2023 Teen Poetry Contest Winners



Middle School Winner


She opened her eyes in the first light of her life
Smiling and laughing, exploring the world
She never let anything get in her way
A brilliant child, people would say, a joyous child
But then he came.

He tore down everything she had,
ripped the walls that were once her home
She was trapped in a cage, filled with his rage
Slowly she began to see the dark side of the world
The world she never imagined existed
And her misery casted a shadow over her happy memories.

Years passed; she became a different person
Twisted in agony, binded by the brutal barrier
She tried to break free, but as she took each step
Her soul shattered, her heart pierced
But she always kept looking for a path to the blissful world

She may never go back to who she was
The cheerful girl full of curiosity and imagination
She can recover, if she breaks out of the cage
But will she ever be the same? Or forever be bound?

Liliana Chai
Bret Harte Middle School
Grade: 8



High School Winner

Untitled Document

untitled document
that's what it says when you start a new google doc.
a blank empty screen of white stares back at you;
it’s a blank slate for you to fill in,
a life freshly created.
you make your own choices for yourself,
but what do you do when your life has already been decided?
from birth, the pages of your life have been typed in with how you should live and what you
have to do to achieve success.
even the definition of success is determined for you

in life you're just a figurine,
a white pawn for chess,
a doll for someone to play with.
all you have to do is follow that path that has already been scripted out for you…
but what if you don't want to do that?
what if you just want to live your life the way you want tothen they all tell you,
“at least for the sake of your immigrant parents who sacrificed so much for you,
don't let them down now.”

what if all you want is to be an untitled document,
so you can color the pages with whatever crayon you like
and maybe even scribble outside the lines occasionally.
once you free yourself from all these outside voices,
you can be an untitled document too.
in your head, you replay the scene where you tell that nosy auntie that you don't need her opinion
and that you’re going to write out the play of your life the way you want to.
you break forth from the template determined for you
and emerge from your cocoon
as a fragile, shaking
yet determined and sparkling butterfly.

Kayla Lee
Valley Christian High School
Grade: 9



Middle School Winner

The Power Of Words

Some words will hurt,

Others can nurture.

Some sentences heal.

Others create ruptures.

The statements carry darkness,

Intended to cut deep scars.

They slice into your skin,

Your confidence now in shards.

Tears threaten to flow,

The unkind words echo ‘round,

And when you think all hope is lost,

You hear a single, sweet sound.

“Stop!” says the voice,

And the foggy haze clears.

No longer do you feel

The sharpness of the jeers.

Astonished you are,

As the voice is your own.

But the bully is stopped,

Blown by your tone.

You’re trapped no longer,

More free than a bird.

Never shall you be bullied,

But revered for your words.

Speaking out, and showing your voice,

Has removed the bonds, and cut you loose.

Never again will you be gagged,

You’re as powerful as you choose.

Shriya Pawgi
Sam H. Lawson Middle School
Grade: 7



High School Winner

The Wild the Child

A child

The vast expanse of land and sea

Where one can play all day long

Is a child too

Never sleeps never stops

Never fails to disappoint

Gulls cry and coyotes howl

Trees sway in the breeze

Joy reigns supreme

This is a child

One who knows no pain

Freedom and fun are only known

Beauty and light within

Noticeable power

Beyond parental control

But still lovable anyway

A child

Salty waves splash the shore

Horses neigh in the fields

This is a child

Humans look to tame

But one cannot tame the child called the wild.

Keira Silver
Christopher High School
Grade: 11


Middle School Winner

Where do I fit in?

I can shine like a star, but be hidden in the forest of wandering words
At the same time,
I'm surrounded by a dark and empty sea
Where I will stay forever and never leave
I'm the face behind a glowing smile
I'm the upside down — fire burns in my eyes
It's the little things that get me to show my true colors
I am water and fire-breaths of air
I swallow her whole and never let her go
Everywhere she goes... I follow
I see her eyes as she watches two girls walk and laugh together
I'm there to talk to her, to help her
She always follows my advice
So, she walks away invisible
Water flows like the bright blue ocean and runs down her pink flesh
But as soon as it came, the water flowed back
Down to a calm, motionless wave
The tears are gone…
I'm described as "not so nice"
Is it true though? Yes, it's true
I'm evil, I'm anger, but most of all...I'm depression
Anger fills my eyes and then, CRASH!
A broken pen... A broken heart
Thunder rumbles
And lighting strikes... strikes my already broken world
At home it's not much better
There's constant yelling, fighting, and arguing I feel like I live in a world alone
Is that what I want? To be honest, I want someone to hold me close and hug me tight but I also want to
be alone and sit in a puddle of the places l've been

Marley Tubach
Charter School of Morgan Hill
Grade: 8


High School Winner


This year I will wish to see her again,
when I tie my tanzaku onto bamboo trees,
let the breeze toss my shameful, selfish dream.

The story of star crossed lovers. I know it all too well—
when people mistake tragedy for poetry.
We are not gods or star-princesses,
we are only fifteen, never been
responsible for anything. Never cared, never scared.
We are gritty and real,
sisters, daughters, neighbors.

Our Milky Way can be crossed in twelve minutes,
her door to mine, I counted.
But misfortune and meddling mothers find a way
to weave twelve minutes into an eternity,
galaxies into universes.
Two girls separated by family and fate.
Freedom-stripped, nipped-in-the-bud
young love. sweet love.

We have no seventh day of a seventh month;
we have no magpie bridge.
And yet this year I pray for good weather
and hope to see her again in the stars.

Mina Okamoto
Harker School
Grade: 11


High School Winner


Kashmir, 1947

In this fractured atlas, we are a tectonic
shift—a fault line drawn by quivering
hands, trembling in the wake of unspoken
bloodshed. The map that traces
our lineage crumbles beneath the weight
of unbending borders while their
soldiers rip us from the womb of
belonging. The diorama of my
becoming speaks of golden sunsets,
of moonlit whispers, of the softest
winds that swaddle dreams into my chest.
But now, the sun sears open my veins,
the moon hides from sight, & the wind
carries only echoes of the gunshots
we left behind. My name, a prayer cast
into a starless sky, is shaped by
the syllables of heartache, cradling
the ghosts of those we have lost.
Water laps at my feet & swallows
my reflection, tearing me from
the comfort of mother. To bear
a witness to an ocean that swallows
our past. In this fragmented atlas, I am
the cartographer, the guardian of my
own story, mapping the borders of a new
world where belonging transcends
lines drawn by unfamiliar hands.

Arihant Jain
Mountain View High School
Grade: 10



Middle School Winner


euphoria, she is
beautiful, her laugh
like bubbles in a
glittering creek, hair
cascading, as sweet
as honeysuckle, but
she is more, she is—

summer sun
and a splash of
seawater across
my cheek &
a smile after you
take my hand,
interweave your
nimble fingers
with mine

euphoria, she is
agile, her feet eager
to explore, a desire
to stay a moment,
maybe two, before
fleeing, leaving a
dark gash in your
heart, but also she—

is the goodbye that
burns away your joy,
emptying you of
everything but tears &
carves a cavern of missing,
the cave ever-growing

Sierra Elman
Nueva School
Grade: 7


High School Winner

Through his lens

His old house, a window into his life.
Although he is gone,
his oil paintings live on,
each vibrant and realistic like a picture,
reminding me of his warm smile and presence.
Paintings of scenery and family members,
allow me to see the world through his lens.
Each paint stroke,
full of meaning, full of purpose.
I take on his artistic skills,
painstakingly spending hours
perfecting every piece.
Like my grandfather,
strong and stoic,
I remain quiet during conversations,
observing and listening.

Abigail Chou
Piedmont Hills High School
Grade: 10



Middle School Winner

The Field of Lavenders

As I lay in wait for the time to pass, the familiar, aching troubles
cross my mind,
I reminisce the last perfect day before it blew up in smoke, and I
cannot help wondering if you hark back to that night,
Back when we were entranced by the wildest of fantasies; young,
innocent, spirited and carefree,
Full of passion and vigor, we yearned for adventure; we thought
the friendship was destiny,
And the scent of magic led us to a field of lavenders, where we
swore that our harmony would last forever,
We made a million promises we didn’t know we could not keep;
now all that is left are the dying embers,
I see the world through dwindled colors, as the silent war between
us rages on,
Our paradise has withered and you are a ghost in my past ; I
struggle to make the priceless memories last,
We both could not have been victors in battle, and the castle was
never ours to share,
We may have been sisters in another life, but you left me squalling
in despair,
If by some miracle I were to see you again, I would gaze upon you
with regret and sorrow,
But I would not beg for your forgiveness or ask for gifts not mine to
I would let the silvery moonlight pave the way, to the place where
it all began and the place where I’ll stay,
When the eves of dawn fade into morn, we’ll gaze into the
timeless, eternal sun; in the field of lavenders where our hearts
had beat as one

Raaghavi Kalluri
Merryhill School
Grade: 8



High School Winner

Where I'm from

From the untouched grass with droplets that I had come to look
forward to on those frigid mornings
To the soft smell of cigarettes,
From time to time when I was put to sleep as a kid
I’ve always been from that door in my home
The door with Sofia Vega planted right at your face the moment you
walk by it

and I am from those same nights my father had to work late
those same nights where I stayed up and waited for him to come
those nights he smoked that cigarette and tucked me into bed

Oh and these current mornings when I still see that untouched grass
These colorless mornings when I struggle to get up
These mornings when I wish I didn’t see those droplets softly calling
my name
Almost as if they were mocking me
Mornings like these where I wish that soft aroma of cigarettes had
been my last
This is where I have and always will be from.

Sofia Vega
Abraham Lincoln High School
Grade: 10



Middle School Winner


what is

was not always

and will not always be

so perceive it all now

before you have to leave

the tiny spiders and the webs they weave

to deceive naïve insects

whom they then retrieve

a shiny fish

adrift in a stream

morning mist kissed the water

as if in a dream

it listened

tail swished

sunlight glistened

and it wished

for a life lived meaningfully

Seerit Kamboe
Britton Middle School
Grade: 8



High School Winner

//Her name was Melody//
// Dark, coarse hair hanging limply past set shoulders, braids dripping like plastic in the
hot sun// Light, caramel colored skin cratered with dark crevices and rosy scars, stretching
proudly upon jarring facial structure// Her name was Melody, but her voice slurring and loud, her
laugh, sharp and wide, her presence, grand, commanding//
//Her name was Melody, but she did not smell of clean, ripe green grass in springtime, the
thin, careful scent of fresh cherry blossoms, skin bathed in light, sweet-smelling perfume//
//Her name was Melody, but it was the heavy, thick smell of sweat, the dank, cakey smell
of old clothing and lint, the small, lingering scent of shampoo//
Her name was Melody, but her lithe, confident figure was not wrapped in rosy hues of
pink; laced, frilly white skirts, twirling as she danced, face blushing with heat, soft lips moving
towards her eyes// Bright, playful eyes, dancing carelessly under dim streetlights, sun-kissed skin
bathing in golden acrylic, loose, graceful gestures, deep crinkles lighting up her face//
//Her name was Melody, but her dark, muscular figure was clothed in rich tones of black,
coarse velour pants pilling with little sprinkles of white, fabric creased and plunging, necklines
dipping and beautiful// Deep, fractured irises, alight with intelligence, catching the damp yellow
light of her phone, smooth, careful charcoal//
//Her name was Melody, and she was my best friend//

Anagha Vitaldevara
Saratoga High School
Grade: 9



Middle School Winner


I don’t know when “home” became a different place.
At some point I have stopped associating “home” with the place where I sleep.
I sleep in my house.
That’s where I eat, do my chores, and finish my homework.
I have lived in my house all my life,
but yet at “home” I feel the deepest sense of belonging.

My home is with my family.
My family that does not share blood
but instead the food from the vending machine,
the jokes that are only funny because I didn’t get enough sleep last night,
The successes we thrive for,
the defeats we cry for,
The struggles we drown in,
but also the understanding that we are drowning together.

Through the currents that push me down,
I see them being washed over too.
Through the currents that lift us up and carry us forward,
I see them following.
Through the currents that separate us,
we hold each other's hands.
Through the currents that challenge us to stay afloat,
We lean on one another.
Through the currents that hinder our path,
we follow the tides.
And as they drift off,
a fragment of my heart follows them.

Norah Heller
Redwood Middle School
Grade: 8



High School Winner

Shackled in court ready to face my doom, I stand when the Judge walks in the room
Anit funny how the days are slipping by, pages on my calendar flipping by.
While I sit in my cell and ask God why?

My Momma stares and begins to cry, because she knows
I wanna kill this drug disease, which will only lead me to die
But I’m simply asking for help while you ask why

Judge I’m not evil or aggressive, I just choose the wrong way to send a message
They say I’m violent as they plea, but I try to be the best I can be
I’m just a different breed… they don’t understand or see

My attorney said I should take this plea
“6-8 months in the ranch, you will be free”
If they understood me justice would be held
Now I’m sitting lonesome in my cell,
Wishing I listened to momma so I would have done well

Excuse me though your honor, I was raised with hungry souls that tried to punk me wherever I
might go, and to prove respect you can’t have no regret, I live in a place where more is no
better than less, meaning you could be a superstar with nothing left

Your honor I live in a jungle without elephants and monkeys, just killers, gangs and junkies, with
nothing waiting to take something, but I have no fear, all my teachers said I would end up here

This jail house doesn’t make anyone better, while the state get rich treating us in this sick way,
But let me pray cause only God can Judge me, while the system corrupts and it stays the same.

Osbourne High School
Grade: 10



High School Winner

Yo sabes como corre el agua, what if I choose to go against the tide? Will I then drown or float?

I wanna win too but they told me there isn’t enough room in this life boat. But I still fight for my life
everyday even when it rains and pours.

Done with running up in houses and kicking in doors. I know where I’ll end up. Stuck in a cell or maybe
somewhere worse like a coffin and a hearse, just for the profit of a couple bucks?

I guess it’s time to roll the dice and really test my luck to see where I end up.

My raza is locked up and shackled away because the system is so fucking corrupt but we’re to blame?

It is because we dress a certain way? Smoke some weed to try to suppress the pain? Or because we
pour out liquor on the grave of where our homies lay. But fuck it anyway.

Stealing and robbing just for financial gain but I don’t understand how they expect us to be able to

SJPD still trynna dismantle what they can’t contain.

We became exceptive to the hate, abuse and the pain.

While incarcerated your just a number they don’t call you by your name.

Even when it rains you can never put out the flame.

It’s beyond the color or block you claim. They detain and lock our people away and seal their fate.

These supposed leaders spilling their beliefs but I can no longer relate.

They set us up for failure and we seem to always take the bait.

Shit ain’t been the same since the colonizers invaded and rebranded this land the United States.

RIP’s and candle lights while a momma weeps

Too many kids dying and mommas crying in this Cali heat

It’s all fun and games till your loved one is laying under that white sheet

I’m sinking to the bottom of the ocean like there is weights on my feet.

God, I pray I don’t end up 6 feet deep.

Blue Ridge High School
Grade: 12

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