Congratulations to Melissa Joplin Higley, Grand Prize winner of the 89th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. Here’s her winning rhyming poem, “Anticipatory Grief.”

Congratulations to Melissa Joplin Higley, Grand Prize winner of the 89th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. Here’s her winning rhyming poem, “Anticipatory Grief.”

Anticipatory Grief

(April 1, 2020)
by Melissa Joplin Higley

My son, eight years old and afraid

he’ll catch this virus and die, is already

mourning. Even if I live to be old,

he says, I still don’t want to die

at the end of my life. He can’t bear

the thought of that great loneliness,

the lack of all that matters. Underneath,

I suspect, is a greater, darker fear that

his dad and I will catch this virus and

orphan him. His nightmares are on the rise.

He packs his anxieties into an old, metal

Thomas the Tank Engine lunch box, jagged-

cut printer paper scrawled with wavering

graphite lines filling the steel void. Often,

at night, the box isn’t enough, so he gathers

twelve small worry dolls into a huddle on

the bedside table. When the ‘D’ word [death]

seeps into his consciousness, he asks for a doll,

into whose tiny, cloth ears he whispers things

only she can hear, then tucks her securely

under his pillow. I tell him, wrapping my arm

around him in the dark, I can be his worry doll, too.

He doesn’t speak, but pulls my hand to his chest,

to the exact spot, he’s told me, that gives the most

accurate reading of his pulse. Then, he presses his

hand, small and warm, over the back of mine.

Get recognized for your writing. Find out more about the Writer’s Digest family of writing competitions.

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