First runner-up for poetry in the Holiday Blog Contest is Cristian Flores Garcia for the coming-of-age poem, "Red Season." Thanks, Cristian! Enjoy!

For M

With the rain falling
between shades of midnight,
two days before Christmas,
I sway in my bed,
wanting to cry.
I hug my knees to my chest
with goosed flesh & clench my eyes,
thinking of mom & dad living
in California, working the orange groves.
I try to remember
the deep lines that groove her face,
her warm callus hands
& soothing voice. But I can’t.

My body awakening
with sharp & fierce cramps creeping
up my back & lodging in my thighs.
My stomach is on fire,
my nipples aching
& hard. The chattering of my teeth
& squeaking springs from my mattress
awake my brother sleeping in the bed
next to mine.
Asking what’s wrong, he sits next to me,
his palm on my forehead
like a healer.
My breath, still carrying the remains
of the warm milk I drank before bedtime
& his seventeen-year-old salty scent
made me nauseous.

I jump out of bed, run
& lock myself in the bathroom,
where I find spots of brown & bright,
sticky blood on my underwear.
I sit on the toilet; legs spread,
watching my body drip
& the water getting tainted
into many shades of copper red
with the heat of my piss
rising like healing vapors. I knew
the word menstruation. I know
that all women have it—
that they must bleed,
must hurt—and now
I could get pregnant. & I don’t want it.
I start to cry, not knowing
how I’m going to tell him
why I can’t come out.

After a thousand whys & his many
please come outs I confess,
in dim light,
with him on the other side of the door,
I’m bleeding. When I come out
his eyes tear up. He speaks softly,
Does your stomach hurt? He sits me on the couch
& goes into the kitchen to his hiding secret place
I know about.
After rattling pots & pans
he comes back to me with cheeks blushing
like a pomegranate. He unwraps a Kotex pad
& unfolds it onto his palm to show me how to use it.
I already knew; mom had showed me once,
but I don’t stop him.

When I crawl back into bed, he comes in the room
balancing a cup of hot chamomile tea
& two aspirins in one hand,
with mom’s letters on the other.
He kisses my forehead
& his fingertips brush my skin
when he places a warm heating pad under my pajamas
near my bellybutton.
He pulls his blanket over me
& I inhale the heat of his breath.