Stuyvesant students shone at the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, which recognizes young talent in a variety of categories in literature and the arts. It is a national competition that is open to students from seventh to twelfth grade. In the 2012 competition, five Stuyvesant students won silver and gold medals for their written pieces. Below are excerpts from the winning pieces.
Junior Ellie Abrams- Gold medal winner for Personal Essay/Memoir
Willon Havenstein. Her name was cool and mine wasn’t. Willon had hair down to her bum and cried when she had to cut it. She had a young hippie vegan mother with long blonde hair and baggy clothing and the watery name Candice that always perplexed me. And she had an ex-rock-star father who drank beer and watched baseball and erupted with passionate yells in the living room while we played with stuffed animals in Willon’s quaint, comfy bedroom. Willon’s laugh was enticing, raspy, contagious. She giggled at everything and so did I, but that’s how it was supposed to be. Seven-year-old invincible girls wearing bell-bottoms, turtlenecks and Mary Jane shoes, bursting with infectious smiles.
Our faces wouldn’t stay straight. We contorted them into what we hoped would be appropriate for our performance but it didn’t work. Willon and I, as one, doubled over laughing. Our hands clasped, our laughter the same frequency, our hearts beating at the same rate. There was no audience, no one else. We were twin beams of light, forming intertwining patterns of brightness in the theater we made our home.
Willon hated change and I embraced it. When I entered middle school, ditching my gaucho pants and t-shirts, Willon stayed in the small school where she’d been since kindergarten. I talked about boys and tried on bras. Willon was Willon. Still, we were the usual around each other. She always acted in her way, while I noticed the changes in myself that were so distinct when she was near me. The way I spoke, the way I let loose, the way I joked. With Willon, I was isolated from a different part of me. My childhood grew into full bloom again. I was her.
“Basically, I’m manic depressive and have anxiety issues,” Willon said, looking forward and smiling. We were fifteen then, and she’d just switched to a big performing arts high school, lost among stars. I put my head down and mumbled “What?”
“Yeah,” she said. I almost laughed.
“What?” I said.
On a cool clear day in April, Willon and I walked home in the sun after leaving rehearsal together tensely. The conversations we had became familiar. I would briefly explain the drama I experienced in high school—meaningless encounters that distracted us from her sadness—and then she’d talk. She scared and startled me with her thoughts. My back would arch anxiously as we walked, leaving sore spots that later jarred me back into her laments when I least expected it. We approached my building and she turned to me as we said goodbye, looking into my eyes. Before words could leave her mouth, I sputtered, “All we really have is life. So why would anyone choose not to live?”
“Ellie, it’s different than you think.”
“I know,” I replied.
We hugged lightly and I watched her walk down the block. That night, when a ringing phone jolted me out of my work and Willon’s father responded to my frazzled hello, saying she hadn’t gotten home yet, I knew where she’d gone. She’d be sitting along the stone ledge in Fort Tryon Park. Pondering. Perhaps thinking about what I said. Her hair blowing, legs dangling, skin shining, mind racing.
Senior Odreka Ahmed- Silver medal winner for Personal Essay/Memoir
I met him in band and two weeks later I am in his bed and though we barely know each other we are interestingly comfortable. We lay on our backs looking at the ceiling as his left hand idly drums on my shoulder and his right hand outlines my hip and we’re talking but really he’s talking and I’m listening and our limbs are tangled and his skin burns against mine, a nice contrast to the ice cold of his Chinese silk sheets on my bare body, and he isn’t making much sense – or maybe I’m not understanding him – but he seems pretty f–king profound and in the midst of it all, still staring at the ceiling, he asks “what is this to you,” and I’m not really comprehending but I hear myself say “moving on” and his fingers stop drumming.
He says “oh.”
It’s uncharacteristically sunny in Boston this weekend making the typically strong wind almost enjoyable. The wind slams into our sides mimicking the current of the river as we walk the bridge from Boston to Cambridge, but I don’t mind, the wind has a strange way of making everyone look attractive. He pulls his beanie closer to his head in an attempt to keep his black curls intact; he’s particularly concerned with his appearance, but he is beautiful. The biting wind makes his skin paler but his cheeks are flushed and his lips, slightly chapped, but pleasantly so, are such a deep shade of pink that they were bordering on red. I slip my hand into his pocket to keep it warm, a habit we had already established, but he takes my hand anyway and his fingers find themselves mine. He looks over a few seconds later to gauge my reaction as I had anticipated, and I bite my lips to contain the inevitable smile.
The sidewalk we turn on to has a lot of writing on it and he begins reading from it. I’m still biting my lips and the second I release them I blurt out “you make me happy,” and this time I watch him for his reaction. He doesn’t respond right away, unusual for him, but the corners of his lips twitch and he’s visibly thinking. “You make me happy too,” he responds finally making eye contact.
“I was just reading the sidewalk…”
Senior Mollie Forman- Silver medal winner for Flash Fiction
On The Grass, Beneath The Trees
I don’t want to leave yet, but something in my gut says I mustn’t stay. It’s those little pockets of anxiety I carry with me always, irrational and biting but always there, nibbling at my shins and the ends of my toes.
Lying down, I can see squirrels bounding in the grass, grasping for a tree limb and hanging there a moment, their clasp in doubt, but then they continue on, the limb groaning beneath the new weight.
I roll to my back and can see the sky. The clouds move lazily, hazy like smoke, reaching down and nipping at the wakes of fleeing birds. The trees whisper to each other as they move the wind through their boughs, bending their bodies so the clouds can be pushed on and away.
I think this is what peace should be. Molted mourning doves coo in the bushes. The grasses part to let them gather. A sparrow wanders towards me, eyeing the plump bee clambering around a flower head. I wait still and silent, thinking inviting thoughts, but it starts and flies away.
I try to tell peace it is welcome here. I will my eyes to follow the zipping insects, zooming round and round beneath the trees and the sky and the hovering blackness only I can see. I swat lazily at a buzzing by my cheek. I close my eyes and try to filter past the reggae being played in the distance; I look for what moves the earth, the tides of creation that can only be heard with an ear to the soil and the other to the trees. It moves on without me, the tides of man eddying about and holding me still.
I wish there were mists, and dragonflies, to thicken the veil between this world and the next, so I know it is there in truth and not just a whimper from my groaning ribcage. I think I see the world in its true hues, but a glint from the top of my sunglasses, vanishing ere I search for it, recalls the sepia I’ve bourn for its mortal comforts.
There is a whisper in the air, calling of change; I loose my hair so some of it may fly away and sleep with birds in their peaceful boughs, to go where I cannot. I am nowhere but where I am, born into this humble body while the world screams, “Come! Find me! Touch every inch of me with every inch of you!” But somehow in this one body my many minds crouch and wilt, shielding their ears from the odd and constant drumming—pounding, pounding, pounding on my heart and lungs—remnants of a world we knew so long ago and shall know again, but cannot recall with our waking eyes. I see myself as a flower, subletting parts all my life, giving to the bees and the soil until I wither away to a passing nothing, ignored by the restless passersby as I wish to ignore myself.
The true words of the soul cannot be spoken, but perhaps they can be written. The letters start a knocking on every door. They cry, “Find me! I wait for you!” Words fly away and rest in the trees, but the ink dissolves to sediment, crunching underfoot and creeping up the ankle beneath our socks, watching, listening, awaiting that rare and screaming moment when its words will be known as truth.
Junior Nadya Kronis- Silver medal winner for Poetry
His grandmother died in her sleep
In a rocking chair that his mom
Gave to salvation army. The nurses called her a cool customer
The hospital like an icebox, red and white
Candystriped for its pruny children:
Full of bad bones and begrudging mashed potato smell.
Standing by the piles of documentation
He was approached with accusations, a shining
papery woman said she knew all about what he did
with her sister in the Polish camp
trembling in her walker with the full
weight of truth, Far away
The stars in the suburb were like wormholes,
They looked like a soul’s prison break from The hard-bitten quiet;
moths had eaten through the sky fibers
Like it was an old sweater.
Pots and pans float by slow
Moving almost on their own
Over the still water like they have escaped
Gil is watching my snorkel
And for a second I go under
my breath hitches
I want to replicate your disappearing act
For days I was proud and thought you
a magician who would come back
to show us all
so I asked Gil
and my Ouija board led me
back to the city of dunes,
humped like monstrous old men.
Goggles casting all the
World in green
I thought I had made contact
Not like on late night UFO
specials, but real pull
towards a cinched strand of hair:
just yellow rope tangling a wheel.
Gil’s call hoarse and warm
Pruny fingers push me on the dock
He laughs at my shriveled nakedness and
raw palms, the snorkel protruding
like a feeler
Dragging out the silence
between us intermittently
after the seaweed trailing my toes.
Senior Karen Zheng- Gold medal winner for Poetry and silver medal winner for Writing Portfolio
Supposedly these animals came from the circus
If you close your eyes you can imagine them dancing
Now open your mind and approach the beast
and touch its wild trunk
It’s not what you expected
rough and hairy when all you’re used to is
New York smooth city
Try to look in her soft brown eyes but suddenly
she’s pulled away and goes back to eating
Swinging around streetlight posts
Feet tapping around each other
Sliding on cement as if
The city’s ground was cellophane as if
You didn’t keep it down it would rise and wrap you up
Shooting words upwards
Cocked already knowing they’d be lost
A ritual circus routine is what you live
You can’t make cellophane a roof of the world
A pigeon’s as wild as it gets by home
Scrutinize the forgotten pigeon corpses
Those lifeless flying rats
Choke when car after car storms cartilage
and guts into road when pigeons swoop down
and peck at stale bread sitting next to carcasses
Gaze as silhouettes of the red-eyed fowl
Beat their wings against the wind
Push themselves forward until they soar
and flock out of tunnels in hordes
Dark winged bullets against glaring headlines
and then the starless sky
You ask if one of them maybe many more than just one
has ever wanted to tuck its wings close against its body and beat itself
Against walls and trees and let inertia
Carry it to wherever the laws of physics stop
To wherever the desire to succumb to darkness takes over
Watch her wild trunk wrap around stalks
and shove them into her mouth
still alone from far away