The Vanderbilt Project on Unity & American Democracy’s 2023 Poetry Contest

First Place

By Sophie Kaiser, Vanderbilt University


After Sophie Klahr’s “Tender”

Start by unfurling your hands like the severed end of a rope,
then betray that splay of fingers by bridging the
divide between pointers and thumbs, knitting them in a 

kiss like my grandparents in their wedding photo—each
in the folds of the other, of Colorado brown and white, they spite their
severed neighborhood, quilting my cafe con leche-colored mother with both fabrics.___

Marry index to thumbnail, but don’t just let your hands sit there, separate-signing
F-shapes as if to fingerspell fissure & fracture; no, thread the needle, link the two loops how
my grandmother’s selfless sutures mend the rips in my sweater, knitting holes into tender

embrace, like my mother’s warm arms interlacing with mine after fighting again about
who and what we vote and march for, stopping to admire how, outside our home, an aspen
grove unfurls from the same mesh of tangled roots, running through soil the way rivers

weave through states, sewing them with the shared act of living. Now, move your hands
in a flat circle before your chest, as if to pour unity all over the land, or to collect
the unravel at the rupture of a seam and wrap it around the spool of your heart.

In my poetry class today, we learn how to write a villanelle
by taking disparate things and braiding them together:
the sever of a rope—the unfurling of your hands,
the divide of your fingers—the fray of a land.