Creative Challenges

April Poetry Challenge Winners: A Place to Belong

April Poetry Challenge Winners

star-spangled black girl

Elyse Thomas

oh, say can you see an america
of star-spangled black girls
with midnight skin
that are not but fleeting existences?
in this america,
a star-spangled black girl
stands by the dawn’s early light,
drowning herself in winter
& gasping in whiteness.
her body is tethered
to the red & white noose
that hangs heavy around her neck.
she always pulls herself
far enough from its fatal grasp
to touch another part of the world
(or so she believes)
only to be anchored back
to america’s soil
and never allowed opportunity
to run free again.
at the twilight’s last gleaming,
america observes the decrescendo
of a star-spangled black girl’s body
so gallantly streaming
across the russet earth
she is dragged from.
it is no secret that she blazes
in the scintillating sun—
& the rocket’s red glare
melting into puddles of shadows
as she endlessly searches
for an america that will love her.
in her dreams,
she watches angels,
that gave proof through the night,
lift her into shackles & abandon
her in their own flight toward liberty.
she awakes to find
that our flag was still there
to capture her every holy act,
every round lipped,
cocoa butter prayer good night.
It is this same flag
that calls to her with promise,
yet, swallows her whole
in its torn fabric,
its obsidian mouth.
it is this america,
where she catapults
herself into the sky.
dissolving in its ebony encore,
she curls, like an ampersand,
o’er the land of the free.
she pauses at the vertex of the north star,
seeking the home of the brave.
& every time,
she turns up empty-handed.

EThomas-headElyse Thomas is a junior at the School for Advanced Studies Wolfson. Her work has received several National Gold Medals in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Elyse has been published in Bridge: The Bluffton University Literary Journal, Polyphony Lit, Gyroscope Review, and more. Elyse uses poetry to root her feelings into a tangible source of her own consciousness. She explores her identity as a woman of color via her craft. Her favorite poet is Ocean Vuong, and she is often inspired by Vuong’s “Night Sky with Exit Wounds.” Outside of writing, Elyse enjoys stargazing and listening to Jakob Ogawa.

I Belong

Maya Apau

Paint us as sadistic, so we walk in cruelty.
Walk around with my God-given identity,
And call it beauty.

Sorry . . .
I said it
Not sorry I meant it . . .

We have no narrative
No enlightenment,
No apprehension
No erudition.


Color can’t be concealed
But the mind can be changed.


Don’t worry “black bird,”
Hold your head up high.
Exude the essence of affliction and obliteration.


Be relentless, refined
Fierce in the face of oppression
And like the Maya before you ink the words,
“Still I rise,”


You are bound to new heights,
Where you will surge to an abyss of humanity.
Open up your ears and hear me when I say,
We will rise like phoenixes from the ashes and make vows of virtue.
You wanna know why?

Because “YOU BELONG.”

MApauMaya Apau is a junior at Linganore High School in Frederick, MD. This is her first year in the National English Honor Society. She enjoys using her voice and creating through writing poems and speeches. In school she is a part of African American Culture Club (AACC) and is an editor for the school newspaper, Lancer Media. Outside of school, she dances and plays the piano and flute.


A California Palm Tree

Saxon Kennedy

Fifteen years is
Long enough to grow deep roots

(For me, anyway)

Even if my parents say:
The sun beats us down
The rain drowns us out
The people here cut down our branches

Fifteen years is
A hundred foot California palm tree
Like the ones that lined the road when we drove down the Boulevard
And you reminded me that
One day we’d move back home.

And at fifteen, you told me,
“Start digging.”

But my roots were strong enough to
Throttle the ground
Crack the sidewalks
Make you shake.

My roots were
Sewn through the cracks between
Me and the boy who stayed up to
Cry with me
When he thought I’d be cut down.

My roots were
Hidden in dark spots where I had
Grown and grown and
Learned to shoot my head up above the ground
And face the summer heat.

In the end,
My roots were strong enough to make you stay.

Saxon Kennedy is an eleventh grade student at The Sagemont School, in Weston, FL. She has written poetry, short stories, and songs (to varying degrees of success) since elementary school. She finds her inspiration in the intersections of all the creative mediums in her life. As a musician and a writer, she hears poetry everywhere—whether it be in the intimacy of the written word, or the uproarious deliverance of a song to an audience. A biracial young woman, born in California but raised in South Florida, Saxon finds a “place to belong” in the nooks and crannies of her many intermingling identities.

An Ode to Life

Lauren Frison

Here is a list of the things I love:
Which bloom on the core of my heart like roses
Leaving adoration and affection like fingerprints on glass
Swirling stringed lights in my head and colors in my thoughts

To friendship:
Who makes me “happy when skies are gray”
You are the mess of bushy hair that head bangs to Led Zeppelin
You are your laughter, that floats lightly and bounces off the walls
You are kaleidoscope eyes, whose words of wisdom stream sunlight into my day
You are the smile, the dimples in the corners carving expression in your cheek

To the beauty of the world:
The bud blooming in the petaled heart of the galaxy
You are the stars that freckle the midnight sky
As I am a drop in the ocean of humanity
You are the waterfall of my thoughts
The quiet serenity of the isolated forest
You are the rose-stained glass sunsets

To kindness and compassion:
You are the pink Post-It someone left on the windshield of my car
Reminding me to have a delightful day
You are the bitter coffee with a milky sweet taste
That you, stranger in front, paid for
You are the battered and bruised
Healed with a Band-Aid of compassion from a friendly hand

To adventure:
You are the salty spray of the sea splashing in my face
The midnight drives with rap music pounding from the stereo
You are the top of the mountain, the end of the zipline
And you are the eventful trips to the corner store
You are the unexpected tidal wave of anticipation
Climbing to the top of the skyscrapers in my new city
You are bustling with movement, screaming for the Earth to grab you by the elbows and pull you
into its hold

To home:
You are places and people
The long-awaited embrace in the center of the active airport
You are the corn fields and wildflowers stretching across the land
The freshly washed smell of bed sheets
You are the place I crash land
When the world beats me with its fist

Here is a list of the things I love:
To remind you why my heart pounds for you
To breathe in your love and exhale the sweetness of your being
You are the reasons I live

LFrison-headLauren Frison is a senior at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, FL. She would like to major in English and Political Science in college. Lauren is an active member of the school’s NEHS chapter and has participated in fundraising and service projects as well as tutoring for the society. She has enjoyed writing poetry for many years because it helps her to understand and communicate feelings and thoughts. Lauren finds that the best way to slow the fast moving world and truly process struggles, as well as triumphs, is to write; poetry can give you insights into yourself that you never knew existed but always wanted to understand.

My Lighthouse

Delaney Rinard

My boredom is rolling in like a tide.
All the things I’ve looked forward to
Are lost beneath the sea,
Just like the hope that everything would turn out fine.

I’ve run out of music,
And I’ve run out of patience.
I just want to end my watch
And get off this island.

But right now this is where I belong.

So I will wait, and keep my eyes on the horizon
Maybe soon I’ll leave and see friends,
Crack jokes and maybe,
Just maybe, cross the stage to turn the tassel.

Soon, maybe soon, I will set sail
To a new place with new faces.
Just where I want to be.

DRinard-headDelaney Rinard is a senior at Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School in Tampa, FL. She is the Secretary of the Phoenix Chapter of NEHS. She’s trying her best to weather the storm of this pandemic, staying at home, listening to music, and writing poetry. Delaney will be attending the University of Central Florida and hopes that her orientation and matriculation dates aren’t postponed.


Somewhere I Belong

Vincenzo Fasano

Shall I sit and let the wind
Carry me away.
Or should I stop to find out
How I’ve gone away.
I wish someone would tell me
Where I need to go
Both when I’m at my highest
And when I’m at my low.
For now, my life is like a song
Without a sound or verse.
I just don’t know how to act
When there’s nothing to rehearse.
I hate how everything I do
Somehow ends up wrong.
For once, I’d like to find a place
Somewhere I belong.

VFasano-headVincenzo Fasano is a senior currently on quarantine from Joliet Catholic Academy (JCA). He will attend Illinois Institute of Technology in the fall for Computer Science. He is a busy part of JCA’s IT help desk in this time of e-learning and before campus closed, a key member of the drama club.


Which Way to Innisfree

Scott Richburg

I need to go there,
Swim there if I could,
My body a wrecked craft
The sirens of illness have lured.
My heart hangs an old leaf;
It can take no more stiff wind,
No more hard faces,
Etched in their lies.
I want to know the silence
Smoke from chimneys makes,
Not rising above ugly rooftops
Under which ugly mouths
Chew their ugly ideas,
But floating over bare fields
Where a voice knows itself
From hushed company it keeps.
I can’t take the absence of hope,
That wish for light and sense
To float down again like
Gentle affirming feathers.
If I am in the open space
Where only nature sings,
My mind will flow again
Like the grace of streams.

SRichburgScott Richburg is the Advisor of the Robin Goodfellow Chapter of The National English Honor Society at The Montgomery Academy in Montgomery, AL. He is a lifelong writer and finds the inspiration for his work in the shallows of a quiet, small life where joy and longing and confusion and hope break out in fairly equal measure. Phillip Larkin, Wallace Stevens, Stevie Smith, and Robert Frost are among his poetic idols. Richburg happily shares his little life with his wife, their eleven-year-old son, and their two dogs, Abby and Lulu.

On Belonging

Natalie Rebetsky

We don’t belong in Zoom,
Halos of bare light fixtures crowning
Our darkened, distorted faces.
We stare down from above,
Into the well of the cameras
While our friends secretly study the
Newly sterile staged rooms beyond,
An ornamental pot alone on the table,
Unread books on shelves in polite/
Carefully sorted-by-size rows,
A poster on a white wall. Fake.

We don’t belong on screens
Separated from each other.
Our tinny Skype voices echoing.

We used to say “God Bless You.”
Now we turn away and reach for hand
Sanitizer. Our ghoulish masks and gloves,
Futile against an unseen disease.

Where is our home, when,
Trapped inside our homes,
Each of us distances from another?

So many seniors exist in the
Purgatory of postponement,
Longing for the official moment of
Separation. Almost guilty,
I picture the spring of my graduation,
Sheltered in the place I loved most.

The wisteria perfume so heavy
It blanketed us in the pergola,
The hub of our college life,
A gathering place, ringed by dormatories
Where “no harsh words were spoken.”
Hood College, 1985.
Lilacs on every building corner
Scenting the April nights.
Unafraid, we crossed campus to
Slip into the rehearsal rooms in Brodbeck,
Its dusty ghosts and their faint
Melodies, our friends.

The postmistress talked to us through
The bank of mailboxes where
We could see her sorting letters
From home.

On a FaceTime call,
I watch my son try on the mask
I sewed. I thought of a photo
Of him as a child in the woods,
Tiny against the giant redwoods,
His ears and hair aflame, lit by a sunbeam
That sifted through the trees.
Like a Star Trek episode, he was ready to be
Beamed up to the safety of his ship.

Laughing at the flamingo patterned fabric,
Grateful for the gift, he said it smelled
Of home. His covered face hid
A brave smile.

What use will it be when he,
A first responder,
Enters a stranger’s home,
A foreign planet, where a body
Decays, the odor of death on
Every surface?

I cannot transport him
Back to safety or turn
Back time. While facing
The uncertain future, I
Self-medicate by playing
And replaying these
Memories of a time before
The crushing Now.

Natalie_RebetskyNatalie Rebetsky is the Advisor of the Linganore NEHS chapter and the award-winning school newspaper, Lancer Media. In these uncertain times, she turns to poetry and novels, including the works of Naomi Shihab Nye and Ann Patchett. She is adapting to virtual teaching, and, in her spare time, plays Uno and Battleship and BINGO on Zoom with her grandson.


Our Orbit

Andrea Rinard

The dress hangs,
You tried on eight
before declaring that one,
the blue one with
just enough sparkle
but not too much . . .

It will always be perfect,
marred not by drama
or bad hair
or the wrong song
but smudged by disappointment.
No expectations ruined by
but smeared with omission.

The gown and hat
hang next to the Prom dress.
which way does the tassel go?
It doesn’t matter.
It’s perfect too,
as it waits for a day
that you waited for—

We put puzzle pieces together,
making pictures fit
in days disjointed and slow.
We play Scrabble. Monopoly.
A waiting game
framed in screens
as we love the ones we love enough
to stay away from.

It’s not supposed to be like this.
Time slouches forward
and you rest your cheek
on my shoulder
and try not to miss everything.
It’s not so bad.
At least we’re together.
And my heart twists and breaks.

This tiny corner of a
catastrophe is peaceful.
The world keeps turning—
a planet around a star,
in a universe filled with
overwhelming questions—
but I keep turning to you.
You are every answer.

ARinard-headAndrea Rinard teaches English at Brooks DeBartolo High School in Tampa, FL. During the pandemic, she’s been working on teaching virtually, playing Mario Party, and reading a lot. There may also be way too much candy involved in those activities. Also, while sheltering in place, she has been writing, finding solace in words during this epoch in our human history.


Longing together

John McKeown

Drop slow tears
mourn lives joyful now muted
for communion, celebration, euphoria

Raise up healers, helpers, those that bury
Strike down profiteers, misery grifters

Discover anew friendship vibrations, strings of music
binds that tie
threads that connect

Savour waiting
Discern hope coyly peeping from spring’s blossomy breezes

Rise up love, come away
Singing praises
Belonging with thanks.

JMckeown-headJohn McKeown, Canadian, has worked in education for 25+ years in Bahrain, Angola, Qatar, UK, UAE and Canada, as a teacher, researcher and administrator. He currently serves as Deputy Head of English at Uskudar American Academy, Istanbul, and as POE Chapter Advisor. Previously, he was Founding Director of the School of Foreign Languages, MEF University, Istanbul, where he and his team designed and implemented the first flipped learning environment for an English foundation preparatory year program. While he loves poetry and chips away at some doggerel, this time he managed to finish an entire piece!