April is National Poetry Month, so we’re celebrating another year of promoting poets and their poems by spotlighting our poetry American Voices Nominees! Founded in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month seeks to remind the public that poets have an integral role to play in our culture and literary history. Often labeled as the “difficult” writing genre because rhyming is hard and iambic pentameter makes it harder poetry, unknown to many, does not have to rhyme or be written in any specific way. National Poetry Month works to encourage both the reading and writing of poems, provides resources for students and teachers, and raises awareness of practicing poets in local and national media (The Poet Laureate for Indiana is Matthew Graham!).
The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is a regional and national competition for creative teens, aged 13-18, to enter their works of art and writing, including poetry. The following writers recieved Gold Keys at the regional level and Gold or Silver Medals at the national level for their poetry.
Lucy Somers, “Hickory Hearts”, Gold Medal
Sitting in the back of our dad’s golden
tow truck, we crack the back window pane,
letting the smell of fresh pine and wood chips
fall into our hair.
Sometimes, only sometimes, women with silver
strands braided down their backs bring
empanadas from their trailer, and we eat
as if there’s rope in our intestines,
a clove hitch hanging our hearts.
Hickory bows keeping us sturdy,
planting our roots in whatever will hold.
Mahogany’s real nice, sturdy as they come-
I tell scruffy-faced men sipping amber drinks
from paper bags on humid July nights.
It’s a bunny tree, two hours tops-
Dad says as we lug twigs
to the bed of the Chevy and hoist
them to the top of the pile, leaves falling
like embers and hands chapping with work.
If you look at someone’s hands long enough
you can read them like rings in a tree.
My dad’s hands are one place he’s left uninked.
My name is written in cursive on his left forearm,
my brother’s is on his right.
Raking leaves in mild December weather
never fails to make me cry. Chainsaws
and leaf blowers all sound the same
to muffled ears, sprouting branches
and catching the sun. I was too scared to
jump in the heap of leaves I had spent
all day raking, not wanting to wake
the insects that could be sleeping.
Sometimes, only sometimes,
my dad’s chainsaw would
pull out of cracked trunks,
caked in black, rich silt pouring
from the heartwood.
You can’t detect decay
until the trunk is hollow.
My dad is dying faster than any tree.
His lungs are dirtier than any roots.
His hands are shakier than any leaf.
His ribs are more visible than any branch.
Hacking from the bottom, I’ll swing
until my calloused hands are splintered
Bazil Freuh, “Hunger Green, Silver Medal
for the stray bullet
as my mother
| point blank,
squint an eye,
smirk your lips— |
to aim right
for the heart;
whose darting hooves
to string together
to lure mice in
i don’t know
nor how to drain
of the feral beasts
your skin crawl—
the ones that draw
you to the creek
where i’ve waded
all this time
but, as i tread
down along this path,
a dew soaked
to my back—
what i know
is how to
cock a shotgun
and how to
miss a target,
the bullets skimming across
and cutting through
the stump of the tree
where i rest my head—
Sydney Taylor, “The Marks on Me”, Silver Medal
In my religion class we are taught that Jesus turned water into wine.
I know Jesus like I know each scar and bruise that has been painted blue and black and red on my thighs and on my hips and on my hands.
There are some marks that I do not remember the pain of.
I think that they are a symbol of a past life.
Maybe those who came before me.
There is a birthmark that cascades down my neck
in a mass of deep brown skin.
I have had it since before I took my first breath.
As if someone had once poured water down my throat,
trying to knock the air out of my lungs.
To silence my voice.
In my father’s home, history is hush hush:
As if someone has poured water down their throats,
Silenced their voices.
Google is the only family history I have.
It estimates the worth of this knowledge at $59.99.
I pay for that which was stolen from me.
If I have learned anything from this history is that I will be paying for faults that are not my own all my life.
These marks on my body have dug themselves into the dark under my nails and wrapped themselves around the coil of my hair.
I share these with the great greats, whose blood courses through my veins blue and red,
I can see them through my forearms traveling in line down into my hands,
I think that this makes us alike.
I think that maybe this is why I will never go on a cruise,
Why I am afraid of the ocean.
We are alike in the way that we both fear the great white.
In my religion class we learned that Jesus walked on water.
Those before, plunged into it.
Marching in perfect time, the rhythm of jazz, and sweet potatoes and hearty laughter.
I wonder if those are not butterflies I get when I kiss my white boyfriend,
But the tumbling of a storm and the crashing of waves.
The steady beat of drums,
Heavy steps in perfect time,
Leaving footprints in my memory,
A target on my back.
I wonder if they sang the same songs,
Why else would the phrase ““Mmụọ mmiri du anyi bịa, mmụọ mmiri ga-edu anyi laghachi” taste like salt on my tongue, like water in my lungs.
I wonder if they held Martin’s hand through Selma;
Teaching him the march.
The march of a man who did not hug the land
but who found freedom at the bottom of the ocean.
The march of a woman who knew nothing of heaven,
nothing of miracles, and still walked on water.
Jesus turned water into wine
Those before, turned water turned to blood.
Following in song after Moses,
toward a place that they would learn to call home.
To a god who wept for his children
To a god who marched with them.
If I have learned anything from this history,
It is that I will march all my life.
Mary and Harriet mend my feet,
for they both know the dangers
that face a woman who chooses
to follow after the North Star.
So I will march.
I will march until the soles of my
feet burn a blazing fire.
I will march until my tears turn red with blood.
I will march until I reach that promised land.
I will march so that maybe,
I’ll leave a mark on you.
Featured Image: Unknown American. Woman Reading. Oil on canvas, 19th-early 20th century. Gift of Larry F. Eberbach, 1984.12. Image courtesy of FWMoA.