Category: Grades 9-12

First place -- "Paper Boats" by Micaiah Vinson

Two sisters sat together on a bench near the shore of a small forest river. One held a dark phone, her coily hair in two fresh buns, edges covered by a bright pink bandanna. The other carried a black purse on her shoulder, her hands folded across her shorts, her deep brown eyes behind blue-rimmed glasses. The spring weekend progressed so slowly that it was almost infuriating; the sweltering sun rays found their way through the rustling leaves and set themselves upon the young women.

The woman with the purse spoke. "Maya, it's hot."

"Yeah." Maya checked the time; it was 2:47 in the afternoon.

"Maya."

"Mmh?"

"We should keep walking."

Maya set her phone between her legs and leaned back. "Keisha, there's a huge cloud coming over the sun; we'll be fine."

Keisha watched the sky with squinting eyes. A cotton-shaped cloud skated across the sea of blue, inching towards the blinding sun.

"Aye," she said, "remember when we were little, we would watch the clouds?"

"Oh yeah," said Maya. The memory came to her faintly: the dew-softened grass baking under the warm sunlight, the drifting clouds and the way they darkened the earth by sneaking in front of the sun.

"When Tony came out," Keisha said with a poorly masked laugh, "he'd pretend he was gonna kick us."

The sisters laughed, remembering their older brother (before he'd moved out) and his exaggerated half-kick, remembering chasing him around the yard if it wasn't too hot and telling him off if it was.

"Aye," Maya said, "remember when Mom would take us to the beach?"

"Yeah."

"I remember that one time you was in the water and huge waves came and" -- Maya's laughing cut her sentence off and bent her over. "Your face!"

Keisha smiled dryly.

"You'd take your Legos to the beach," said Keisha. "Remember when we brought our ukuleles?"

"Remember when we always went to the art museum?" "Oh, remember Windows XP?"

Maya started singing the computer's startup tune, and Keisha joined in with a discordant hum, and soon their hearty laughs were echoing throughout the trees, breaking the tranquil ambiance of birds and cicadas and whispering leaves and bubbling water.

Their childhood memories came back to each of them, like paper boats passing through the river of their minds.

Maya would stick her head halfway out of the window of her father's Toyota and let the wind beat against her face. She loved how the only barrier between the vehicle and the outside could simply be rolled down. On the highway, she'd find it thrilling that it was harder to inhale the crisp air. Her father would peek at her goofy grin in the wing mirror and smile, while her mother would shake her head disapprovingly, warning Maya that she could get hit by a bug or, God forbid, a car. Maya ignored her mother's disapproving gestures until, one humid night, they were going 70 miles per hour and a fly hit her forehead. From then on she'd kept her face inside the car.

Keisha would draw in the mornings with her legs crossed and her sketchbook against the top bunk's wide, white windowsill. She loved drawing still-life; it was as if she were capturing a single, fleeting moment, like a printer in slow motion. Often, she would draw the trees in her side yard and the houses in the distance, but one winter morning a cardinal perched on a branch almost startlingly near the window, and right then she grew a fascination with sketching animals that progressed into painting with broad strokes and vibrant colors.

Maya remembered the fun she had with friends at her local elementary school. She remembered sharing snacks, hobbies, laughs. Keisha remembered her middle school's quiet recess. She could only recall a few names in her tiny class of six: Donovan, Shawn, Unique, and... Izzie, perhaps?

They both could remember the long church mornings. The two of them always woke up to gospel music muffled by their closed door and their many blankets. Mom would come in and clap her hands every time, and they would sit up, moaning like sad cows. The night before, they were always told to prepare a humble dress, but sometimes Maya would forget and would shuffle frantically through all her clothes until she came across something she considered fancy. They would be at church from eight in the morning to almost one in the afternoon, praising for hours and talking with members they called family.

Memories flowed through their minds, bringing awe forth, leaving behind a trail of longing pain.

Maya, a college student pursuing a degree in Education and Keisha, attending a prestigious art university, sat together, reminiscing, forgetting momentarily about their work and their loans and their classes upon classes upon classes...

Second place -- "The Archeologist" by Elisa Thompson

Long have I awaited to find my life long search; the city of gold. Rumored to be in Greece, Italy, Egypt, Incan Temples, and buried beneath the ocean itself I meticulously narrowed the desperate search. Digging and digging everyday of my life and building a team of the greatest and most determined archeologists like myself. Over years of research I dissolved the rumors until there was just one place left: Rome, Italy. But how could a city of gold and treasure be hidden beneath the numerous civilizations built on its surface? My crew lessened and gave up their hope due to this fact alone.

The final days of our funded investigation were coming close. One month left to find my riches. We start our search digging and digging until astonishment struck us all. The echo. The oh so faint echo hinting at a tunnel below our feet. Everyone paused in bewilderment. What have I found? Hastenly I grab a mallet and strike the ground ignoring protocol and customs. The ground caves inward and I am saved by my quick crew. We grab a ladder and file down into the newly discovered tunnel forgetting the proper reinforcements we are forced to make by law. The few of us left are all too eager with anticipation.

The tunnel opens and reveals a vast cavern. I have never seen anything like it before. Hundreds of miles it seems to take up. It is beautiful, but there is no gold, no treasure, no reason to find this hidden cavern. We move with caution, the effect of this find wearing off as we survey what we could in the little time we had left; one week. Nothing in sight could be any treasure of any kind. We find rocks, more rocks and plenty of rocks. How could this be? My senses leave me in my field of grief.

Within the cavern there is a ledge I walk to it and stare into the empty space. It's blackness and twilight. I begin to wonder what I would see if I dropped my torch so I do exactly that. As it falls into the abyss I can see how far deep it really is. Finally upon reaching the bottom colors of yellow, orange, and gold intercept my view. The fire dances and sings it's beckoning songs. It's beautiful. No, it was more than beautiful. "I found it!" I shouted to the others, "I found the city of gold!" They rushed over and peer down. The looks of their faces describes what I really found. Dismal and fearful they turn away. I forget my senses thinking of only the bright colors down below and the long strenuous journey I took to find it as I prepare for my final descent into my greed. As I leaned over the edge a hand grasps my arm, "No, you didn't find the gold," my teammate said, "You found Hell."

Third place -- "Seen and Unseen" by Amanda Hurt

The cool breeze pushes my hair back and I feel like I'm flying. My feet dangle in the air. "Higher, Dad!" I shout. I hear his deep chuckle as I close my eyes. I can feel the warmth. I'm getting closer to the sun. I'm almost there. I'm flying away.

Dad holds my hand tightly as we walk home from the park.

"You can't leave, okay?" His voice is weird.

"I'm sorry," I reply. "I wanted to touch the sun." He's not mad; he's smiling. "What are we doing next?" It's midday, and the sun is shining.

"We're getting ready for tomorrow."

"What's tomorrow?"

"Wednesday."

"What happens on Wednesday?"

"I go to school, and you go to work." He grins as I giggle.

"You mixed it up, Dad!" I jump across a rain puddle.

"I guess you're right," he laughs. Dad grabs the mail then keeps walking toward the front door. "It hasn't rained in weeks," he sighs. "The grass is going to die." His voice falters at the last word and he squints at me.

"Everything okay?" I ask. He nods and enters the house.

"It's pretty late in the evening," Dad states. I settle in on the living room couch. Dad gets two glasses of chocolate milk and Oreo cookies. "My favorite," I cheer. I'm quiet for a moment. "I miss mommy." Dad stops moving and stares at me.

"I know." His voice cracks so he tries again. "I know. I miss her too. But I'll find her. She'll come home. In fact, that's what I'm going to do this weekend."

"You'll bring her home?"

"I'll bring her home tomorrow."

I smile contentedly. He yawns. "I think it's time to go to sleep." He grabs the Oreos and the one glass he got out of the cupboard and puts them away.

"I'm so tired," he says once he's returned to me. "But there's no sleeping allowed." I shake my drowsy head from dozing off. It's cold so Dad cuddles me close to him. He turns on the TV and the bright light illuminates the darkness. "This will keep us awake."

It's a show about a mom, a dad and their kids. The parents are happy, and the kids are happy. The dad loves his children, and he keeps telling the girl what a good big sister she is. The mom is having issues, though. She's sad all the time and she's overwhelmed. She loves her family, but she's in pain. The dad tries to fix her but it doesn't seem to be working. The show takes a sinister turn. I want to change the channel. Something's hurting me. I'm becoming a little less me. I have to tell Dad my secret.

I don't want to tell him, but I love him. I look over and find Dad staring at the screen mesmerized. I tug on his sleeve. "Dad," I whisper. He doesn't respond. "Dad!" His eyes finally meet mine, and I see small puddles of tears beginning to form. I breath a shaky breath and open my mouth. Nothing comes out. Tears rush down my face. I can't stop them. My stomach turns and my chest burns with a stabbing pain. I don't want to hurt him. "Dad." My voice wobbles. It sounds like a plea. I'm choking on my words. I can't get it out; I'll never be able to tell him.

"I'm not real."

His welling tears begin to spill out. I put one hand on his cheek, and he holds my hand in his.

"No." He shakes his head violently as he begins to weep. "No," he repeats. "You came home. You came home after the car accident. Your mother didn't wreck the car on purpose."

"What about my baby brothers?" I cry.

"You don't have brothers."

"Don't you remember holding them before they put the black sheets over their cold bodies?" "No." His body shakes and he rocks back and forth.

"Don't you remember mom saying she didn't feel okay? Don't you remember leaving for work anyway and saying goodbye to us? Don't you remember seeing what she did to herself, what she did to us?"

"No!"

"Don't you remember unplugging me from the machines and taking me off of life support?" By now he's dropped my hand and he's slamming his fists against his head. "You don't remember holding my hand and kissing me goodbye?"

"You're my baby," he moans. "My little girl." He clings to me. "I see you. You're here. Stay. Please stay."

"If you saw her I could have stayed." The TV shows my mom's pained eyes silently pleading for a savior. With wet cheeks, I give him a kiss on the forehead. "I love you," I murmur. The TV cuts to static and my Dad is left holding air.

Honorable mention -- "The Art Of The I Can A Reverse Poem" by Cori Bohan

I simply can't do it.

I refuse to believe that

It is possible.

Thoughts sway in my memory implying

I am worthless.

And I refuse to believe that

I can become an artist and create a magnificent life story on a blank canvas and

I can sail the oceans and

I can write a story when all I have is blank pages.

I simply can't do it.

I refuse to believe that

The world brings light to me.

Everyday

I look for that light and

When I only find darkness

In the shadows of my existence

I believe

That the light is simply unattainable to my eyes.

I refuse to let myself learn that

I can do anything and

I can become anybody because

I simply can't.

And I refuse to believe that

I can.

Now, read it again, bottom to top. This poem is called a reverse poem. It is read one way to distribute one meaning and it is then read backward to share the opposite meaning. This poem is about the benefit of looking at the world in a positive light, instead of a negative one. I believe that the world we live in today has many terrible and dark events within it, and we, as a society have to look between the crevices of the impossible and look at the radiating possibilities.

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