Lily Lyu: “Obituary of a Fig Wasp”

2019 Jack Grapes Poetry Prize Winner selected by judge Tanya Ko Hong

It was truly a pleasure and privilege to read this poem! I read it again and again, and it’s still surprising me with layers of new depth and emotion with each reading. That’s the beauty of this poem: it’s like a peeling an onion, but with joyful tears. This poem is a great example of “show, don’t tell.” It uses perfectly placed juxtapositions and poetic language(s) to describe complex emotions, while never telling readers how to feel. The poet’s use of space on the page gives readers pause to experience each image and syllable. There’s both breath and deep breathing, which usher in multiple surprises w/o a hint. The writer creates a brilliant setting at the beginning of the poem, as well as at the end. 

”            …the fig digest
the dead wasps        as it ripens
                         ashes to ashes, dusts to dust, fig to fig

I will never taste figs without thinking about this poem.

— Tanya Ko Hong


Obituary of a Fig Wasp

—“A fig wasp’s life begins and ends in a fig; each fig ripens only after a wasp dies inside. The tree’s fruit ripen only after its flowers are pollinated by wasps, while the wasps tear their wings and antennae squeezing into the fig to lay their eggs.”


I digest you,
You     complete me
            Without a fig wasp,
I could never ripen
into juicy         soulfulness

Mother, you were born
            Inside me,       female wasp hatching
                         Crawling out to lay eggs in the figs.
Pollinating      deep within     my purple flesh

I am a fig with no flowers.
You bought me           a one-way ticket to     heaven
To        the life you once described
                         but one that     you’d never arrive in

Your nutrients intoxicate
            Deep                Inside me,
The one time you told me to
                         Lay down my guard
                         Surrender,       relinquish
cuz you knew what was best for me
            and that’s the only thing         you’d ever want

Mother,           I miss my friends
            I yearn for a lost life   and the pollens scattered
In six different cities   where I was lost,         never found
                         Shipped off,    labelled with a flimsy barcode

Pieces of you scatter in my soul
            Locked            in my windpipe
                         Choking nonchalantly
            But      the fig digests
the dead wasps            as it ripens
                         ashes to ashes, dust to dust, fig to fig.

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