New voices

Presenting the winners of SN&R’s first student poetry contest

Photo By Larry Dalton

Sacramento is a poetry town. This claim is quickly supported by a bevy of poetry venues, small publishing ventures, and readings that vary from the academic to the hip spoken-word performance to the entirely self-involved.

Still, we were surprised to receive close to 300 entries in our first-ever student poetry contest. Our inbox overflowed with handwritten poems scrawled on scraps of paper, professionally word-processed poems, concrete poems that were shaped like their subjects, and more than a few that were accompanied by illustrations, ranging from the sublime to the glitter-covered. We saw rhyming odes to favorite sports, candies and pets. We read poems of lost love, religious devotion, sibling rivalry, and the joys of eating peanut butter.

After much deliberation, SN&R is proud to present these 10 works by the next generation of local poets, as widely varied in their style, theme and approach as the Sacramento poetry scene itself.

Middle-school winners

First place

An American State of Mind
We stupidly stumbled through the confines of our minds trying to find silence.
We truly believed we were in a league all our own, cruising high above the violence.
We floated toward oblivion, ignorant of the world around us.
That is, until we came crashing down when violence finally found us.
Now, we live in uncertain times. It’s new and scary and strange,
But if you could see us now, I think it would look like nothing’s changed.
For our lives have continued on and remain much the same on the outside,
But our hearts are dark, and our minds now have evil thoughts to hide.
Death and destruction are the only constants. Is that why we embrace them?
We keep our fears around so that we’re never forced to face them.
We never try to conquer them because we’re too afraid to fail.
Nobody trusts that there’s enough for love to truly prevail.
So we push bad thoughts to the backs of our minds and never speak of them.
We keep them close and never let go because, secretly, we love them.
We go on pretending they don’t exist and hoping they’ll go away.
We banish them all to a distant place so they can’t be dealt with today.

Sean Embrey-Stine
Eighth grade, Sacramento Waldorf School

Second place

Racism is the color of burning coal.
It sounds like dogs tearing each other apart.
It tastes like burning sulfur.
It smells like rotten cheese.
It looks like a beaten slave.
And it makes me feel like I don’t belong here.

Lillian Kalyuzhnyy
Seventh grade, Granite Oaks Middle School

Honorable mentions

The Cemetery
They rest the same
Both young and old
In this place so dark and cold

The grass is tall
The hills are steep
The skies are grey
The willows weep

The silence stills
A chilling breeze
A flock of birds
Rest in the trees

A hooting owl
Swoops down with grace
A graveyard is
My favorite place

Haley Austin
Eighth grade, St. John’s Christian School

“Who am I?”
I’m not just a little lamb
with a fleece as white as snow.
My name is really Billy-Bob,
and this is how my story goes.
There’s a girl named Mary
who pulls me wherever she goes,
and if I do not follow her
she slaps me on the nose.
She makes me walk in puddles,
then kids say I’m uglier than poodles.
She makes me eat leftovers and rotten noodles.
There is a lot on my mind—
my family back at home—
but the biggest thought is Mary
going back to where she came from.
Until that day, she’ll pull and heave,
while I’m just wishing that she’d leave.

Trevor Mitchell
Seventh grade, Granite Oaks Middle School

High-school winners

First place

The words, like bile,
creep up my throat.
I moan, praying it will end.
It slides back down. <pr>My finger beckons, and out it comes …
the words, in a rush,
fight to leave an unfit body.
My eyes burn with forbidden tears.
My throat aches from the tension of preventing them.
The result disgusts me.
The feeling scares me.
Words provoke on paper;
they scream things I never knew I could even whisper.
Funny, the after-effect is so good,
the next time my finger creeps down my throat,
I forget the pain that is to come.

Briana Wilborn
Ninth grade, Christian Brothers High School

Second place

Standing upon a ledge
Dry, barren land spread before me
Through the dust I stride
Finding objects once familiar
    A child’s doll
    A soldier’s gun
    A fallen flag
    A lost cause

Standing upon a ledge
Dry, barren land spread before me
Memories of a time that was
Remnants of the land
   I used to call my home

Estee Lee
12th grade, John F. Kennedy High School

Honorable mention

One Too Many
One too many bracelets on this simple girl’s hand;
One too many boys belonging to one too many bands.

One too many piercings and one too many tattoos;
One too many heartbreaks made this girl sing the blues.
One too many emotions and one too many feelings;
Once again, one too many heartbreaks have kept her heart from healing.

One too many screams and one too many tears;
One too many betrayals and now one too many fears.

One too many scars and one too many bruises;
One too many disasters, and it’s her life she loses.

One too many joints and one too many drinks;
One too many memories of her childhood painted pink.

One too many cheaters and one too many liars;
One too many lovers who thought her body was for hire.

One too many shows and one too many diners;
One too many smudges of her thick black eyeliner.

One too many dares and one too many bets;
And now, after her funeral, the angry griever screams, “That’s what she gets.”

Janelle Johnson
11th grade, Capital City High School

College winners

First place

Martha Stewart Leaves Prison
Martha turns at the door of her private jet
And waves for the cameras. No prison grime
On that rosy-cheeked, glowing face,
Eyes narrowed in a smile, gold hair crafting
An aristocratic helmet,
Protecting her peasant secret.

Martha Stewart is Polish. Did you know that?
Born Martha Kostyra, in Jersey City.
A name of stony soil, cold, harsh winters,
Thin cabbage soup, a few pennies
In her purse.

At home on her farm—
A sixteen million dollar estate, the paper notes—

She poses in the snow
With two sleek black horses;
Their bloodlines, one assumes,
As fine as hers.

Sue Staats
Sacramento City College

Second place

Five of us at the dining room table,
giving thanks for our food,
for each other.

Mother doesn’t know
what to be thankful for.
Maybe that the gut-wrenching pain
is only in her legs,
not her back;
that she slept peacefully last night
without screaming
about the torture;
or that perhaps she’ll
eat today without vomiting.

Guilty for her ungratefulness,
she thinks she should
be thankful that she’s alive,
but she realizes
that the bones of the meat
she’s about to eat
are stronger than her own.

David Iribarne
Sacramento City College

Honorable mention

You position it carefully,
Weight evenly distributed.
The chemist in you smiles—
A greedy, toothy grin,
Spreading on your face like a cancer.

It’s divinity in your hands,
Like a crone clutching her rosary in the dark.
Salvation, a steady flow of oxygen.
Only need to straighten the powdered fine lines.

The indentations, your lover’s mark,
Darkness that engulfs us both,
Trembling like the children we once were.

And eyes so emerald no one can tell.
Close, the great exaltation occurs without
Metal or jewels to bestow nothing, but
An emptiness from which you began.

Ruth Cervantes
Sacramento City College