Salamander 2024 Fiction Contest

SUBMIT: May 1 through June 2, 2024 | READING FEE: $15


Anne Champion on the writing of her poem “We Can’t Breathe” (in Salamander #44)

In 2014, I went on a peace delegation to Palestine where I witnessed the choke-hold of military occupation, and it fundamentally changed how I looked at my privilege--it was no longer just a concept I acknowledged, it was an injustice that I was complicit in if I didn't act. Real human lives were at stake. When I returned in the fall, the killings of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice populated the news. Palestine and Black Lives Matter were not separate issues to me: the soldiers, the militarization of our police force, the fear that turns into murderous injustice, the racism, the colonialism--these things were all connected. This poem was my attempt to reconcile these realizations, and my writing is one of the small ways in which I resist.


I used to believe
it took so much to kill


without a bullet. I didn’t know
the hollowness of bodies,


how hands can lunge
and it can all collapse


like matter. Like nothing
matters. On TV,


a black man chokes.
A Palestinian man chokes.


No guns, no bombs. The body
caves in on itself:


the color of Dead Sea mud
licking the palms of my hands.


The reflection of our shadows
against tanks doesn’t reveal


the ways we perspire
or cry. But I see myself


in the little girl whose
bike careens into barbed wire,


and, still, she laughs. Once,
I was young like her too.


I didn’t know what people
could do to one another.


Once, I didn’t know my own worth,
and tried to snuff my body out,


let the pain slide
from my side until I was smoke,


choking the panicked bodies of those
that loved me. I used to think


this was hard. On TV,
a man walks down his street


peddling homemade cigarettes,
the police wrap his neck in the crook of an elbow,


and he can’t breathe, they can’t
breathe, I can’t breathe—


the breath leaves and I hear
its truth, but how can I live with it?


The man, the police officers,
he belongs, they belong,


we belong to us.

Emily Tuszynska on the writing of her poem “Firstborn” in Salamander #44
Vibiana in the Half-court Set