2018 Best in Literary Arts – Zoya Gurm


we fit sometimes, we leak
and we fold.
dehydrating, offerings,
soft adorations.

to leave me weeping
with the graces of acidity,
a touch and dismiss.

stability at the feet of loss.

the capability, the aroma
the sly smell of want,
a reaction in midair.

we leave sometimes.
sometimes we are pushed
apart, for better.

the capacity to leave is
intrinsic. it’s yours,
cased in negativity.

i’m twice held in place.

we aren’t built for this
we are built of this.
scheming, swift, corrosive.

our conditions at a loss
for spontaneity
we cannot go on


This piece examines interactions between two people through a series of chemical reactions. Within each reaction is a metaphor for the desire for stability, along with the give and take of a relationship. By using reactions to personify these experiences, there is a sense of inevitability to the flow of these emotions and relations.

The piece begins with a peptide bond formation reaction, the only reaction in this piece that indicates a sort of healthy relationship. This reaction, categorized by the images of fitting and folding, that clue to proteins, and by the idea of dehydrating, is ultimately a metaphor for sacrifices. By giving up small sacrifices– here the process of dehydrating– they are able to build a stabile bond and connect.

The next reaction represented is a Brønsted acid-base reaction. This reaction is used to show one side of the relationship giving and the other taking, similar to a hydrogen being passed from acid to base. The unreciprocated nature of this interaction– the acid will give and the base will take–manifests in an imbalance in the relationship described. The line “stability at the feet of loss” describes how, on a chemical level, an acid is better than the base at stabilizing the negative charge from the lost hydrogen, but on a human level how the continuous loss forces one to confront the state of loss so frequently that there is a stability within it.

The next reaction is an elimination reaction, detailed in stanzas discussing leaving. The intrinsic capacity to leave represents what would be a good leaving group on a molecule, and the feelings of inevitability in this regressing relationship. The phrase “cased in negativity” refers to the leaving group’s capability to stabilize negative charges (or stabilize the act of leaving). The line “i’m twice held in place” refers to the formation of a double bond through the elimination, which disallows free bond rotation, thus leaves a feeling of entrapment at the loss.

Finally, the piece concludes with a discussion of spontaneity, referring to the ability of a reaction to proceed more towards products. The conditions, or reaction conditions, are disallowing for the spontaneity of this reaction. This image of putting reactants in without getting out enough of the products desired ultimately describes the emotional labor of putting in more than one is getting out of a relationship, the final cause and reaction for the relationship to end.

These reactions, through small cause-and-effect examinations of behaviors and patterns within a relationship, help examine disfunction in a logical way. The lines of the poem reflect this withdrawal from the situation in their shorter length and frequent punctuation. This approach to a situation ultimately results in swift, sharp conclusions, like the ending point of the piece.