First Place | Poetry Writing Contest

53rd New Millennium Award for Poetry

Elizabeth Ash of St. Paul, Minnesota for “To the protesters on Vandalia”

Ash will receive $1,000 and publication both online and in print.


To the protesters on Vandalia

Elizabeth Ash


I desperately want to be poetic.
But there is no soft petal, no
moonrise, no achingly beautiful
placeholder for the words:
Abortion is a sin.

There is only the aching
in my lungs as I am held
at a stoplight, watching
a man stand feverish
at the corner

plastic babies hang
from his cardboard sign,
naked and white and strung up
with red yarn —
I imagine this is blood
or something like a warning.
How the little bodies catch wind,
sway like grotesque
vines on a willow.
In this moment I am grateful
the man does not have Black
friends from which to borrow
little Black dolls
or maybe knew enough
to avoid hanging strange fruit
out in the open
by the necks.

As I drive away, bolded
black letters read:
Don’t murder our children.
And I can only think to ask:

One day this womb will hold
a little Black body
and the little Black body will grow
into a man, or worse
a young Black boy viewed a man
in the eyes of a world that sees
an animal, through fear.

Don’t murder our children.
Is this before or after
the world has found my boy
old enough to butcher?

Down the road, another sign
reads: Jesus
loves your unborn baby.
And I laugh because I hold nothing
against your god,
but you hold your god
against my neck like a razor
when a freedom needs taking.
If ever there is a time
that I am drowning in
the loss of a little Black body,
I know you will send me prayers,
and these too will be dangerous.
For now, I keep driving afraid
to look ahead, afraid
to check the rearview.



Elizabeth Ash (she/her) is a Black, Jamaican-descended writer born and raised in New York. She was a fiction fellow in the 2021-2022 Loft Mentor Series and her in-progress novel, Far Cry From A Woman, was a finalist in the 2021 Miami Fellowship for Emerging Writers. Ash has received grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board and recently curated Blood on the Pavement, an exhibit pairing her poetry with visual art to spark discussions about violence against Black bodies. Ash’s second exhibit, Blood on the Pavement: Notes on Healing, is scheduled to show September 2022. She is an Editor at Copper Canyon Press and currently lives in St. Paul, MN. 

To the protesters on Vandalia © 2022 Elizabeth Ash
• • • Thanks for Reading • • •
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4 thoughts on “”

  1. I live right by there and feel sick every time I drive by. Thank you for writing this wonderful painful poem and congratulations on your win. It is so deserved.

  2. wow. this poem takes my breath away. i feel like it’ll live a longtime in classes and conversations around reproductive justice and Black liberation. how you use words to make me feel like this!? sooo skilled. thank you Ashley.

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