels with their mother. In this poem, the couplets bristle with life from the choice of verbs and the movement between narrative and internal reflection on etymology, history, and faith. I was particularly moved by the last three stanzas and their progression toward the final line, "What else am I to do but pray"?

Rachel Brooks is a senior at Christian Heritage School in Trumbull, Connecticut. She is a 2020 National Student Poets Program Semi-Finalist. Her work has been recognized by Smith College, the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine, and the Poetry Society of the UK. She writes because of language’s ability to capture raw emotion and experience by merging unexpected sound, tempo, and lyric.


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