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I am intelligent, yet confused
I wonder if imaginary numbers exist
I hear the silence of sound
I want wisdom
I am intelligent, yet confused
______________________________

I pretend to favor science
I feel my personal legend calling
I touch the soul of the world
I worry I won’t achieve what I was
Bred for
I cry when I don’t understand
I am intelligent, yet confused
______________________________

I understand how to factor a
quadratic
I say there is a higher being
I hope to cross any abyss I’m stuck in
I am intelligent, yet confused

My Grandfather’s Name // El nombre de mi abuelo

My secret code name
is Roberto Alemán The First.

It was my grandfather’s name.
He died right before Super Bowl 49.
He was born 1933 and he died at eighty-two years old.
The only time I saw him was when
I was two years old and the rest of the twelve years
was talking to him on a phone.
I was so devastated.
I had plans to go see him now it’s too late for me.
Now I carry his name in honor of my grandfather
hoping that he has a grandson
that’s the brightest and smartest
and knows that I love him.
R.I.P Grandpa Duermate Rilo.
Know that his son was raised by
the great father / grandfather.
A memory is that
I was walking in my grandma’s ranch
my aunts and cousins then grabbed my mamila.
I sat on the steps then all of a sudden
the doors popped open.

I saw my grandfather with a beautiful white horse.

A heavenly man who rests
with god and
will be a bright angel.


Mi nombre secreto
es Roberto Alemán el Primero.

Era el nombre de mi abuelo.
Murió justo antes del Super Bowl 49.
Nació en 1933 y murió a la edad de 82 años.
La única vez que lo vi fue cuando
tenía dos años y los doce años siguientes
hablé con él por teléfono.
Estaba tan devastado
Tenía planes para ir a verlo y ahora es muy tarde para mí.
Ahora llevo su nombre en honor a mi abuelo
con la esperanza de que su nieto
sea el más brillante y el más inteligente
y que sepa que lo quiero.
QEPD Abuelo Duermate Rilo.
Sepa que su hijo fue criado
por mejor padre / abuelo.
Tengo un recuerdo en el que
estaba caminando en el rancho de mi abuela
Mis tías y primos agarraron mi biberón.
Me senté en los escalones, luego de repente
las puertas se abrieron.

Vi a mi abuelo con un hermoso caballo blanco.

Un hombre celestial que descansa
con Dios y
será un ángel brillante.

Charlie the Seal

Charlie the Seal was born in the mountains. He lived on the brown, sunny rocks. His family lived there with him.

One day he was hot, so he climbed down the mountain and went to the water for a swim. He saw some catfish that were small and blue and caught one, because catfish smell delicious.

He got out of the water and the water felt hot on him. He went back to the smaller mountain and ate the fish. When it was nighttime, he fell asleep.

The next day, he saw other seals catching fish and playing in the water. He went in the water and swam for awhile, but then he saw the seals going to the top of the mountain, where they were playing and rolling in the snow.

Charlie joined them. They walked across those rocks, and the rocks felt hard on the mountain. Eventually, they went back to the medium-mountain and, when it was dark at night, they went to the cave and fell asleep again.

The baby seals squealed at night when they went away from their mothers. When day came, all the seals woke up and saw their baby seals had woken up, too.

So, the seals brought the baby seals down the mountain and showed the baby seals how to swim in the water. The baby seals went in the water and practiced swimming, and they did good by themselves.

After they had finished, the seals climbed the mountain and went to their caves and fell asleep because it was their bedtime, and the seals sleep a lot.

Clay

The following exchange is from our forthcoming Teen Writers Studio chapbook, I Just Like The Way It Sounds, to be released at 826CHI on Monday, June 5th. Join us for the release party and for three other events at Publishing Fest, a week of free release events across Chicago celebrating our students. Find more information on Publishing Fest here.


“Hello, class,” my art teacher sings in her whimsical tone, the one that only art teachers possess. “I want everyone to listen carefully. Your challenge today is to turn this piece of clay into a sculpture that represents you and your perception of life. It can be your own life, or it can be life in general. But I don’t want to see anything too simple or easy. Do not just sculpt a tree or an apple. I want you to think broader–more abstract.”

I peer down at the rigid lump of clay and slowly take the rolling pin and begin flattening and smoothing, running my arms back and forth until it is flat, smooth, and perfect. Untouched; untampered with.

           It was just like my life at the time. The only life I knew.

I was lucky.

           My family had never kept secrets before.

           It all started out with just a doctor’s appointment. My dad, a firm believer in taking as little time off from work as possible, decided out of the blue to go to the doctor with my mom.

           As they dropped my brother and me off at our neighbor’s house, I kept asking him that morning why he was bothering to take a day off from work for the first time since he’d gotten sick with pneumonia. No response, just a dull gaze, his eyes big.

Trying and trying.

The next day in art class, the same thing. I took a chunk of clay and flattened it out. It seemed so pure there, so pristine.

           My art teacher came up behind me.

           “Is this really all you can come up with?” she asked.

           I silently shrugged.

           She bent down next to me, sighed, and whispered straight into my right ear, “Do you think life is perfect and flat like this?”

           I shrugged again.

           “Sometimes life needs a bit of forming to help you grow stronger,” she told me. “That’s what I want you to try and convey through this project. Tomorrow, I want you to start over again. You may smooth out the clay, but then I want you to make something you see as perfectly imperfect.”

           I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came out. I didn’t know what she meant. Not yet, at least.

           I was lucky.

           We all sat at the table that night. Sandwiches for dinner. I pressed my water glass against the wooden table.

           Trying and trying.

           I already knew.

           We didn’t wash the dishes that night.

           My little brother, barely nine years old, hurried downstairs to watch television, his life so protected and smooth, like his own soft cheek.

           The words didn’t strike me at first.

           Mom is sick.

           My parents sat close together and my mom cried as they delivered the news. I held her hand, soft and always smelling like the hand cream she kept in the car.           

           The next day brought another doctor’s appointment. My head spun as I realized my life, the clay that it had once been, smooth and flat like when you run your hand over your old baby blanket, was now changing.

           Pieces were being torn off, squished together, built and then torn down and now a great big lump of nothing.

           I went to art class angry that day. I didn’t flatten the clay like I normally did. I began to mold and twist and form this piece of clay, my hands working detached from my mind, making the clay into the most imperfect, unbalanced, complex sculpture that seemed to include my every gnarly emotion and joyful feeling and each sensation in between.

           My art teacher came over to me that day and said, “That’s what I like to see. That is real life.”      

           Two months later, my mom had surgery.

           As I fought through school that day, I felt a numbness, almost as if the clay weren’t even there anymore.

           It had been taken to the kiln, for its final stage of transformation.

           Trying and trying; smoother and smoother.

           That night, I came home from school.

           She was there, lying on the couch, her familiar cobalt-blue robe wrapped around her like a swaddle, shaped like a sleeping newborn, like an unfinished sculpture, molded from flat clay, perfect and new.

I dug into my backpack and pulled out the finally finished sculpture. I hadn’t bothered to smooth over it with a glossy layer of paint or make it more colorful. It was just there and stayed there, finally a peaceful, set object that could not be fixed or flattened anymore. It reflected the sun that afternoon ever so slightly, as we all breathed a sigh of relief that this era of unknown and somber was finally over.

           I am lucky.

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