Of aching knots
Claudia Ann Seaman Award
Winner for Poetry
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.
EDITORIAL PRAISE FROM TARA BETTS, POETRY JUDGE
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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR