self-portrait as a young woman

Sydney Mayes

We are delighted to present Sydney Mayes's poem "self-portrait as a young woman," winner of the David Hamilton Undergraduate Creative Writing Prize. This prize is sponsored by anonymous donors who wish to honor the mentorship and support they and other students at the University of Iowa received from Emeritus Professor of English David Hamilton. In addition to publication online, Mayes will will be awarded a $500 scholarship. 

                                —after Auguste Rodin’s Young Woman

you know when i was younger i was a pageant winner

in the winter i will move to tennessee with my breasts

and my books stack up all around me how many sonnets

can one have a glass a quiet hour a pink sash and trophy

case by case basis they’ll evaluate applications for financial

assistance zipping up taffeta dress, sucking in instinctively

ospreys run from threats including maternal talons, date palms,

heat: stage lights, not included in utilities, press and curl, used to

keep vigil for mother’s intemperate breaths, arrival of the red tailed

hawk the foundation, the pearls, the underwire, the lymph nodes it cut

umbilical cord clinging to placenta pickled in a jar with bone

white the trophy base, sticking out of dumpster’s polymer mouth

callous red, i am so happy to have had to give up everything

close to city center is minimum two thousand a month

goes by and i still have no backbone, no silence, no address

me the way you would a martyr all these piercings no sainthood

requires, much like pageantry, that one be virtuous, worthy of imitation

crab for dinner, when you thought about adulthood was this the image

system of the poem is hyper concerned with the avian

flew over my head, all the jokes and unexpressed standards

for how i will look: happy, pretty, painless, in the

know this is my body now. i am so happy to be so ugly

ducklings chafing apartment complex’s artificial stream

you know, the question is always where is my skull

the answer now, is i have taken the first steps to craft it.

Sydney Mayes is a poet from Denver, Colorado. Winner of the 2021 Iowa Chapbook Prize, her poems have been published and are forthcoming in Denver Quarterly and Prairie Schooner. They are an MFA candidate in poetry at Vanderbilt University.