Theadis Reagins, Grandfather Reflecting on America, Drawing + Illustration,  Cleveland School of the Arts, Educator: Michelle Brickner, Grade 11, American Visions Nominee
Theadis Reagins, Grandfather Reflecting on America, Drawing + Illustration, Cleveland School of the Arts, Educator: Michelle Brickner, Grade 11, American Visions Nominee
Sophia Kroto, Liberty, Photography, Notre Dame Cathedral Latin School, Educator: George Yangia, Grade 12, American Visions Nominee
Sophia Kroto, Liberty, Photography, Notre Dame Cathedral Latin School, Educator: George Yangia, Grade 12, American Visions Nominee
Lily Winans, The Harvest of Hallow's Creek: Final Book, Comic Art, Chagrin Falls High School, Educator: Jill Eisert, Grade 12, American Visions Nominee
Lily Winans, The Harvest of Hallow's Creek: Final Book, Comic Art, Chagrin Falls High School, Educator: Jill Eisert, Grade 12, American Visions Nominee
Sophia Eyerman, Yad Chazakah, Zero'a Netuyah, Painting, Beaumont School, Educator: Kristen LoPresti, Grade 11, American Visions Nominee + Regional Painting Award
Sophia Eyerman, Yad Chazakah, Zero'a Netuyah, Painting, Beaumont School, Educator: Kristen LoPresti, Grade 11, American Visions Nominee + Regional Painting Award
Grace Taylor, Woodland Sheep, Ceramics, Orange High School, Educator: Colleen Angel, Grade 12, American Visions Nominee
Grace Taylor, Woodland Sheep, Ceramics, Orange High School, Educator: Colleen Angel, Grade 12, American Visions Nominee
Kaisal Shah, The Use of Stem Cell Therapy to Reverse Opioid Tolerance, Mixed Media, Hathaway Brown, Educator: Shelly Ahern, Grade 12, The Gary + Almut Zvosec Award for Mixed Media
Kaisal Shah, The Use of Stem Cell Therapy to Reverse Opioid Tolerance, Mixed Media, Hathaway Brown, Educator: Shelly Ahern, Grade 12, The Gary + Almut Zvosec Award for Mixed Media
Alexandra Wolf, Same Girl, Printmaking, Hathaway Brown School, Educator: Shelly Ahern, Grade 11, The Gary + Almut Zvosec Award for Printmaking
Alexandra Wolf, Same Girl, Printmaking, Hathaway Brown School, Educator: Shelly Ahern, Grade 11, The Gary + Almut Zvosec Award for Printmaking
Joey Early, Candid Haze, Photography, Orange High School, Educator: Melissa Conrad,  Grade 12, The Herbert Ascherman Award for Photography
Joey Early, Candid Haze, Photography, Orange High School, Educator: Melissa Conrad, Grade 12, The Herbert Ascherman Award for Photography
Halle Krohn, Power, Photography, Shaker Heights High School, Educator: Kathleen Fleming, Grade 11, The iN Education Award
Halle Krohn, Power, Photography, Shaker Heights High School, Educator: Kathleen Fleming, Grade 11, The iN Education Award
Kayla Poling, Time Grinding Away, Sculpture, Bay Village High School, Educator: Thomas Schemrich, Grade 12, The Janey Award
Kayla Poling, Time Grinding Away, Sculpture, Bay Village High School, Educator: Thomas Schemrich, Grade 12, The Janey Award
Elizabeth Varis, Vin, Painting, Bay Village High School, Educator: Grace Outcalt, Grade 12, The Sue Wall Painting Award
Elizabeth Varis, Vin, Painting, Bay Village High School, Educator: Grace Outcalt, Grade 12, The Sue Wall Painting Award
Theadis Reagins, Portrait of a Black Man, Drawing + Illustration, Cleveland School of the Arts, Educator: Michelle Brickner, Grade 11, The Davon Brantley Keynote Award for Art
Theadis Reagins, Portrait of a Black Man, Drawing + Illustration, Cleveland School of the Arts, Educator: Michelle Brickner, Grade 11, The Davon Brantley Keynote Award for Art
Tatiauna Martin, Portrait #1, Ceramics, Cleveland School of the Arts, Educator: Michelle Brickner, Grade 11, The Regional Ceramics + Glass Category Award
Tatiauna Martin, Portrait #1, Ceramics, Cleveland School of the Arts, Educator: Michelle Brickner, Grade 11, The Regional Ceramics + Glass Category Award
Aaliyah Bell, Keys to Adele the Kitten, Design, Shaker Heights High School, Educator: Keaf Holliday, Grade 12,  The Regional Design Category Award
Aaliyah Bell, Keys to Adele the Kitten, Design, Shaker Heights High School, Educator: Keaf Holliday, Grade 12, The Regional Design Category Award
Jasmine Neumann, Cattywampus, Digital Art, Hathaway Brown School, Educator: Melissa Nilsen, Grade 8, The Regional Digital Art Category Award
Jasmine Neumann, Cattywampus, Digital Art, Hathaway Brown School, Educator: Melissa Nilsen, Grade 8, The Regional Digital Art Category Award
Margot Sanders, Kingfisher, Drawing + Illustration, Excell TECC School, Educator: Dan Whitely, Grade 11, The Regional Drawing + Illustration Award
Margot Sanders, Kingfisher, Drawing + Illustration, Excell TECC School, Educator: Dan Whitely, Grade 11, The Regional Drawing + Illustration Award
Emilee York, The Faithful, Mixed Media, St. Joseph Academy, Educator: Tammy Sparks, Grade 11, The Regional Mixed Media Category Award
Emilee York, The Faithful, Mixed Media, St. Joseph Academy, Educator: Tammy Sparks, Grade 11, The Regional Mixed Media Category Award
Lilly Catney, Dolphin Tale, Sculpture, Chagrin Falls High School, Educator: Libby Harrold, Grade 12, The Regional Sculpture Category Award
Lilly Catney, Dolphin Tale, Sculpture, Chagrin Falls High School, Educator: Libby Harrold, Grade 12, The Regional Sculpture Category Award
Cameron Knotek-Black, Night Cover, Photography, Andrews Osborne Academy, Educator: Adriel Meyer, Grade 12,  The Regional Photography Category Award
Cameron Knotek-Black, Night Cover, Photography, Andrews Osborne Academy, Educator: Adriel Meyer, Grade 12, The Regional Photography Category Award
Nola Williams-Riseng, Adolescence, Art Portfolio, Lakewood High School, Educator: Dayna Hansen, Grade 12, The Regional Art Portfolio Category Award
Nola Williams-Riseng, Adolescence, Art Portfolio, Lakewood High School, Educator: Dayna Hansen, Grade 12, The Regional Art Portfolio Category Award
Anabel Bach
Grade: 11
School Name: Cleveland School of the Arts
Educator: Elizabeth Telich
Category: Poetry | American Voices Nominee
Poems for the Newly Liberated Soul
"Past Life"
What had happened to him 
in a past life?
“I would advise, you boys to keep moving”. 
Refrain from goofin’ or improvin’.
“It’s late past curfew”.
A profile constructed from rear-view. 
“You match the description”.
Depiction turn infliction. 
The way his attention hits the corners of his pupils, 
and the back of a baton.
The way it plays out like a ritual, 
ode to a Black swan.

The removal and renewal 
of another soul.
Youthful yet brutal, 
symptom of the patrol.
Pig dice, skunk, and beetle. 
When murder turns legal.
Take the power from the people.
More funeral chords
ring out of of the cathedral. 
Corrupt courts and lords 
make death look regal.
Red blood on the steeple, 
and a blind eagle
flies overhead.

MLK once said,
“If you can’t fly, then run”. 
It’s funny.
He musta’ not been on the 
peering side of a gun.
Behind a badge and a number. 
Heartbeat like drum.
Neighborhood like slum. 
Torment like numb.
Gravestone like son.

What had happened to him
in a past life?
That made him wince at the sirens. 
That turned his anger into silence. 
What made him cut his hair,
and afraid to repair.
What had happened to him 
in a past life?

Sex as a hobby. 
Her and her posse,
women who run with foxes. 
Walk around topless.
Unbound, and godless. 
Write poetry in lipstick. 
Ugly chics, dickless.

Showing some skin for the grimace. 
New generation of witches.
Evil cunts in dark ditches. 
Hunt a red headed mistress. 
She talks too much,
she needs to be corrected. 
Words to distort.
Kill an escort.

Dehumanize her till she’s a number. 
Inject her with plastic till she’s rubber. 
Elect her with a phallic culture.
Tell her she won’t amount to anything, 
nothing more than plaything.
Rights stripped by the gray-king. 
Then criminalize her body,
like it wasn’t rent to be godly.

The high priestess 
ruled by Venus.
Unborn fetus.
Jesus teaches 
women to be slaves.
To shave and behave. 
Engraved in her brain 
she should stay afraid.
Girly tokens, live to obey. 

Lies corrupt pores. 
A wife turned whore.
Punished goddess of yore. 
Kitchens bare, war.
And behind a closed door, 
tape her mouth shut.

"Trash City"
Here everybody, 
talk like rubble. 
Letting the words,
jumble and bubble.
Old rags reborn 
in cologne.
Crap crowns adorn 
in an offal throne. 
Kitchen grease used 
for shoe-shines.
Skin ooze
for plastic pines.

Here everybody, 
smell like bones.
Tombs full of 6-pack rings. 
Only bird of mine,
a pigeon wing. 
Shrine full of candles 
and soda pop cans.
Rosary scrap shambles. 
Love sold by the gram.

Here everybody, 
dance like junk. 
Thrash city, 
litter punks.
Jacket made of cling-wrap.
Cigarette butt 
fill a tooth gap. 
Sediment smile.
Disco ball bile. 
Bottlecap boots.

Here everybody, 
swing samba.
Dreggy strings. 
Orchestra dumpsite. 
Grubby dings.
Agogo bells, 
solo cartels. 
Surdo Slime.
Crumbs and Coke. 
Guns and Apitos.
Keys made of teeth. 
Snare drum,
“Sing slum!” 
Trash City. 
Writ of right. 
Their mantra,
“Sweetness and Light”.

"Venus of Willendorf" 
A way with hair.
Bobby pins, and blue 
Opaline and hues.
Bottled glue slicked wear. 
Marbled view depict pear 
shaped women.
Draped ribbons, 
swathed and tightened.
Cloths band, bite, and 
devour rips around her waist. 
Cut, copy, and paste.
Back brace lined with bows. 
Plucked, pull, and dispose. 
Exposé new issues,
ill idols to construe.
Wear a corset for liberation. 
Morbid fragrant flirtation.
Plaster turn floral. 
Cherry scented aural. 
Ballerina lace canopy. 
Blurring gaze vanity.
Megan Chen
Grade: 12
School Name: Hathaway Brown School
Educator: Scott Parsons
Category: Personal Essay & Memoir | American Voices Nominee
Ching, Chong, Chang
“Ching chong chang”.
Three words, followed by abrupt, unbridled laughter. My friend Rachel continued to “read” from the Chinese book on the floor of my room, enjoying the attention as my other friends giggled with her. I sat silently at first, stunned. But soon, my own laughter joined the others, hints of disbelief still hidden behind my smile. Rather than feeling the expected indignation, 16-year old me saw a piece of myself in my friend instead, also unwilling to appreciate the intricacies of being Chinese. However, she was merely making an innocuous joke, unaware that she was simplifying one of the most complex languages into three incoherent syllables. My crime was far worse — I had learned to resent my own culture.
Surprisingly, it was Rachel’s inane comment that showed me I viewed my own culture the same way she did: through broken stereotypes. The fraction of myself I saw in Rachel not only accepted these stereotypes, but welcomed them, as a justification to hate the heavy burden that weighed on me as I considered the Chinese part of my identity. A burden that took the form of a bowl of rice. One that I had faced many times in my childhood, when my parents would encourage me to finish even when I was already full. They told me that each grain left uneaten represented a lost opportunity at fulfilling a commitment. And so, each time I faced failure—messed-up violin recital, unsuccessful cross-country meet, spoiled lab experiment—I thought of the leftover grains of rice, waiting to be eaten.
But Rachel showed me my most difficult grain to swallow: the tattered threads that barely kept me connected to my heritage. My culture was already around me, from the loving-yet-austere way my parents raised me to the traditional Jiangshu meal I was too stubborn to appreciate. It was Ching, Chong, Chang that provided me the motivation to finally finish my bowl. Every car-ride I had with my parents, I asked them relentlessly for stories about their past, each anecdote a stick that reignited the flame inside me. They detailed not only stories about their past but also ones that shaped the history of China, from decadent tales about the Cultural Revolution to the demise of each emperor of each dynasty. I felt the thrill of protest through my uncle as he stood in the center of the Tiananmen Square rebellions, and saw my grandma wait for her father to return from the sea as a child, bringing her gifts each time he returned.
Yet, I was still missing the keystone of any culture: language. Ironically, the simplicity of ching chong chang showed me how fractured my previously flawless Chinese had become. Picking up a stack of old Chinese books I thought I’d never read, the forgotten complexities of my native language immediately flowed like a river back into my memory. I found familiarity in the strokes of each character as they formed intricate pictures, and old Chinese proverbs that told elaborate stories using only four words.
Rachel’s words held the power to redefine in my mind not only the Chinese language, but also the language of prejudice. I realized that the most hurtful words were borne not from overt animosity, but from naiveté. The conspicuous nature of outright bigotry elicits a retaliation equally as incendiary; ignorance, however, often blossoms undetected under the guise of humor. Because her joke was seemingly harmless, the others remained blissfully unaware of the dangerous preconceptions layered between those three words. How could a language shaped over thousands of years give the impression of three rigid, nonsensical syllables?
Naiveté is ubiquitous — from ching, chong, chang to my own blindness at the enchanting nuances of Chinese culture, it is as inescapable as the bowl of rice placed in front of me. Yet, ignorance diminishes as each grain of rice is eaten, until the bowl is finally empty.
Jane Nilson
Grade: 12
School Name: Hawken School,
Educator: Terry Dubow
Category: Poetry | American Voices Nominee
The Carpenter Room
Big Alvin Carpenter worked the coffee counter, 
ate breakfast at Booeymonger,
gave great leads from the cherry-colored chair 
in the room that would bear his name.
Big Alvin Carpenter, all wiry muscle and loose t-shirts, 
wore a shiny watch
and gold-rimmed glasses 
that took up half his face,
that broadcast his eyes to a wider audience. 
Big Alvin gave my mom away at her wedding 
in a broad-shouldered suit,
walked her down the aisle
between the blue chairs set up for the ceremony, 
but also for the 7 a.m. daily meeting
in the room that would bear his name.
Big Alvin carried me on his high-up shoulders,
perpetually held a white styrofoam cup of black coffee in his long-fingered hand, 
visited our apartment at the Gallery often,
touched the ceiling - 
see how tall Alvin is? -
in front of the disposable camera’s cheap flash 
as the photo album reached its capacity.
Alvin wasted fast.
Alvin was tied down with criss-crossing tubes, 
needle-veined, just like the old days.
Tall and lean and leaner, 
slowly narrowing in the gurney.
When they knew it would be the last chance to visit, 
my parents brought me
to the cavernous, stark hospital.
Alvin’s eyes were pinched
tight with pain in his hollow face, 
human and proportional
without his glasses.
Alvin’s dark skin was gray and loose, 
and I had nightmares
about skeletons for years.
My dad blamed the syringe-sharers. 
My mom blamed Ronald Reagan.
Alvin Carpenter was buried 
in a shiny watch
and gold rimmed glasses
and his broad-shouldered suit.

Alvin still beams with magnified eyes 
from the wall of the Carpenter room, 
where he gave great leads
and gave my mom away, 
sober & clean,
his shiny watch,
gold rimmed glasses, 
oversized t-shirt, 
styrofoam cup,
white blood cell count 
vital and big.
Deonta Steele
Grade: 11
School Name: Cleveland School of the Arts
Educator: Elizabeth Telich
Category: Poetry | American Voices Nominee
The script about a black mans funeral
put the body in camera shoot 
make him mannequin
he play dress up in
tailored suits and big funeral hats 
put his face on a tee shirt
snap a pic for the gram

mommas elephant tears 
spark riots
she be banshee 
turn martyr
her baby ain’t no damn circus act 
snap a pic for the gram

name taste like 
business investments 
murals on roads
sell execution weapons
to people who fantasize black 
boy deaths
snap a pic for the gram

preform virtual necromancy 
his brutalized body
played on purgatory loop 
down I-95
electronic billboards 
montage the moment 
paint him thug
snap a pic for the gram

Rehearsals on sundays 
canarys crow at his funeral 
“release the doves”
gunshots replaced by fireworks 
put his body on hot stones
“just dead” spray painted on the back window 
cans clank against the road

by the time the live cremation starts they 
too drunk to notice the camera still rolling 
his face burned into every brain in America
Kendall Thomas
Grade: 12
School Name: Bay Village High School
Educator: Kristen Srsen Kenney
Category: Writing Portfolio | Portfolio Award
Less Than or Equal To Twenty-Four

Nola Killpack
Grade: 12
School Name: Hathaway Brown School
Educator: Scott Parsons
Category: Critical Essay | Critical Essay Award
Stolen Voices, Secret Pain, and Uncertain Futures
“The Little Mermaid” has become one of Western culture’s most enduring tales. Though originally written by Hans Christian Anderson in 1836, many readers may find this version unfamiliar as subsequent adaptations, mainly the Disney animated film, have changed and twisted the story until it seems to contain nothing more than a shadow of the deep, philosophical threads that Anderson deftly masters. This can be illustrated most effectively by one of Disney’s most major changes: the ending. The movie’s happy ending erases the main characteristic that sets “The Little Mermaid” apart from most other popular tales: the heroine never marries. The lack of a romantic ending is just one aspect of an extended metaphor woven throughout the story which tells the tale of a patriarchy in which heterosexual marriages literally destroy the female voice, the accomplishments of women go unacknowledged, and men have the power to control entire destinies.
This patriarchal metaphor begins with Anderson’s exploration of marriage and its unacknowledged consequences. When the little mermaid visits a sea witch in her quest to join her prince as a human, the witch warns her that “once your shape has become like a human being, you can no more be a mermaid. You will never return through the water to your sisters, or to your father’s palace again” (10). This warning represents a concept that all brides, especially in Anderson’s time, had to reckon with: they can never truly return to their childhood home and they must leave all the privileges and relative independence of girlhood behind forever. This sentiment is further explored when the sea witch tells the little mermaid that, in order to be with the prince, she must give up her voice, leaving her only with “[her] beautiful form, [her] graceful walk, and [her] expressive eyes” (10). This is an experience that many women, even today, must contend with when entering into a relationship with a man, whether through marriage or otherwise. Once tied to a man, female voices have been both figuratively and literally silenced, often through laws such as those that declare women the property of fathers, husbands, and sons or which make the testimony of women nearly void in a court of law. Similarly, it is undeniably true that once women are stripped of their voices, the importance of appearance drastically increases and, as can be witnessed in the case of Snow White’s appearance-obsessed stepmother, beauty is often the only possession a married woman can call completely her own.
As the relationship between the little mermaid and her prince evolves, so does Anderson’s metaphor as he expands on female muteness to explore the topics that society has prevented women from speaking on. For example, at the wedding between the prince and his bride, the little mermaid acknowledges that she “suffered unheard-of pain daily for him, while he knew nothing of it” and “laughed and danced with the rest, while the thoughts of death were in her heart” (14). This is a perfect representation of how heterosexual relationships and marriages often end, especially in the less liberated past. While women’s traditional roles in homes and relationships are both demanding occupations and integral to a well-functioning family and household, men tend to overlook and underappreciate the everyday accomplishments of women and the sacrifices of dreams and aspirations they have had to make in order to focus on raising children or cooking daily meals. Just as the little mermaid’s muteness prevents her from explaining herself or revealing her pain, patriarchal systems and norms prevent women from speaking out on both small and large injustices while experiences of unhappiness, abuse, and assault are brushed aside.
This metaphor comes to a culmination when the little mermaid chooses death over killing the prince. However, instead of dying, she becomes a daughter of the air and is told that as mermaids must obtain the love of a human to gain an immortal soul “on the power of another hangs [their] eternal destiny” (15). This concept has a direct parallel to the women of more intense patriarchal periods whose futures were completely dependent the reputation of a father, the wealth of a husband, or the kindness of a son. However, the tale ends on a more hopeful note when, as a daughter of the air liberated from the men who had previously shaped and constrained the bounds of her life, the little mermaid learns that she now has the power to “by [her] good deeds, procure [an immortal soul] for [herself]” (15). In this way, Anderson may be referring to a future in which women can control and choose their own destinies and live completely liberated. This dream still applies today for, though the rights of women have greatly increased since Anderson’s time, there is still plenty that needs to be changed before the complete independence and autonomy of the air spirits can be reached.
In conclusion, whether intentional or not, Anderson weaves a deep and complicated thread throughout “The Little Mermaid” which subtly reveals the horrors of his intense patriarchal society which renders women mute, leaves their suffering unacknowledged, and robs them of their power to control their own futures. Furthermore, it is undeniable that, through their changes, Disney erased a message of patriarchal oppression and the importance of independence in romantic relationships which is much more valuable to young girls than a story which enforces gender roles and the necessity of a man in the life of a woman. Instead, whether intentional or not, the original fairy tale weaves a story of gender imbalances and powerlessness in relationships, which is, unfortunately, still incredibly relevant today.​​​​​​​

Isabella Issa
Grade: 12
School Name: St Joseph Academy
Educators: Jon Pelegano
Category: Flash Fiction | Flash Fiction Award
The Epic Hero
An epic hero is a figure in mythology with the strongest of moral codes, the weirdest of pasts, and the most divine of powers. That’s what Aislinn learned in Latin class today. They’re studying Virgil’s Aeneid, and her teacher never fails to remind them that Aeneas’ story is the blueprint of the epic hero. He did the whole journey, accepting the adventure and crossing into the Underworld and emerging victorious, struggling with the burden of his incredible abilities and heavy honors.
But that’s the thing. He.
Aislinn’s never heard of an epic hero who was also a girl. She hasn’t found an epic hero who sees the world as she does, who dreams the way she does. None of them love the same way, either. Instead, the girls are damsels, incapable of saving even themselves. And Aislinn is well aware that these myths are reflections of the societies in which they’d originated, but one would think that the same Greeks who believed women were goddesses and powerful sorceresses could also see them as the heroes that saved the day.
Maybe they could even get the girl, too. Achilles and Patroclus were almost there. Why couldn’t a woman have the same passionate and enduring love?
That’s the truth Aislinn has to suffer every Latin class. She has to know that on none of her class activities will she ever be able to write that the hero she’s referencing is a girl. All she can do is imagine and wonder and dream of the kind of hero she’d be…
The cavern floor would be damp to the touch as she crouched in the shadows, hidden from the hydra just around the bend. Its hissing would bounce off the jagged walls and worm its way through her ear, making her shake and twist her head just to be free of the wretched noise. She’d think of the innocents just beyond the cave mouth that the hydra sought to devour with all three of its heads.
Her partner had made the mistake of chopping off the first one.
But it’d be the image of those people that would have her pulling her bow off her shoulder and unsheathing one of her arrows. She’d be the last thing standing between that hydra and its next feast. She’d feel the weight of it in every part of her, the duty that she’d taken on the moment she agreed to fight, to use the perfect aim and uncanny abilities that’d been bestowed upon her by her father.
Despite all those misgivings, she would be the formidable opponent that the world and her story needed her to be. She’d be driven by a fate out of her hands, yes, but she would try all the same.
That’s who she would be as an epic hero. Loyal and courageous to a fault, with the skills to back up her reckless stupidity. The same epic hero who would hear the scratch of the hydra’s claws against stone and burst out from her crevice, arrow equipped and eyes steely.
The air would be still for one moment, two. Her chiton would brush against her knees, and it would be the only thing heard.
Until the hydra pounced.
And there they’d go, locked in an endless dance. She’d be firing off shots left and right just for the chance to hit the hydra’s eyes, it’s weakest point. One arrow through the eye and they would be down and dead. It would be that simple, and it would be another victory to her name, like Hercules and his Twelve Labors. Yet nothing would ever go according to plan in this story, not if the hero wanted to be interesting in any way. In this instance, she would slip on that same damp floor she had steadied herself on moments ago, feet flying out from under her, the ground slamming against her shooting arm. Her bow with its golden string would fly out of her hand and she’d be pinned.
The glowing eyes of the hydra would stare into her being through the darkness, watching as she struggled and writhed with all her considerable might. She would be a mere snack to it—an appetizer to satiate it until it reached the very people she swore to protect.
Because it would matter if something happened to her. She would have a purpose to fulfill and cities to save and a girl to love. She would matter in this world, and the hydra didn’t have the right to try and take that away. She’d have so much more to fight for than just her next meal.
Those thoughts would be filling up her head when her love would storm on the scene like a radiant day appearing after the longest night. And they'd lock eyes, two hearts joined as one with the same promise that they would never leave the other alone. Not even death would be able to conquer their everlasting affection. The hydra, of course, would be watching this very romantic and cinematic moment like a perplexed and miffed spectator.
The fight would resume, this time with twice the passion, twice the conviction. The epic hero that she would be was stronger with others, sharing the glory and enjoying it. The intrigue of her story would arise from the fact that she fought for those she loved with the same determination that she would have fighting with them. That would be the code she lived by, and it would be the best one yet.
They would survive, obviously, but not without effort. They’d stumble out of that cave, their lives as intertwined as their hands. It would be one of their proudest moments, the crowd roaring for them in a way that reverberated in their hearts. And they’d kiss at last, fulfilling every epic dream they had ever had.
Aislinn truly would give anything to make her wonder a reality, to be the epic hero she is within. That’s her code.
Elena Flauto
Grade: 12
School Name: Hathaway Brown School
Educator: Scott Parsons
Category: Journalism | Journalism Award
Dan Flowers : His Life and Career as a Food Banker and CEO
“I've lived my whole life just working all the time. That's what being a CEO is. You don't coach your kids’ teams. If you're home for dinner two or three nights a week, then that's good,” explained Dan Flowers, President and CEO of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. Sitting at the head of a conference table, Dan stood out from the austerity of the food bank’s boardroom in his flannel and jeans. From where we were sitting, I could see his treasured guitar hanging on the wall in his office. Despite being the CEO of the Foodbank, Dan’s welcoming smile and humble nature made him approachable. His thoughtful disposition came through when he spoke, detailing his philosophy on the importance of maintaining good relationships with his employees and making sure they feel valued. Although Dan acknowledged the stressors that come with his job, he assured me that the opportunity his position gives him to help people is extremely rewarding and far outweighs any drawbacks. 
However, if you would have asked Dan about his aspirations after he graduated from the University of Michigan and began teaching at the Flint School of Performing Arts, he would have described a very different future: “I wasn't going to be a school teacher; I knew that wasn't gonna be it. I wanted to perform. I wanted to make it big.” Despite his musical dreams, destiny led him in another direction. While working at the school’s head start program, he gained experience writing grants which led him to applying for and accepting a job as a grant writer at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan. It seemed that Dan had found his calling; he immediately “fell in love with the work.” Soon after, he moved to Ohio, taking up his current position as CEO of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. While not working in the entertainment industry, Dan still actively uses the skills he gained as a musician and performer: “These CEO jobs are one part performance. That’s part of being a leader,” he revealed.
The Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank serves eight counties in Northeast Ohio, providing food to over 260,000 food-insecure people annually. Food insecurity is defined as the state of being “unable to consistently access or afford adequate food ( In Summit County alone, the food insecurity rate is nearly fifteen percent of the population, amounting to 80,830 people, with 22,570 of these individuals being children. Last year, almost twelve million pounds of food were distributed to families in need by the Foodbank. These statistics demonstrate the significant need for meals and other essential items in the community. While low income is considered the main cause of this need, factors like inadequate housing and lack of accessibility to health care and child care have also been closely linked to food insecurity. Programs like Medicaid that have the possibility to provide struggling families with funding for improved child care frequently have restrictions that make many needy individuals ineligible to receive aid: “A mother loses Medicaid eligibility when her income rises above just 47 percent of the poverty line” (Keith-Jennings). Ohio’s food insecurity rate sits above the national average (12.3 percent) at 14.5 percent. Feeding America estimates that an additional 797 million dollars is needed annually to cover the costs of the needs of 1.6 million food insecure individuals in the state of Ohio. Ohio’s annual food budget shortfall is the sixth highest in the country, under those of New York, California, Florida, Texas, and Pennsylvania.
As CEO of the Akron Canton Regional Foodbank, Dan has come into contact with many individuals struggling to make ends meet. Recalling a particularly memorable interaction, Dan described a woman he met at a food giveaway at Open M Neighborhood Center earlier in his career. The event took place on a cold November morning and the temperature was around thirty degrees. When Dan saw a woman without a coat waiting in line for food with her son, he asked her why she wasn’t wearing a coat. The woman responded, “I don’t have one.” Her desperation to get food for herself and her son forced her to wait in the cold for hours, regardless of the frigid weather. In another instance, Dan knew a widowed woman who was dealing with raising many kids on her own as well as being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis: “I have never seen someone's life fall apart week by week. She would come in every Thursday to the pantry, and the escalating calamity of her life was a real demonstration of how complicated poverty is.” Unfortunately, having to choose between paying for necessities such as medical treatment or buying food for his or her family is the reality for many individuals in Northeast Ohio. For many households, the line between being able to afford food and not being able to afford it is incredibly thin; just one unexpected blow to their financial situation like being laid-off or having any extra expenses could push them into food insecurity. Further complicating the problem, families with working parents frequently do not meet the qualifications to apply for federal nutrition assistance, making them completely reliant on local food banks in times of need.
Margarette Purvis, CEO of the Food Bank of New York City, shares one of the many misconceptions held by Americans about food pantries: “There’s still this idea that food banks and soup kitchens are only for the homeless, and that simply is not the case” (Caminiti). Dan’s account of the people his food bank serves corroborates the idea that many of the individuals using these resources are working people who have jobs and families. He explained that, while half of the people getting food from the food bank are over age sixty-five or under seventeen and have either aged out of the workforce or have not yet entered it, the other half are able-bodied working adults. Additionally, eighty percent of those who are served by the food bank have either a high school diploma or even higher education. Regardless, there still seems to be a false belief that those who are food insecure are uneducated and incapable adults, causing individuals who need the food bank’s services to feel ashamed and sometimes preventing them from reaching out to get the help they need. In a recent study on food aid, twenty-seven percent of those surveyed responded that they “would not use public welfare under any circumstance due to reasons related to stigma” (David 14). When asked about this issue, Dan shared his philosophy on how to best reduce stigma and hate in general by helping people find truth in their own lives. This message of self-improvement and positivity is something he has sought to extend to those around him throughout his career.
In addition to the destructive stigma surrounding food insecurity, there is also a notable lack of awareness. Many Americans underestimate the impact that hunger has on their community. A survey conducted on behalf of Tyson Foods and the Food Research and Action Center shows that, while forty-five percent of adults agree that hunger is a problem in the U.S., only thirty-one percent agree it is a problem in their own state, with even less people–a mere twenty-four percent–perceiving it as a problem in their own community. The survey also found a correlation with yearly income, showing that forty-eight percent of adults who earned under $40,000 per year saw hunger as a serious issue, compared to only thirty-six percent of adults who made over $75,000 annually. Despite these varying perceptions, the reality is, hunger is present in every community in America. Dan offered an explanation for the disparity in different Americans’ understanding of the hunger crisis: “People tend to pretty much live within their own experience. I think that people generally want to be helpful, but the people that haven't had those first-hand experiences aren’t motivated in the same way.”
However, there are many people who both recognize food insecurity in their community and actively work to help their local food bank end hunger. As CEO, Dan Flowers has witnessed some overwhelming acts of generosity in the form of staggering money donations and tireless volunteer hours. While having financing backing is crucial, Dan recalled that some of the most memorable acts of kindness he has seen in his time at the food bank have been little things that everyday people can afford to contribute: “Kids will have birthday parties and they'll ask their friends to bring food instead of presents and they'll bring it in. I've had so many cute little folks come in here. I've seen people bring in food from their gardens. I mean, I see a lot of good.” Dan urged those looking to help their local food bank to “serve in a way that’s meaningful to you.” Whether that means writing a check, volunteering time, helping the food bank get trucks to transport food, or making use of any other skills, he insisted that everyone can do something to pitch in and help their community. 
When asked about his future plans, Dan paused and thought back to the chance series of events that led him to foodbanking. He compared trying to predict where your life will take you to still hunting, a form of hunting involving stopping for long periods of time to scan and listen for game: “Stand in the woods and look all around. And then take one step, but it's a whole new woods. All the angles changed. Then take another step, and it's a whole new woods. And that's life.” Regarding his career, Dan shared that he had been thinking about trying something new for a few years, but resolved that “it wouldn't complete the third chapter.” The food bank has been a constant throughout his life, ever since his days as a grant writer at the Foodbank of Eastern Michigan. Nearing “the beginning of the end” of his career, Dan has been the CEO of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank for nearly 20 years. He emphasized to me the importance of his story being a “complete work,” explaining: “My career has had a beginning, it's had a middle, and now I'm at the end. I want to finish it right.” The Akron Canton Regional Foodbank recently unveiled their Growing for Good Campaign, a project in which they will expand their network and food storage capacity by building another campus in Canton. Through this approach, the food bank plans to meet Northeast Ohio’s meal gap by 2025. Not one to back down from a challenge, Dan leads the food bank with determination, promising to continue working until they can provide each individual in the region with the food that he or she needs.
Nadia Ibrahim
Grade: 12
School Name: Laurel School
Educator: Cindy Sabik
Category: Humor | Humor Award

why my uterus hates me
Information may be medically inaccurate (see end for more)*

Before I begin, I must clarify I know absolutely nothing about the female reproductive system despite having been born with a female reproductive system and living with a female reproductive system my entire life. I do not know exactly what a uterus is besides maybe it is where the baby comes out from and that it is seemingly the reason I am presently in extreme and unbearable pain.
Every once in a while, my uterus decides to maul itself, which hey, good for you, but why should I suffer? In an
unwelcome reminder that I am, in fact, not growing a child at this current moment, my uterus has elected to simulate what it would be like if I were growing a child in my body at this current moment. I undergo a watered-down, oneweek miniature pregnancy, except that I don’t get the baby at the end of this one. Instead, I get an abundance of bodily fluids, chafing, and a broken bank account-- a heavy flow and menstrual product prices mixed in with some midnight cravings don’t operate well together. So not only am I in agony after a traumatic week, but I’m broke too.
The least my uterus could do to make up for the discomfort is be regular, but instead, this one-week pregnancy can occur any time within a two-month interval. Sure, it’s supposed to be once every month, but hey, maybe the next one can start two weeks after the last one! Or better yet, two months! And actually, we’ll just shorten the time between each one every single time, so you are entirely unprepared for when it happens! Sometimes my uterus will resolve to not even deliver a warning before forcibly subjecting me to this one-week pregnancy, and suddenly my beloved pair of white shorts are now an awful rust-colored tint with a massive brown stain in the general crotch area because apparently throwing it in the wash is just going to make the hue spread!
Don’t even get me started on the side effects. My back aches like I am carrying a full-grown infant in my abdomen, which I am not, so why the hell does my back hurt so goddamn much? And the cramps, dear God, the dreaded cramps. It feels as though my internal organs around the entirety of my uterine area are all being mutilated for hours on end. My face has become a warzone, with new craters on the surface popping up every day despite the peace treaty I like to call Proactiv™. My uterus will decide at 4 in the morning that it wants a tomato mozzarella croissant from the little cafe in New York City, just a mere 460 miles away, and will psychologically torture me for the next 6 hours until it declares it wants another item of food from an unreachable location. And to top it all off, it turns me into a hormonal monster with no control over my emotions. I will cry over the crumbs from a piece of toast that were unable to join their family in my stomach and make it my mission to lick up all said crumbs so they will not be separated from their kin. Immediately afterward, I will obsess over whether those crumbs reached their siblings and parental figures then hate myself for being a freak.
In conclusion, my uterus hates me, and I hate my uterus back.
*All content found in “why my uterus hates me” is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical
advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in “why my uterus hates me.”
“why my uterus hates me” may contain health- or medical-related materials or discussions regarding
obscene descriptions of the menstruation cycle. If you find these materials offensive, you may not want to
read “why my uterus hates me.”
“why my uterus hates me” is not responsible for any damage caused by using its content as medically accurate.
All material in “why my uterus hates me” is opinion-based, and not all uterus’ hate their utersusees.
Maeve Vasko
Grade: 11
School Name: Laurel School
Educator: Sophie Springer
Category: Novel Writing | Novel Writing Award
Burden of the Rabbit
Brief summary:
The queendoms of Vinderheim and Krazny have warred for centuries, battling over the iron-rich mountains between them. Each people has but one hope for peace: an ancient prophecy which promises that when a lifeblood, a sorcerer serving the god of life and death, is born to each nation, the two shall usher in an era of peace. Krazny’s lifeblood was found years ago. Drahomíra Vysoky, called Draha, discovered her magic at eight years old. She’s prepared for her fate ever since. Raised and trained by military elites, Draha yearns for the day she may fulfill her destiny. But when she finally reaches the battlefield, her dreams are swiftly shattered. She is expected to kill swaths of Vinder soldiers, effectively gutting their army—something that horrifies her. In Vinderheim, Eyal nat Mateh grapples with his own fate. A coal miner, his lifeblood magic was revealed when he survived a deadly mine collapse, and he was soon summoned to hone his skills under royal sorcerers. But Eyal is Ruvav, part of the wandering people who practice their own faith; in studying sorcery, Eyal would be worshipping a foreign god, and committing blasphemy against his own. Neither Eyal nor Draha can deny the war that rages between their nations, nor the role they must play in it. But as time trickles out, their destinies looming before them, each is faced with an impossible decision: to obey and betray themselves, to fight and betray their countries, or to run—and betray both.
The first thing Draha notices when she enters the throne room is that it’s covered in flowers.
This was expected. Queen Alzbeta’s demanded a display of her power before she’s sent to the mountains, and plants are the easiest way for Draha to illustrate what she can do. What she hadn’t expected was that the room would be covered from floor to ceiling in pretty blossoms and creeping vines, the walls and pillars almost completely obscured by greenery.
Draha tilts her head back, closing her eyes for a moment. Despite lacking any sort of roots or earth, the flowers are, in fact, still alive. A wildblood stands in the corner of the room, eyes glowing and a single hand outstretched as he extends the flowers’ lives.
Even the dais at the room’s end is covered in blooms. Queen Alzbeta sits in the center, face impassive as she drums her fingers on her armrests. Princess Ilona, heir to the crown, sits at her right, while Prince Timotej waits at Alzbeta’s left. All three thrones are adorned with lilies and roses, the white and red of Krazny’s flag.
The king-consort’s chair is empty as ever.
Draha swallows, throwing her shoulders back. She’s been in front of the royal family countless times before—hell, she and Timotej have been nearly inseparable ever since Draha came to the palace. Today should not feel any different.
Ružena walks at her side. The two of them are dressed in formal uniform, Ružena’s embroidered with shadeblood black, Draha’s with lifeblood white. She takes Draha’s hand in her own and squeezes encouragingly.
“You’ll do fine,” Ružena whispers, without even looking Draha’s way. “You’ve been training for this moment for years.”
“I thought I was training for battle,” Draha whispers back. Ružena’s lips curve in a smile. “That too.”
They reach the dais and bow. Though Draha stays where she is, Ružena climbs the stairs and kneels at Alzbeta’s feet, one fist over her chest and one folded behind her back. The queen smiles, if only for moment.
“My queen.” Though light, Ružena’s voice demands attention, every back in the room straightening at the sound. “You have asked as to whether or not Drahomíra Vysoky’s power is truly as great as claimed. She has come here today to prove that it is indeed.”
Alzbeta’s flinty gaze suddenly turns to Draha, pinning her in place. “Does General Király speak the truth?” “Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Very well.” The woman leans back in her seat. “You may begin.”
Ružena stands, crossing the room to the wildblood, and whispers in the man’s ear. The wildblood’s hand falls, the light in his eyes goes out, and Draha inhales deeply.
The change is nearly imperceptible, but there nonetheless. No longer supported by wild magic, the plants have begun to wither ever so slightly. Their life will sap in a few hours’ time at the most.
Not if Draha has anything to say about it.
“Brother Søren, you have blessed me with your power,” she says softly, speaking in ancient Kraznian. “May my actions please you.”
She sweeps her arm through the air. The flowers shrivel, vibrant colors disappearing as they curl and blacken, as though burned. Within moments, not a single petal in the entire sea of blossoms has any life left in it at all.
She can taste the death in the air.
“Impressive,” Alzbeta murmurs. “But can you do more than kill flowers?”
Draha huffs in annoyance. She flicks her hand, and the flowers suddenly spring back to life, their sweet scents filling the air once again. Both Timotej and Ilona’s eyes widen with surprise.
The queen seems unaffected.
“These are only flowers,” she says. “Not soldiers.”
Ružena seems riled for the first time. “My queen, if I may—this is simply an example of Drahomíra’s power. We did not wish to risk Kraznian lives.”
“There are prisoners in the dungeons, are there not?”
Ružena hesitates, eyes flicking towards Draha. Draha feels her skin crawl.
She hasn’t killed a person, not yet. It’s inevitable, given the life that’s laid out for her, but Ružena has always wanted to wait as long as possible.
Alzbeta is still tapping her armrests, still expectant. An idea flits across Draha’s mind.
She closes her eyes. She can still taste death in the air, of course, but she can also taste life. There’s plenty of it. “Prince Timotej, there is a rat beneath your chair. If you could remove it?”
Timotej squeaks, but he still reaches beneath his seat. After a moment, he pulls out a sizable rat, hanging by the very tip of its tail from the prince’s fingers.
Draha smirks. “Thanks.”
She snaps her fingers. The animal is suddenly flung from Timotej’s grasp, squeaking frantically as it sails through the room, and it lands several paces behind Draha with a terrible crack. It is very much dead.
Draha flicks her wrist. The rat’s body rises into the air and comes to hover between her and the royals, quivering.
She takes a deep breath.
Brother Søren, allow me to give what I have taken.
She brings her other hand up. The rat jerks. Suddenly it’s squeaking again, beady eyes wide with terror as it spins slowly.
“Kill a rat,” Draha says clearly, “and I can bring it back to life.”
She drops her hand, lowering the rat gently to the ground. Alzbeta has leaned forward in her seat. “Can you do that with humans?”
“No, my queen,” Ružena says, before Draha can reply. “Necromancy is easy enough with animals, but far too difficult with people. Draha would be capable of reanimating the body, but it would be little but a shell of the person it once was. She cannot call souls back from the dead.”
Draha frowns. Never has she attempted to bring someone back to life, which means Ružena must be lying through her teeth.
But Alzbeta seems satisfied enough with this explanation. “Very well. What else can you do.” Draha smiles. “A great deal, Your Majesty.”
“Show me.”
A thrill runs through her veins. Never has she been able to demonstrate her power, never has she truly shown what she can do—
“That will not be necessary, my queen.”
Ružena’s face is cold, hands behind her back. Draha deflates. Alzbeta raises an eyebrow. “And why not, general?”
“Draha’s abilities can be… messy. I would prefer not to damage the throne room.”
“It’s no trouble,” Alzbeta replies, smiling. “We have plenty of servants to clean it up. Besides, I find myself… intrigued.”
Draha glances Ružena’s way. The woman’s jaw is locked, and though she’s clearly trying to mask her displeasure, she can’t conceal it completely.
“If General Király would like me to stop,” she says quietly, “I would be willing to.” “Nonsense. I want to see what you can do.”
Draha nods, smiling, and closes her eyes once more.
There are bones plenty in Ilazovna, some buried beneath the ground, others hidden elsewhere. A few have been laid to rest in the chapels, the remains of great dedicates who served the gods well. Draha ignores them all, looking for the bones of an animal rather than a human.
She finds a blackbird, dead two years past with its corpse left in the gardens. Draha inhales, reaching with her mind, and pulls.
It’s only a moment before the bird’s bones appear outside the throne room’s window.     Draha jerks her hand, splitting the glass apart, and the bird’s skeleton comes tumbling in, its wing bones fluttering just as they would have in life.
Rats. A fox. Three crows, fallen together. Draha calls them all and more, blood thrumming in her veins as she raises their bones, and soon there is a menagerie of skeletons running through the throne room, their well-worn joints cracking together loudly in the silence. Draha smiles, driving them faster, faster—
She balls her hands into fists. The bones freeze where they stand, still once more. Even the birds’ bones are frozen in the air.
There is silence for a moment. Then, Alzbeta speaks. “You can raise these bones. Can you raise the dead?”
Draha hesitates, gaze flicking to Ružena. The woman’s face is blank, head bowed. She does not meet Draha’s eyes.
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Draha takes a deep breath. “I could raise their bones.” “Only their bones?”
She hesitates. “I have never tried to raise their spirits. I think Brother Søren might balk at that.” Alzbeta nods, chin in hand. “Somehow I doubt that this is all you can do. What else?”
“Tell me.”
Draha nods, pulling herself up to her full height. “I cannot die. I can cast protective spells around our soldiers, so they might be safe from harm. I can resist magic. I can keep the dying alive, even when they ought not to be. I can—”
Ružena coughs.
“I can do a great many things, Your Majesty,” Draha finishes quietly. “Far too many to list.” Alzbeta nods, fingers drumming once again. She leans back in her chair.
“Your power is impressive. General Király had told me of your gifts, but I had never imagined…” The queen trails off, face thoughtful. “What you did with the flowers. Could you do the same with soldiers?”
“Of course.”
Alzbeta smiles wickedly.
“You have my blessing,” she says. “You may go to Frodje.”
Draha’s heart leaps. She bows quickly, low enough that her braid scrapes the ground. “Thank you, Your Majesty.
I will make Krazny proud.”
“I am sure you will, Drahomíra. I am very sure you will.”
Emma Gerber
Grade: 12
School Name: Hathaway Brown School
Educator: Scott Parsons
Category: Personal Essay & Memoir | Personal Essay & Memoir Award
String Theory and Their Future
In the back of my Physics classroom, we play Cat's Cradle. We’ve settled into a rhythm: finger, loop, cross, slip, laughter. Finger, loop, cross, slip, laughter. Through the bright yellow strings, I see fragments of faces, coming in and out of focus as the strings swing. One face rests on the edge of a vibrating cord and for a moment, I think it’s my own.
In a disorienting moment of pareidolia, I feel a tug and I’m pulled into a memory.
The sun fell in thick strands through the trees, and the kids lying on the playground floor shifted to avoid the hot rays. It was a surprisingly calm afternoon at summer camp. The campers were tired after rioting for popsicles, and I was tired from repeatedly fixing the sprinkler.
I was supposed to be thinking about what to give the campers for snack, or at the very least, what I should read to them at storytime. But I was drifting—indulging, really—in string theory.
Admittedly, I know very little about physics. But when I look at the equation sheet at the front of my physics textbook, I see explanations for the universe, all lined up in neat black print. There is order to physics, but also a dash of uncertainty. Somewhere, I’m sure, physics holds the key to our universe.
Which is exactly why I was thinking about physics on that hot summer day. I had recently learned about string theory: a theoretical framework of physics that replaces our concept of particles with “strings”. This has huge implications for the laws of physics, many of which I have yet to understand. But the thing that most stood out to me about string theory was the way it allowed pieces of matter to interact. Instead of particles that simply bounce off of each other, strings can twist together, connect at their ends, and become intertwined like the double helix of DNA, clasped fingers, the Man on the Moon’s red strings of fate.
As I walked back through the dark hallway with my campers, I yelled “Everyone hold hands with a friend please!” They reached for each other, small hands clasping and tangling together, pale arms stretching into a taut line. In that moment, the line of children became a string of universes: fourteen children each containing their own distinct realities. I thought about their cells, multiplying, and the reality that they each held a piece of the future.
During nap time, that image of the line of campers floated around my brain and entangled itself with string theory. In many ways, I thought, my interactions with my campers align much more with string theory than particle theory. We only interact for one summer, but the implications of that interaction are immense and unpredictable. For one short period, our realities intertwine, mold around each other, separate with a clumsy twist. There’s no guarantee of how that interaction will shape our respective futures. Who will they become? Have I pulled them in the right direction? Is there a right direction at all?
I have no answers to those questions, so I teach my campers everything I can. I stress kindness over everything else, answer their questions with the complexity they deserve, tell them they are the keys to their own futures. And then I let them go, out in the world to twist around the path of someone else.
Back in the physics classroom, the strings snap together and I realize that the face belonged to a preschooler, who was having lunch in the dining hall below us. Chubby cheeks, bright eyes, she lifts her fork up and stabs it down. I imagine, squirming deep within the child’s chest, a twisting string. It’s careening towards the future, undulating and vibrating and ready to collide. I might never interact with that child, but we are connected through my campers, who will also inhabit the same future. In that moment, I realize: physics may be a way to explain the universe, but being a camp counselor is a way for me to shape it.
Sarah Carlile
Grade: 11
School Name: Mayfield High School
Educator: Kari Beery
Category: Poetry | Poetry Award

as the sun sets
in a blinded room, with chipping eggshell paint splattered along the walls 
a six year old dies laying on a stained, carpeted floor
the ghost of him lingers in the corner, hesitant and unsure 
just a terrified shadow,
frozen firm as his former life…

the time of youthful innocence and a healthy mind
slips through his boney fingers, grasping for control.
trying to catch the firefly of nostalgia and bask in its warm glow
only to gather empty air in his cold hands, instead.
left hopelessly to watch the beautiful, little bug fly away… 
and fade away
into the darkness of the night...

leaving the fiery passion in his soulextinguished 
the wistful hope in his mindcrushed
and the unwavering love in his heartbroken.

the only thing left of him that remains is the rigidly stiff body 
that lays there motionless

limbs only moving when the older man pulls the strings attached to his young form.

and while the ghost's eyes are foggy and somewhere far away, 
caught on a gleaming star---
the puppet boy’s orbs remain wet and shut tightly
daring not to draw anymore attention to himself

"it's our little secret, baby doll.” 
then the puppet master leaves
and poor, little pinocchio gets left behind.

thrown away and discarded. shelved away until the next time
used for only one purpose: the pleasure of others.

but when the shoemaker came to find the crestfallen puppet later 
hours after the puppet master had abandoned him there
he'll worry, and kneeling down before the puppet, offering a comforting hand

to the boy who will lean into his touch,

he’ll question, "are you alright, dear?"

and then pinocchio will look to the corner…
(“why are you hiding, darling? a pretty boy like you deserves all sorts of nice attention”)

but no ghost will be there.
(“you’ll be all alone if anyone finds out about this, sweetheart. and we wouldn’t want you kicked out, now would we?”)

so, he'll sigh, and abruptlypush away from the contact, suddenly sick with himself. 
(“yes, that’s a good boy… let’s have some playtime now, shall we? dance for me, puppet.”)

"i'm fine, papa… but thank you."
[i don’t understand what’s going on, but something is very, very wrong.]
and pinocchio's nose will grow
once the door is shut behind the shoemaker.
[don’t leave me here to die again.]
for the first of many times

and so he will desperately pray out for a miracle 
[i’m so sorry… i can’t keep doing this.]
above the sound of chirping crickets
[please help me.]
to go back to being 
a real boy.
Maxine Gilligan
Grade: 11
School Name: Hathaway Brown School
Educator: Scott Parsons
Category: Science Fiction & Fantasy | Science Fiction & Fantasy Award
A Brotherhood of Moose and Man
Surrounded by the tallest mountains in all the lands, there was a lonely kingdom. Not a single soul could survive unprotected for even a heartbeat in the mountains’ icy cold, thus its people were the only individuals who dared to inhabit the frigid peaks. Among the evergreen trees and grey cliffs, the kingdom's only neighbors were innumerable herds of moose, who radiated a powerful warmth. Their inner heat rendering them immune to the coldness of the mountains, the moose population softly meandered throughout the snowy lands encompassing the small kingdom, feasting on the bright red berries that grew on the prickly branches of the evergreen trees.
Despite its bitter surroundings, the kingdom was rich and thriving, for it had learned to rely on the moose to prosper. The moose’s radiating warmth engulfed the kingdom, preventing it from turning to ice. Each month, the king ordered all the kingdom’s men to trek into the mountains and kill just enough moose to sustain the kingdom, so as not to risk eliminating the moose entirely. The people of the kingdom would then feast on the moose's flesh and make warm coats from their thick hides.
Among the kingdom lived two young brothers. The fierce and ruthless elder brother often accompanied the huntsmen despite his small stature. In contrast, the kind and quiet younger brother spent most of his time staring in awe at the grandeur of the mountains and admiring the gentle moose from afar. The ruthless brother gained a reputation throughout the kingdom for his ferocious pursuit of moose during hunts, as the young boy could defeat the beasts more efficiently than any other hunter in the kingdom. In contrast, the quiet brother was ridiculed as a pathetic, feeble boy with little worth compared to his elder brother. As the ruthless brother’s strength and skill increased, so did the torment experienced by the quiet brother.
Frustrated by his younger sibling’s disinterest in hunting and resulting ridicule, the ruthless brother brought the quiet brother on a hunt to teach him how to kill the moose. The quiet brother begged his brother not to force him along, for he admired the gentle peacefulness of the great brown beings. But the ruthless brother’s will was unrelenting, and he dragged the quiet brother out of the kingdom into the mountains, hauling him through the evergreen forests until they spotted a young moose laying in a gully between two flat, towering cliffs.
“My brother,” he declared, “here is the perfect moose for your first kill, small and easily defeated. Kill it now, and prove you have the spirit to one day become a successful huntsman.”
Still, the quiet brother refused, pleading, “I cannot. I cannot. I cannot kill such a helpless and peaceful creature. I cannot kill the most majestic type of being in all the lands.”
The brothers quarreled, the elder relentless in his demand that the younger kill the moose, the younger continuing to refuse, and the young moose staring at them calmly. Soon, the ruthless brother’s patience ran thin. Dragging his younger brother towards the moose, he grabbed the quiet brother’s arms, forced his dagger between his brother’s hands, and slowly pushed his brother forward until he could not avoid inserting the blade into the brown fur of the young moose’s chest.
As berry-red blood poured out onto the white snow, the quiet brother screamed and cried, for the death of the young creature he had been forced to kill broke his heart.
The ruthless brother scoffed at the quiet brother’s sobs, and spat out, “there is truly no hope for you, my brother, you’re better off to starve here in the woods.” With that, he turned on his heel and trekked back towards the kingdom.
The quiet brother’s devastation bound him to the young moose’s corpse, and he could not bring himself to leave the animal’s side. As dusk neared, a large moose approached the boy and the corpse, the boy’s sadness so powerful the moose had felt it in the winter air. The quiet brother cowered from the approaching moose, fearing it would kill him in retaliation, but the moose instead neared him and spoke.
“Young traveler, do not duck away from me in fear. I see your sadness towards this fallen companion, and I feel your camaraderie for my kind. This death is not your doing. Come, let me return you to your kingdom.”
As the moose guided the quiet brother through the darkening evergreen forests and back home to his kingdom, the boy questioned, “oh grand moose, what is your name?” and the moose replied, “I have no name, as I am no human.” So the quiet brother deemed him Grand Moose, and Grand Moose approved humbly. Grand Moose returned the quiet brother to his home, and the two parted ways, yet as the quiet brother ushered himself to sleep he could not help but long for the rare kindness Grand Moose had shown to him.
At dawn, the quiet brother returned to the mountains to search for Grand Moose. Drawn together by their mutual desire to reunite, the two found one another immediately. Together, they frolicked in the snowy fields, gathered bright red berries, and ventured through the valleys until the sun greeted the horizon once again. Each day onward, Grand Moose and the boy met in the kingdom’s mountainous surroundings and basked in each other’s company.
Many years passed, and Grand Moose’s and the quiet brother’s friendship thrived. As the brothers grew older, the entire kingdom alienated the quiet brother for his continued refusal to participate in the hunts. The ruthless brother disowned the quiet brother and rejected any association with him. The people of the kingdom refused to provide him with food and coats from the hunts. Kindly, Grand Moose filled the hole left by his brother and the kingdom’s people, gathering extra evergreen berries for the quiet brother to eat, collecting evergreen branches to keep him warm at night, and filling his heart with their friendship. An unbreakable brotherhood developed between Grand Moose and the quiet brother. He had become an outcast of the kingdom, living on its outskirts, but his friendship with Grand Moose provided him all the happiness he needed.
Meanwhile, the kingdom’s respect for the ruthless brother grew, as his merciless and efficient hunting became legendary. Soon, the king appointed the ruthless brother as the leader of the monthly moose hunts. But he knew no limitation, and he was so cruel that he led his huntsmen to kill as many moose as possible. The hunts began occurring weekly, then daily, and as dozens of moose were hunted at a time, the moose population dwindled.
Fearing for Grand Moose’s life after the surge in hunting, the quiet brother began to listen in when his brother planned with the kingdom’s huntsmen, learning where they intended to hunt each day and warning Grand Moose to avoid these areas. With the quiet brother’s help, Grand Moose survived as nearly every other moose in the lands surrounding the kingdom was killed.
Both Grand Moose and the quiet brother were heartbroken by the death of so many majestic beings. They fantasized together of peace between the people and the moose, coexisting and helping each other to survive, just as Grand Moose and the quiet brother protected each other.
The ruthless brother’s new strategy did not come without consequence. As the moose population rapidly decreased, the great warmth originating from within the creatures disappeared as well, and a wave of coldness swept over the kingdom, rendering it even more frigid than before. No moose were to be found near the kingdom, and the ruthless brother was forced to lead his huntsmen deeper and deeper into the mountains with each hunt to encounter any moose at all. The kingdom’s people began to weaken, as many froze to death from the penetrating cold or starved as moose meat became a rarity.
Grand Moose continued to evade being captured, and he became the last surviving moose near the kingdom. However, his presence did not go undetected: some claimed to have seen a large moose meandering through the outskirts of the kingdom. The ruthless brother tried to pursue the evasive moose, but he failed even to spot him as the quiet brother warned Grand Moose to run far away and hide each time a hunt for him was set to begin. While the
ruthless brother’s search for Grand Moose continued to fail, more and more rumors about the mysteriously evasive moose proliferated throughout the kingdom.
Soon enough, the king himself succumbed to the new, harsher cold, freezing to death and forcing the people of the kingdom to choose his successor rapidly. Despite his destructive hunting, the people looked to the ruthless brother to lead them and planned to crown him as king. The quiet brother sought to challenge his brother and take the throne himself, wishing to avoid even more destruction under his brother’s rule, and seeing his opportunity to fulfill his and Grand Moose’s dream of harmony.
The kingdom’s people gathered to officially crown the ruthless brother as king. Before the coronation could begin, the quiet brother interrupted, “please, do not let this man be crowned without a challenger. Whoever shall be our next king must prove himself. Let us host a contest to determine who in this kingdom is most mighty and most justified to hold our throne.”
Not wanting to seem weak, the ruthless brother agreed, and the people of the kingdom devised a contest to determine who would be the king. The rest of the kingdom’s men supported the ruthless brother and did not participate, leaving the challenge to be solely between the two brothers. Knowing that the ruthless brother was far stronger than his younger sibling, the kingdom’s people decided the brothers would race each other up and down the tallest mountain neighboring the kingdom, as they perceived the quiet brother as too weak to climb even halfway. As the challenge began, the quiet brother ran to the woods to find Grand Moose, who allowed him to ride on his back as his towering legs carried them up and down the snowy peak with incredible haste.
When the quiet brother returned long before his sibling, the people of the kingdom refused to believe his success, accused him of having cheated, and ruled that the contest must be held again. Thinking that the ruthless brother would be immune to the cold after so many hunts, the kingdom’s people decided the brothers would remain outdoors for as much time as they could bear, the victor having endured the icy cold the longest. As the challenge began, the quiet brother ran to the woods to find Grand Moose, who huddled next to him to keep him warm.
When the ruthless brother could no longer stand the cold and returned to the kingdom, the people of the kingdom once again could not believe the quiet brother’s success, claimed he must have somehow cheated, and decided that one final contest would have to be held. Confident in the ruthless brother’s incredible hunting abilities, the people announced the final challenge would be to kill the elusive, mysterious moose that had taunted the starving kingdom for so long, retrieve his antlers, and lead the people to its body.
There was no title, no fortune, no reward in all the lands that could convince the quiet brother to kill Grand Moose. However, his determination to earn the throne remained, so he ran into the forest again to plan with Grand Moose to forge his death.
The quiet brother found Grand Moose in an empty clearing and explained, “Grand Moose, the kingdom has determined that whoever will kill you and retrieve your antlers will take the throne, so we must trick them into believing you to be dead.”
Grand Moose advised him, “you must cut off the bottom branch of the thickest evergreen tree you can possibly find, shape it into my antler, and bring it to the kingdom’s people. The furry branches will deceive them. Then you must lead them to a faraway place and claim my body must have been buried in the snow.”
The quiet brother agreed to his plan and commanded him, “I will do it now, but you must go far, far away until this quest is complete, lest my brother finds you!”
The quiet brother watched Grand Moose as he began to run away when suddenly an arrow flew into Grand Moose’s eye and emerged through the back of his head. Grand Moose’s noble body collapsed into the snowy ground instantly. The quiet brother stared on in horror as his brother strolled in front of him and severed Grand Moose’s antlers off his head.
Suspicious of his younger brother’s victories in the previous challenges, the ruthless brother had followed the quiet brother into the forest and was led directly to the moose he had needed to kill.
The ruthless brother laughed at the quiet brother’s distress and exclaimed, “you were foolish to try to take the throne
from me! Your soul is too weak to kill this worthless moose, how could you ever command our kingdom?”
As the ruthless brother returned to the kingdom, the quiet brother’s vision remained glued on the corpse of his friend. Slowly, he walked over to Grand Moose’s body and wrapped himself around him, indifferent to the berry-red blood that stained the skin of his arms. The quiet brother laid by Grand Moose long after he had died. The night arrived, the sun rose, the sun fell again, and the quiet brother still could not leave Grand Moose’s side. A storm ravaged the land, and half-buried in snow, the quiet brother continued to embrace him.
Just as it had years ago, the quiet brother’s devastation spread through the mountains’ frigid air, this time his sadness so powerful it traveled in a thick cloud to mountains far, far away. It reached lands where thousands of moose, living far beyond where the ruthless brother could ever reach them, felt the sorrow expressed for one of their own kind.
Moved by some human’s ability to connect so powerfully to their species, they trekked towards the devastation’s source.
The ruthless brother returned to the clearing, Grand Moose’s antlers in hand, accompanied by the people of the kingdom to complete the quest. However, instead of finding the moose’s corpse alone in the clearing, they encountered hundreds upon hundreds of moose, circling the clearing where the quiet brother still laid with Grand Moose, standing silently in solidarity. Moose, who had become a rare sight under the ruthless brother’s hunts, now occupied the entirety of their line of sight, and with the presence of the internal heat of so many of these majestic beasts, the coldness that had sunk into the kingdom was blasted away.
The people of the kingdom saw how the quiet brother’s kindness towards this one single moose had brought so many moose back to their lands and banished the murderous cold. As they once again experienced the warmth and prosperity they had destroyed by hunting the moose relentlessly, they finally realized that their own hunts had caused their kingdom’s demise.
With the return of the moose, the people decided that they could not be led by a soul as coldhearted and merciless as the ruthless brother’s. The people of the kingdom approached the quiet brother, guided him off of Grand Moose’s body, and confessed to him, “you must be our king. You must restore the moose to our kingdom.”
And so, the quiet brother became king, and Grand Moose’s body was respectfully buried in the gully where he and the quiet brother had first met. The ruthless brother was stripped of his warm coats and abandoned in the clearing, where he immediately froze to death, as his exploitation of the moose left him unprotected by their warmth. Some of the moose that had traveled to the kingdom remained and repopulated its lands.
The moose and the people prospered collectively under the rule of the quiet brother, as the moose population collected berries for the people of the kingdom to eat and shared their internal warmth in exchange for the kingdom’s guaranteed peace and protection. The kingdom thrived once again, and the friendship between the quiet brother and Grand Moose lived on through the friendship between the kingdom’s human and moose members.
Eva Ko
Grade: 8
School Name: St Paschal Baylon School
Educator: Mary Connors
Category: Short Story | Short Story Award | American Voices Nominee
The rooster out on the fence cawed every morning. The rude awakening was as routine as the sun rising in the golden clouds. It rang through the air like a deranged shout; a desperate plea for companionship. A call for someone, anyone, to remind that old rooster that he wasn’t alone in the silent world of the early morning. It was with this call striking through the misty sky abruptly earlier than usual, that Maisie Suellen began that day. The day of her son’s death.
Ever since James Suellen was a child, he insisted upon the simple fact that he would become a doctor. His pudgy eight-year-old fingers would push deep into the shells of limp cicadas, exploring for an understanding of the workings inside of them. His dark eyes, inherited from his mother, were alluring in their curiosity. Always searching, but never quite satisfied. Maisie would watch from afar, entertained, and assuming that the musings of her small child might soon dissipate. Or rather, Maisie feared to hope that the danger of curiosity could be accepted in her boy with the midnight skin. Especially hidden in the heart of the South, where everything was bound to be found out, and her boy would learn this soon enough. Even still, as the seasons changed and everything in Maisie’s boy’s life was altered from his preference of music to the absence of his father, his love of science persisted like a stubborn fire refusing to be doused.
The sticky smell of pancakes danced around the kitchen, mingling with the early scent of dew from the grass. It was a certain type of smell that never left the house but rather lingered throughout the day, bringing a smile to your lips and pleasant warmth in your chest every time the sweet, fried undertone of it happened to cross your nose.
Fat bulbs of hyacinth swelled outside the kitchen window above the sink, and Maisie breathed them in with a sort of bubbling rapture that came only from life’s simplest pleasures. The day was one of the summer’s finest productions, as birds cooed to each other fondly and explosions of pollen lead the bees and butterflies drunkenly along the flowers. The Alabama sun seemed to give a reprieve for the day and cooled its sweltering heat, if only a few degrees, to an almost tolerable temperature. It was as if Mother Nature herself spread her arms deftly upon the day with a smug smile and proclaimed, “Bathe in my craftsmanship!”
It seemed almost as if the universe was trying to, however meaningless its efforts were to Maisie, make up for what would happen that day.
In a flurry, the front door, adjacent to the sink where Maisie was just finishing up, burst open with vigor, and a vivacious young woman swiveled her hips in dance through the door. Humming an old jazz croon under her breath, Donna Johnson pecked Maisie lightly on the cheek in greeting, to which Maisie returned with a light-hearted chuckle. Donna settled into an old wooden chair across from Maisie which groaned in response due to the many years spent being rocked on its hinds by an energetic, young James. On the table near the chair, a newspaper lay tossed to the side, the headline bearing the date: 1956, and the message: Martin Luther King Jr. House Bombed. Donna’s forearms sat draped on the creaky arms of the chair, and she perched her chin in the palm of her hand with amusement.
“Do you ever sit?” Donna remarked as she watched Maisie scrub off the last plate.
“I could sit a lot more often if you helped,” Maisie teased good-naturedly. To this Donna’s face bubbled in laughter, and Maisie just shook her head.
“So, Lizzie and James are expecting a baby in the fall? It must be very exciting for you, Grandma,” Donna jested. Maisie opened her mouth to fire back in the language of their amicable banter, but the front door swung open, interrupting her.
The events following from there come only to Maisie now like a faded record. Like an old film that scratches along with the grainy images in mute. Old Mister Williams bursting through the door, his face stricken with grief, would be impressed in her vision every time the doorbell rang. The feeling of her insides cascading with darkness like a pit would be one that still came to her years later, primarily in her nightmares, thick in cold sweat and terror. And even long after they cleaned the blood, the street would still be stained in her mind.
Maisie could only barely remember shoving past Mister Williams to the streets. It seemed in a blink she had been there, the smoke from gunshots singeing into her nose and the smell of pancakes a forgotten memory.
A mass of people shouldering cardboard signs with the message “Black Power” in big, black lettering was muddled in the center of the road.
Maisie stood frozen in her path, only seven feet away from her dying son. Seven more feet until it became a reality for Maisie. Seven more feet until her world ended. People began to trickle away from the man like rain down a car window.
James always loved to watch the rain.
This flitting memory of the blue reflection across her son’s face as he traced racing raindrops down car glass was enough to jolt Maisie forward. One foot after the other until the seven feet were gone and it was just the two of them.
Police lights flashed away from the body until they were only a dim echo in the distance. They left him there. They left him like leftovers for all to see.
James laid twisted in a ball just like he had when he was a baby. His figure almost morphed in front of Maisie’s eyes to a feeble infant whimpering to be fed.
“Mama?” a weak voice whispered.
“Shh, shh, it’s me, baby,” Maisie murmured into his ear. Wheezing clawed itself out of the heaving chest below her. Each hacking breath was laced with strain, like the fuzz of a static television channel. The heavy perfume of blood was nauseating and enough to knock Maisie over as it filled her sinuses and muddled her thoughts.
James gulped slowly, his eyes fluttering open and closed in a sort of dejected and futile struggle against themselves. “I’m sorry, Mama. I-I know you hate me going to these things. I’m so sorry-”
“Hush up now, baby,” Maisie whispered firmly. “This ain’t your fault, not for one second,”
Maisie raised her trembling hand to James’s cheek. She brushed away his tears, kissed each of his wet eyelids, her mind flickering back and forth from James’s small life. Her boy’s life. So much unlived.
“Thanks, Mama. For making me pancakes this morning. I forgot to say thank you,” James raised a hand to Maisie’s face.
“You’re welcome, baby,” Maisie’s voice choked out into the static air.
A sort of peace fell over James’s face. His expression was solemn and deadened as he gripped Maisie’s quivering arms.
“Tell Lizzie I’m sorry,”
A breath escaped James’s lips like a quiet hush carried away with the ashen wind.
“No,” Maisie’s eyes squeezed shut. Her body convulsed with pain. “No, no, no, no, no,” she howled.
Maisie laid her head on his, gasping with tears until they became only small whimpers. She muttered incomprehensibly about pancakes and rain and everything in between.
It seemed like hours that Maisie sat there; her body rocking over James, like the steady lapse of waves on sand.
At some point, Maisie acknowledged Donna’s arms wrapped around her, but still, she rocked.
More time was all she needed. The babbling of James’s child voice echoed into Maisie’s ears, the memory of his small hands grasped her tears, and the ghost of his grown body pressed itself against her torso before floating away with the smell of pancakes stitched lovingly into the folds of his soul. She grasped blindly for more of the silvery essence of him, but even his familiar, comforting scent was masked by the cold solitude of death.
Maisie stood on the porch of the Abel family’s cavernous house: an abode filled to the brim with unused rooms and lofty chandeliers, both securing an image of wealth unique from the others, and an air of superiority from all who entered.
Mr. Abel had sent Maisie on her way with words something along the lines of, “Too slow” or maybe: “Too depressed.” Maisie was a bit too much of each then to really catch what he had said before ushering her out into the now fall wind. The breeze bit her cheeks a rosy red and started to falter her step as she stumbled along the sidewalks. The world below her feet was a blur of perfectly paved pavement and not a speck of dirt or weeds could be seen upon them. This concerned Maisie to no end. Where were the small bursts of green weeds that had fought their way to the sun? Whose right was it to snuff out their sprouts that had so defied the constraints of concrete?
Soon, Maisie could bear the pavement no longer and started to kick at it as she walked to her house. She kicked and kicked until her toes felt sore through her worn shoes.
Suddenly, an icy cold feeling shot up Maisie’s spine and tingled through her back. The creeping sensation of eyes was an eerie one, and there they were, lurking behind the shaded window of a police car. They held a fear inside them. A fear of difference; fear of her. She was a threat in their eyes just as much as James had been; a weed in their starch white pavement.
Keep your head up, keep your hands visible, do not give them a reason to shootI.t was the message that Maisie’s father told her and she told James and Lizzie would tell her child born without a father for that very reason. Just keep walking until they approach you. If they do; you. Do. Not. Move.Maisie kept walking. One foot in front of the other. “Just one foot at a time” was the language of which Maisie used to keep herself from falling over the threshold of darkness so often looming in her mind. Still, the spine-chilling feel of eyes pushed heavily into her back. Her breathing quickened to a pace matching that of her heart, which was ripping a hole in her chest at every second.
Remember your life before they come. Remember the humbleness of your childhood and come to it again before speaking. Faster, faster! The streets changed to darker and more decrepit versions of themselves; the ones Maisie had known to be the best for skipping rope. There was the porch where Maisie’s father had sat with the other men and drank, discussing the woes of the world. There was the tree always filled with fireflies where James’s father and Maisie had first said “I love you”, and it was the same tree where he hid his suitcase before leaving.
The cops were long gone by now: left off on some other business more exciting than following a frantic, sweating Black woman. Maisie still walked with ferocity. Her teeth bit down on her lip so hard that it began to bleed at the surface, and the metallic taste of blood stung her tongue along with burning tears. When she finally reached the house she had been looking for: James’s, her legs buckled beneath her. Long and hard gasps forced themselves from her chest and she grappled for air. Her knees stung with the scratches of the pavement and she felt bile creep up her throat, but she pushed it down with sobs. She sat on the ground crying and wheezing and gasping until Lizzie and Donna rushed out of the house to find her.
Maisie felt someone’s arms shroud her inside them. It wasn’t very pleasant; more a smothering intense pressure rather than a comforting hug. But it did the trick just fine, and soon Maisie’s gasps became slower and stunted by the heavy clutch of Donna’s arm.
“There you go,” Donna whispered, her body still awkwardly wrapped around Maisie’s head. “Everything’s fine, everything’s fine.”
This position was not unfamiliar to Donna. It had been almost a month since James’s death and under the spell of the moon, Maisie had dreamt of it in violent jolts. Donna had taken to wrestling her into her embrace and holding her steadfast to soothe her nightmares into the pillowy caress of Donna’s chest.
Just then, almost as if the universe was back at trying to have a way with people’s lives, a small cry floated out of the house. Lizzie turned around quickly, her face drawn up in alarm and worry lines Maisie hadn’t noticed before etched into her face. Lizzie rushed inside the house to pull a small bundle from a cradle. It was a peculiar looking thing, a small shriveled little ball of brown and pink hues. Maisie’s mouth hung open in confusion but slowly reached her arms out to hold her grandchild. Donna smiled and nudged Maisie in the ribs.
“Lizzie named her ‘Hope’,” “When—” Maisie stuttered.
“It happened this morning,” Lizzie smiled sadly, as it was all a bittersweet occurrence to the young woman. She yearned to be held again, but the warm touch that was once there had long since retired into darkness and left behind a prickling sensation of brisk absence.
“We couldn’t reach you,” Donna continued, but Maisie could no longer hear what they were saying. The sloped nose of baby Hope held a striking resemblance to her father’s. The soft curves of Hope’s small cheeks and the sweet shade of dripping caramel that filled out her face drew a feeling of complete euphoria in Maisie. It was an exaltation that demanded to be felt all through her flushed face and that pressed up against behind her eyes. Her body seemed to have a glow inside that broke through the constraints of her skin out unto the world because of that child. That child was going to be loved.
That child was loved.
The ache and pain of the hole Hope would have in her new life would be soothed the best it could by the love that would come upon her like a waterfall from those three women. And wondering how the hurt could be numbed as such by this child, Maisie knew it with every inch of her body that James was there, smiling down at the wonderful creature he had made, and kissing each one of them on the cheek before ascending back to heaven.
The morning still scared that old rooster. The sky bathed in light and the strange feel of remoteness drowned out the poor rooster’s mind until all it could do was scream to overtake the aloneness it felt. In some mornings Maisie was the same as the rooster; their souls kindred in a sense. On these particular days, she clung to her granddaughter, Hope, and breathed in James from the ends of her hair. She still had the nightmares of losing her son. She still felt his loss every single day. But he remained with her through Hope… and the smell of pancakes.
Jess Chang
Grade: 12
School Name: Hathaway Brown School
Educator: Scott Parsons
Category: Poetry | Zach Savich Keynote Award for Writing
Chairman Mao; Of Radishes and Dragons; A love letter to patriotism
Chairman Mao
I am a poet. The first poem, “winter clouds” 
by Chairman Mao. Forty years ago,
my father recited the words to his teacher. 
In Chinese, 4 year old me is sure, the words 
must sound pretty. In English, they sound broken, his tongue struggling to
speak his adopted language.

When I am older, the winter clouds 
no longer seem so ugly but beautiful, 
yes, even in English. I wonder how
a monster can paint such soaring phrases. 
I want to step into the painful, dirty-white 
cold of the canvas and watch the
plum blossoms dance with the snow.

In my family, we save a wooden chair
for Chairman Mao at the old dinner table.
He sits, one leg sprawled on the chair 
in the corner we keep for my great 
grandfather (executed), another 
thrown across the chair for my Yeye 
(diabetic) and tells me stories.

By my first day of school, I can already 
tell you how to double-knot shoelaces 
and the casualty count of the Great Leap 
Forward. 45 million, if you were counting. 
Small wonder flies freeze and perish.

Chairman Mao is dead, too. I read about
it in “The Private Life of Chairman Mao.” 
682 pages, yet all I remember is them 
pumping formaldehyde into the Chairman’s 
body. Gallons and gallons of the stuff, I can 
smell the stench of death emanating from the 
words. Earth’s gentle breath grows warm.

Of Radishes and Dragons

I could write about the kimchi that tastes like sour tears or
about the jjajangmyeon one half of me stole from the other. But

why would I? Today, I need warmth, the white steam of a whole day
spent scraping burnt green onion from the pot to make sogogi

mu-guk. I need tiny droplets of oil, little islands floating on an ocean
the color of blood-orange peels. They spin dizzily in the soup,

untethered. My kitchen is full with sounds. The sizzle of water
hitting the radishes, silverware clinking gently, hesitantly, on the

table, the vague presence of my grandma buzzing as it flits between
cabinets, movie scores swelling to fill up the leftover space. It burns

the base of my throat on the way down. I feel like I could breathe
fire – flames that are not a dangerous blue, but the content

scarlet snort of a small dragon who’s been fed one too many a
shining knight. I don’t know any dragons, but tonight, in the bask

of yellow warmth and four walls covered in merry grapevine paper and
a familiar inky blackness spreading beyond the glossy windows, it feels like

somewhere, even dragons should exist.

A love letter to patriotism: You are the Sun, and I am only an asteroid, cold rock orbiting your brilliance. I fell, spinning, into your greedy embrace.
America, I wonder if you will ever truly see me. Novelty 
brings me to the water's edge - what do you see first? That 
the eyes are open and dark and bloody? That the flesh is 
scraped raw from too many scrubs with salt and lemon
and cyanocarbon? Ripples distort my face, make me a monster. 
Cruel master! I wear a cotton mask to guard my mouth from
The words it wants to say, hold an umbrella to keep from igniting.
Yet for you, I politely singe my life away using candles meant for a wake.

But of course you would never let the beast of burden drive.
My body is a line that starts from the scars on my ankles to 
the bruises on my elbows to the oily words on the tip of my frayed 
and splintered tongue. Memories of your broken heat line my 
trachea and spool their way into hard glass coating my arteries.
Under your sweltering spacious skies, I keep turning and turning until
there are no words left, no scars – 

just purple mountain majesties and shining seas and me.
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