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Thomas Nguyen, a third-year medical student at Texas A&M University College of Medicine, with the ocean behind him.

Winners of NEOMED’s National William Carlos Williams Poetry Competition Announced

Now in its 40th year, the William Carlos Williams Poetry Competition is a beloved tradition at Northeast Ohio Medical University, where humanities training is embedded in the medicine and pharmacy curriculum and degrees or certificates in medical ethics and humanities are available.

The top three prize winners of the 2022 competition have been named, and this year’s awards ceremony featuring them is once again planned to be in person.

First place has been awarded to Thomas Nguyen, a third-year medical student at Texas A&M University College of Medicine, who holds an M.S. in narrative medicine from Columbia University. His poem “Here, the light is always fading” is a reflection on the final days of his grandmother’s life.

Amelia Khoo, also a third-year medical student at Texas A&M University College of Medicine, has been awarded second place for her poem “bright.”

“CNA Clinical Day #3” by Anneka Johnston, a third-year student at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, was awarded third place. Five honorable mentions were also awarded this year.

Named for the American poet and physician William Carlos Williams, the competition receives hundreds of submissions from medical students across the United States and Canada each year. It is judged by the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University.

“It was a really difficult decision this year,” wrote Jessica Jewell, Ph.D., senior academic program director at the Center, “The submissions, especially the winners, were really so good.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the past two annual awards events were held online, with lively Zoom discussions among the students and winning poets. Last year’s guest speaker was Amit Majmudar, M.D. (’03), a former Ohio Poet Laureate.

This year, in a return to tradition, the plan is for the three top winners to travel to NEOMED for the 40th annual awards ceremony, to be held from noon to 2 p.m. Friday, April 22.

Here, the light is always fading.

& the dead speak to us in flutters.
In the lull of our routines: mound of unwashed
pots, damp laundry line between magnolias.
When we crowded around my grandmother
lying in the hospital bed, her face was chiseled
alabaster, windless lake. By that time, her lungs
had turned to mycelium, her liver cracked asphalt.
Nodules bloomed like violet mouths. I knew
enough at twelve to know this story would end
with cathedrals of smoke, light through a veil.
The nurse asked for her name: bà ngoại, we said.
Bà ngoại, she’d say, gently, while combing
my grandmother’s hair, clipping her nails.
I watched my grandmother, who knew no English
& writhed underneath hospital sheets
whenever doctors & nurses entered, fall
into repose. Tenseless, like the sun nestling
within a distant field. Brief sanctum from tangled wires
& the incessant whir of machines.
There’s not much I remember after that. Or maybe,
there’s not much left. Cartographer of my grief
drawing whirlpools in the map I’ll later use
to retrace this time. I know now that memory takes
more than it gives. But I remember the noise foaming
at the edges of your mouth like a wash. & I remember
your voice, a mouthful of hummingbirds,
their beaks pointed skyward.