December 2016



Luna, Earth's Moon

By: Evan Kwong

 

A sphere, so pale but so bright,

shining endlessly like a big star in the sky,

revolving around Earth like a mini-planet,

lighting up the night sky with its twinkling friends,

letting Sol have her rest,

emerging from the dark of the sky as the night sun.

 

Evan Kwong is a 10 year old attending Lafayette Elementary School in San Francisco, California.

 



Gram's Cherry Tree

By: Nora Wagner

 

“Every year it will come out again, sweetie. The blossoms may be shy and secretive, but they have a weakness for spring, because they like seeing a warm, cloudless sky, just like us. So don’t despair once the tree is bare, because next year it will be back, lovely, alluring, and delicate. So dry away your wistful tears, and know even though all that’s left is wood, before you know buds will shoot out again.” Gram said, maintaining her steady rock in her favorite chair. Her voice was soft, yet it filled every nook and cranny of the room, brightening the room more than any light. Most people make words sound generic, robotic, and like they are being forced out of their lips. But Gram made it sound like a melody, floating out of her mouth. And that is what brought me out from underneath my blanket every year. That is until March 21, 2003.

+++

I was in the tree at the time, rejoicing in the few months I had with the beautiful, rosy blossoms. I was resting on a moss covered branch. The sun glimmered through the leaves. I felt ecstatic; once Gram returned back from yoga class I would show her the flowers, and we would have a picnic in twilight’s dull, purple glow. Then I heard it. It was a shrill shriek, very out of place with the chirps of birds and rustle of a breeze. Deafening sobs pounded my eardrums. I leaped down from my perch on the tree, and ran inside our dim house across the street. There in the kitchen was my mom, leaning on the counter, tears tracking down her cheeks. She tilted her head upwards, like she was cursing God. This memory will haunt me forever: to see my sleek, composed mom collapse in pain. 

Gram told me that she was fine, that a weak heart was an insignificant matter. She would live to a ripe old age, and not leave me. I learned another appalling fact that day. Gram is a liar.

+++

You can’t walk down to the breakfast table without recalling Gram. Memories of her flicker like slides, one after the next. That she had to pray to God about all her worries, before being able to sleep soundly. That she always slept in flannel nightgowns with angel sleeves. And the memory that strikes me most often: her love for the cherry tree. 

I exhale, staring out the window pane at the durable, broad tree, the tree completely unaware of the horrible deed planned for this afternoon. I dash down the stairs, hoping to escape the poor tree. No luck though. I shake cornflakes into my ceramic bowl, trying not to think of Gram doing the same thing every morning. 

My parents talk about the tree in hushed voices. 

“I don’t know how they can chop the tree down! It’s been there for over a hundred years, it’s like chopping down memorials from the Civil War!” my mother says.

“Children love playing dangerous games on it. Kids will miss swinging on the branches, and teenagers will miss the enclosure that enables them to smoke without interruption, but parents despise the tree. They fear for the safety of their children,” my father says, shaking his head while scanning the newspaper. “Personally, I think that’s ridiculous. They’re cautious about letting them play on the tree, because of the danger of falling from it? Well, if they believe that, then how about getting rid of that bright yellow eyesore, that they call monkey bars. It’s just the same elevation as the tree’s height!”

“But folks have so many spectacular memories! Having picnics under the canopy’s shelter, sitting on the branches and enjoying fireworks on the 4th of July, or just breathing in the fresh scent of the cherry blossoms and knowing that spring has begun.” she says indignantly. “Remember that time we hosted that tea party? And we spent hours baking those almond scones, only to find out that somebody had a deadly allergy to nuts of all kinds?” My mom snorted, embracing the memory with a peaceful look on her face. “It was supposed to be civilized - we were supposed to wear lacy, embroidered dresses, with our napkins in our laps and sipping our tea daintily. But at the end everybody went wild and started swinging like Tarzan? That was one of the best days of my life. I wish it could go back to that.”  

Then they are both silent, and sip their coffee, their minds drifting. Maybe they are thinking of lazy summer days, when we only moved from the tree’s shade to get a glass of iced tea or lemonade. Or maybe they are thinking of when I was a toddler, and we hosted a triumphant birthday party under the tree. Or maybe they are remembering what I am; Gram sitting contentedly at the base of the trunk, beaming up at the sky. 

+++

Almost every night I walked in on Gram kneeling down and praying. Mostly I crept back out of the room, not wanting to disturb Gram. Occasionally I just gazed at Gram in the living room. She always sat in the center of the room, with her head bowed down, ignoring the tottering piles of books, vases of wilted wisteria, and striped antique furniture. Only once did I interrupt her, when I was too little to know that Gram treasured those peaceful minutes.

“Gram, what are you doing?” I remember saying.

She looked up, smiling me in my ratty Hello Kitty pajamas. “I am praying to the Lord, darling, in the hopes that he answers my requests.”

“What are you praying about?”I asked, not realizing that I was intruding on something special.

This time Gram hesitated, and looked me up and down. “I am praying for you, sweetie.” She smiled at me, an understanding smile, not expecting me to realize why she was using up all her alone time to ponder about me, to dwell on my secrets and pray for me to strike a mine of joy. 

“Oh.” I said. I remember wondering, why on earth was she praying for me? I was a well-treated child, with loving parents who spoiled me. Why wasn’t she praying for stray cats, who need to dig into trash cans to find small scraps of food? Why not kids who see, disappointed, that the refrigerator is empty again? Why not people who wander around on the streets, jingling old soup cans, hoping for a few quarters?

She smiled at me again, knowing that I had no idea why she was bending down on her knees praying for plain, boring, me. “Good night, honey.” she whispered and stroked my sloppy curls. 

“Good night Gram.” 

+++

The tree is a miracle. Here for over a hundred years, chestnut streaked with brick red with many branches arching from the tree, and adorned with clusters of light pink blossoms. And now in ten minutes it will all be gone, just like Gram. And just like with Gram they will leave a meaningless keepsake. We’ll be left with a stump, just like we were left with a weathered stone to represent Gram. I’m going to make the rest of my life the best of my life, was engraved on it. Gram would have hated it. She can’t make the rest of her life the best, because she is gone! Just like this tree, that people thought had lingered too long, and that a boutique movie theater would be a great substitute! Incorrect. People were starting to gather around now, delight etched in their faces. They wanted this tree to be gone. They wanted to demolish nature and replace it with a stupid building that would rot kids’ brains.

 And then just like Gram’s melody, words floated out of my mouth.

“Stop. I don’t expect you to listen to a twelve year old, but I want you to consider something before you destroy this tree that has been around before any of you. This tree doesn’t just house sparrows. It holds memories of kids playing tag, of meaningful conversations, of laughter, and tears. And with one chop you are going to dismantle millions of memories.” My courage mounts. “I know a grandmother who would frown down on what you are doing. And this grandmother is giving me the bravery to speak to you all. When I was five, I walked in on my grandmother praying for me. I wondered why, up until now. I am a shy girl. I don’t raise my hand in class. I sit alone at break and watch the popular girls who don’t even consider inviting me to jump rope with them. That’s why my Gram talked to God, to bless me to have the courage to speak right now. So if you won’t save this tree for all the little kids who love playing in it, do it for Gram, a lady who tried her best to make sure that this tree was safe.” I stop, my face flushing. I tune out the applause and the cheers. 

I focus on one voice, coming from above the nine planets and billions of stars. 

You are so brave, darling. I am so proud of you. Her high-pitched melody sings again in my head. I know I’m not imagining it. She is peering down at me. I am so proud of you.

 

Nora Wagner is an 11 year old attending San Francisco Friends School in San Francisco, California.



Lost and Found

By: Jen Cullen

 

As my heavy eyelids slowly open, I immediately look out to identify the scenery around me. After two years of traveling, the landscapes begin to blend together. The brush on the ground tells me I’m in Arizona. No, it’s too flat. Arizona has miles of towering mountains that make you feel tiny in comparison. It must be Utah. No, there’s way too much green. Utah is so red you feel like you could drown in it. It’s New Mexico. New Mexico has seemingly endless roads of nothing that rarely lead to any place of significance, but it still manages to enchant you. If I look hard enough, I can see the peaks of red mountains off in the distance of the open road, surrounded by nothing else but dirt. 

I’m in the passenger seat of a beat up 1962 VW convertible. The cracked, light blue paint makes the car look worn down and cheap, but the driver tells me that he saved up for this car all of high school, working at a local mechanic shop in Jasper, Indiana, where he left as soon as he got the keys. His name is Tom. He has calloused hands and bloodshot eyes that seem to constantly glance at me, even while he’s fixated on the road. Several times I woke up during our ride to find his hand softly resting on my shoulder, immediately sending shivers down my entire body. I am innately aware of how the feeling of a touch could be like sandpaper, and be so cold. I had come to expect that his hand would wander down my arms, as if I were oblivious to his obvious change of intentions. Instead, it stayed put in a place of innocence, of protection. His touch somehow felt warm, and slowly made me feel comfort instead of fear. Out of the many men I had encountered during my travels, Tom was gentler, but just as troubled. I could tell he was running from something that haunted him. Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night to find him looking up at the sky, thinking too much, and too deeply.

 I usually didn’t try too hard to dive deep into the psyche of the people I met on the road. Forming attachments would make it impossible to keep moving on. But still, something about the innocent placement of his hand, or the creases on his forehead, or the way the light shone on his five-o-clock shadow made me nauseous. The good kind of nauseous, like riding on a carousel at the local fair after two cotton candies, but still nauseous. 

The mid morning air is dreadfully hot. During the nights, the air is cold, with the luminous light of the moon being my only solace. Sometimes at night my mind begins to wander to home, a place of comfort and familiarity, but also a place full of questions that seem too big for a small town to answer. When I finally get those answers, then everything will be worth it.

My mother always told me I was a wandering soul, belonging to everyone and no one all at once. Born and raised in Big Sky, Montana, my mother lived the life that was decided for her at birth. She went to school, helped her mother at home, and when she was 18, she was married off to a local man who she was expected to immediately love. She used to tell me that love was a choice. When she decided to love my father, she did it with all her heart. Still, I could tell her mind wandered to other lives she could have lived. My father was a man who was content with a simple life. He held a job as a manager at the local bank and brought home just enough money every day to keep food on the table and his wife in her place. When he was laid off, he blamed my mother. She was too weak, didn’t take care of the home well enough, and didn’t love him well enough. As piercing screams moved through the walls of our home, it started to shrink. My mother told me that whenever I felt scared, I could close my eyes and picture myself in New York City, at the top of the Empire State Building. Simultaneously feeling so big, like a King looking down on his subjects, and so small, like nothing really matters except the view. Thousands of feet above millions of people, just walking by. All with purpose, with direction. All free. 

The day my mother died, March 22, 1970, I packed a bag with two sweaters, a pair of jeans, and some money. One of the sweaters was picked out of a thrift shop so cluttered I felt forced to pick the first thing I saw I didn’t hate. The other was my mom’s, which was already starting to lose the smell of her perfume; instead, it smelled of far too many wears with no washing. The jeans were old Levi’s I got at a department store, the only pair I could ever find that fit both my waist and hips, but they were still slightly too loose on my bony legs. I brought 257 dollars and 53 cents. It was all the money I had saved up, earned from years of chores and any job I could get. I kept it in a box under my bed, waiting for the time when I would need it. I thought it would be enough, but at this point, there are only a few dollars left. I vowed to myself that I would never return to my town. People who never leave home don’t understand what it’s like to be on a constant tour, or what it’s like to be free. 

“Stephanie,” I hear Tom whisper from the driver’s seat of the car. His hair is messy, obviously having not been washed for days, perhaps even weeks. Still, I could tell he was handsome in another life, one where he had a place to call home. The name leaving his mouth feels unfamiliar to me. I gave every man I met on the road a different name and a different story of how I ended up so lost. 

Ed, a truck driver from Nevada met Jasmine, a girl from a wealthy home in California who ran away from her overbearing parents. 

Jonathan and Mary, a couple traveling to Tennessee from Oregon met Alicia, a waitress from Idaho with the hopes of becoming an actress in New York.

But Tom met Stephanie, the girl from a small town in Montana. Me. 

When he asked me my name and story as he picked me up on the side of the interstate outside of Albuquerque, my real name somehow slipped from my lips. His eyes searched mine intently, maybe because I looked so unsure of my story. Maybe he even thought I was lying to him. That I had made up this girl named Stephanie. That I was just trying her on to find someone that fit. I wonder if what he told me about himself was true. 

I glance over at Tom, still awaiting a response from me.

I struggle to let out any sound after so long of silence, but look at him inquisitively. 

“I want to show you something,” he softly replies, eyes searching in the distance.

There’s not much around for Tom to show other than pieces of brush and small animals scurrying around the ground. He puts his key into the ignition, the engine making a loud roaring sound as the car begins to move. The car struggles, almost like it is tired of travelling, but is still being forced along day after day. As we begin to drive, Tom turns on a cassette player that I have never noticed the car has. When classical music blares through the tape, I look at Tom with puzzled eyes as he begins to explain.

“I play the piano. One day I’m going to be like Mozart, or Beethoven, or one of the other greats. I mean, I’ve never had a proper lesson or anything like that, but my grandmother used to have an old piano in her living room. Sometimes I’d sit for hours and just feel it vibrate.” 

As he talks, he fidgets with his hands and looks down into his lap, like his hobby is a secret he has been itching to confess.

 His words surprise me, not because of his ambitions, but because of his appearance. Tom’s shaggy hair and loose, ragged clothing make him look more like the kind of guy who would listen to rock bands, like The Velvet Underground or The Doors, who I would listen to on my record player at home, just quiet enough to not bother my parents, and just loud enough to feel lost in it.

The sound of the piano melody pulsates through the car as Tom determinedly drives down the monotonous road. Suddenly, Tom makes a sharp, jolting turn and comes across a small path that I never would have noticed. There appears to have once been a sign leading people down the path, but it has since been knocked down, now lying down in the brush, battered and neglected. The path is obviously not meant for cars, with constant bumps sending us off of the ripped leather seats and into the air. 

A small grin creeps upon Tom’s face as we pull up to a village. Not a village per se, but a giant formation of red rock houses, that seems like it is from many lifetimes ago. A neighborhood long abandoned. The rocks look worn, but sturdy, like they were built to last. There are about 7 rock houses built on top of each other, with stone stairways leading up to the door of the next home. They’re a rectangular shape, completely plain other than two holes: a window and some sort of door. The holes seem too small for anyone to squeeze through to get to the equally small interior, which is completely empty. The rocks are a muted red, but seem vibrant compared to the far away mountain scape. Driving in the village feels like finding something from long ago that doesn’t quite belong to you, but is impossible to not take for your own. It feels too valuable to be left behind, even if not by the true owner. It seems like the entire world was all here at once, but just happened to be forgotten. As I look around at the full panorama, my mind wanders to what happened to the people who lived here and what made them run away.

“Do you think we could stay?” I ask Tom, immediately feeling a rush of adrenaline.  

His eyes widen with excitement, and no trace of fear. 

“I don’t see why not,” he replies as we walk out of his car and into the village.

I imagine myself living in one of the small rock houses, feeling the past where I rest my head. I imagine Tom living with me, with us only having each other, and maybe a few of his cassette tapes. I imagine never being seen again, until maybe someone stumbles across our little village and wonders how we got so lost. 

I look over at Tom as he turns to look at me. Without any effort of my own, my arms extend as I let out the loudest scream I can muster. Tom smiles wide, not seeming surprised at my random outburst. Without any hesitation, he joins me. As both our screams fill the air, I wonder if we could stay in this moment, screaming forever, until our voices give out, and all there is left is silence. 

 

Jen Cullen is a 17 year old attending Viewpoint School in Calabasas, California.

 



Keepers of the Moon

By: Cerissa DiValentino

 

We danced barefoot in the sand until moon rise,

Our toes touching and our fingers locked,

Our tongues playing against the heart of our cheeks.

 

We sang songs about our youth,

Talking of each other’s oldest scars and our ancient memories,

About what land the soles of our feet have touched,

About what skies our lungs have kissed.

 

We locked eyes,

A pool of mahogany brown mixing in a bowl of icy blue,

Diamonds sparkling in the liquid like roses dripping from a vine.

 

We admired the way the moon danced upon the water,

The glossy and sharp tips of the waves

Stabbing at the air’s fresh lungs,

Poking holes in its abdomen,

Cutting into its heart.

 

There were daffodils and the smell of fresh lilac in the clouds,

Showering us in scent so divine,

A scent so strong and soothing.

 

We rested in the palm of the earth,

In peace rather than at war,

Relaxing in the light of the moon rather than running.

 

We became night fairies,

Angels of the dark,

Keepers of the moon,

Owners of the stars.

 

Cerissa DiValentino is a 17 year old attending New Paltz High School in New Paltz, New York.



After, in the Farmhouse

By: Maja De Garay

 

I can hear him, convinced he is still here.

His footsteps echo the empty halls,

his voice fills rooms from across the house.

He lies just around each corner, just inside

the next room over.

He leaves lights on, a trail of bright windows

weave the house like vines.

Always ahead.

Trees sway outside windows,

mere observers of the cruelest game.

The footsteps fade to dull thumps on hardwood,

the voice no longer any competition for the wind against the shingles.

The roar of my own heartbeat,

rushing against my ears,

straining to fill the silent void.

They begin again.

 

Maja wrote this as a senior at Saratoga Springs High School in Saratoga Springs, New York.  She currently attends the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York.



Dragons

By: Nimay Shankar

 

When the lights go out in the houses and the folks probably won’t leave,

big and little dragons come out, playing while the humans sleep.

 

They dance around, doing all sorts of things,

shooting fire and lightning and giant smoke rings.

 

They race across the sky, eating bats by the ton,

but that's not all; they're still not done.

 

They have claw-raking contests while demolishing trees,

nobody stands in the way, not even poisonous bees.

 

They laugh and talk and play all sorts of games,

including the ones the humans can't name.

 

When the sun comes up, the dragons go back,

for hard-earned rest and a peaceful nap.

 

Nimay is a 10 year old student at Blue Hills Elementary in Saratoga, California.