2024 Teen Poetry Contest Winners


Middle School Winner

A Tear in the Fabric

My hands worked through the night for this
Worn and scratched as they are, fulfilled
Perfection was all I desired

Sewed tightly, no stitch amiss
A dream, a hope, a future crushed
My hands worked through the night for this

Years only grow, yet where is my bliss?
It snapped on its thread; fate rendered me a child
Perfection was all I desired

Had hoped for a life of color, yet only an abyss
A crooked note in my song; a tear in my pattern fostered
My hands worked through the night for this

A change in my melody would not suffice
I tried to mend the tear, but the more I concealed
The harder it was for it to heal
Perfection was all I desired

It only tore bigger, a hearth in this ice
Rejected my wishes, threatening to melt my shield
My hands worked through the night for this

So why did she say…
That it was beautiful beyond compare?
That it was flawlessly beautiful,
When I thought it destroyed beyond repair?

My hands worked through the night for this,
And perfection was all I desired

But a tear in the fabric
May not be so bad after all.

Alexis Santosa
Stratford San Jose Middle School
Grade: 8


Middle School Winner

Man nor Machine

I am neither man nor machine,
But merely a shell of the living.
My eyes see the colors, but my brain interprets the shades
My brain thinks of the solution, my mouth makes the problem.
With my limbs I move, but with my brain I feel.
I’m neither man nor woman.
But rather a shade of purple.
I am neither happy nor sad,
But rather a shade of gray.
Not sure what to feel, but sure I’m feeling
I am neither beauty nor grace.
I am unique in a shell of what I could be,
I am neither smart nor wise
But experienced in life,
No matter how naïve.
I learn not from my programmers,
But not from my family.
I neither push or pull,
But rather sustain.
I’m neither man nor machine.

Reese Handa
Old Orchard School
Grade: 7


High School Winner


Whoever said “high school is the time of your life!”
Is a liar.
Hangouts with friends,
Summers at the beach,
Enjoying school sports,
These visuals that were repeated over and over again by movies and shows,
Now exist as nothing more than figments of my imagination that I hopelessly reach for
I too, wish to create what people call a second family amongst friends
I too, wish to have a group of people to rely on, but
As I sit alone at my desk
It’s almost like I can see what people define as “youth”
Appear in front of my eyes as a colorful ribbon, continuously flowing
Stealing away the breath of anyone that sees it
I’m desperately grasping at that ribbon
While it crumbles and decays right before my eyes
Hoping, Praying
Only to be greeted with an empty fist
As well as the sight of nothing but my own hand
And I’m terrified
I’m terrified that I’m wasting my life
I’m terrified that I’ll blink and time will just pass me by
I’m terrified that I will never have another chance to make these “core memories”
My fear of the disappearance thing called “youth”
Forever lingers in the back of my mind
Never leaving me alone

McKayla Hsu
Fremont High School
Grade: 10


Middle School Winner


i think it’s the smell that takes me back:
old vents. cheap soap.
two of the locks are broken,
there’s puddles in the sink.
the gray speckled floor has bubbled and warped from the heat.
we check the lost jewelry collection sitting on top of the towel dispenser --
wait until the other people exit --
and then it becomes our space,
leaning against backpacks with your dirty converse crossed, one over the other.
outside, we never talk about anything important.
but here, it feels as if the shimmering june will never change,
that the wrappers in the trash can will always stay in the same position,
that your highlights will never grow out and we’ll never forget how it felt to be everything and
nothing at the same time:
copernicus and ptolemy, arguing only to realize we are all planets, orbiting something so bright
we can never tell what it is.
sometimes, i ask what the meaning of life is,
and you worry about the future,
and finding purpose,
and God.
sometimes, we sit in silence and listen to the laughter and hushed conversations outside.
although aren’t those two the same, as quiet though meaningful they might be?
the bell rings,
and our bubble of idyllic worldliness pops without a care.
we walk down the ramp, away from our resting-place,
and trade our respective goodbyes and see-you-laters,
leaving many things unsaid.
but there’s always tomorrow.

Katarzyna Wrebiak
Joaquin Miller Middle School
Grade: 7


High School Winner


We think to leave a legacy, we must cause sparks.
Yet, the legacy we leave lies in the ground.
We touch the ground with our feet, but never our hearts.
Uprooting the land, crushing every mound,
We create our own history.

The sky, beautifully daunting,
The epitome of the first day of winter,
The blistering cold slices through the warmth of the fall sun.

The sky, thick and overcast with smoke, haunting.
You run until your feet bleed,
Until the chameleon sky that once
Caressed your cheeks fades into the background.

A tree that never was,
Now embarks on its journey.
We create our own history,
But refuse to acknowledge what has been.

Before you know it, you’re falling.
You’re falling, and there isn't any ground beneath you.
You’re falling, and there’s nary a human to catch you.

Lover of our earth,
Lover of all things true,
Awake, before the sun meets the moon.

Mariam Ndao
Dr. T.J. Owens Gilroy Early College Academy
Grade: 11


High School Winner


when you feel that ire
when your entire being is
wired and on fire

when you’re building your own pyre
and watching the gilding
of every known liar

when you’re losing your soul
when the earth cracks
to reveal a black hole

when you’ve decided upon the color of your casket

throw your phone into a wastebasket.

grab a hammer.

and become enamored in the clamor of the cracking of the screen,
it’ll be so loud that you’ll stop being able to hear your own screams

Lucile Orr
The Nueva School
Grade: 9


High School Winner

Too Much

Always “the yapper,”
Always “too loud.”
Never excited,
Never proud.

Always “annoying”,
Always “weird”.
Never unique,
Never bold.

Always “unhinged,”
Always “fake.”
Never funny,
Never kind.

Always “a hypocrite,”
Always “the drama queen.”
Never “learning from mistakes,”
Never “really just sick of it.”

Always “unwanted”,
Always “disliked”,
Never given a chance,
Never fitting in.

Always “trying too hard,"
Never trying hard enough.

Always too much,
Yet never enough.
For anyone she knows,
Least of all-

Nima Bhavansikar
Milpitas High School
Grade: 9


Middle School Winner

"Free" Verse

I sit here in solitude

I can't seem to create

A free-verse that sounds

As good as the others write

I cannot help but to believe

That the flowers below are mocking me

And so is that raven flying by,

He's eyeing me with disdain

I'm stuck here, with nowhere to go

Until I finish a poem I must stay

But Alas

I sit here in solitude

And thinking doesn't help

I just can't think of a free-verse

That sounds as good as others write


James Li
Challenger School
Grade: 7


High School Winner


An old pickup truck, chipped paint and crooked axle, rattling like a bag of bones and
running on fumes,
but it’s your hands on the wheel, glittering rings and shining blood.
A road, stretching endlessly before us, leading into the infinite horizon, empty and
desolate, the edge of the world or something like it,
but it’s your hair whipping in the wind, bleeding into the night sky,
An open wound, bright red and smarting, a pulsing reminder of mortality and mistakes and
the things that we would rather not thing about,
but it’s your hands doing the damage.
This is the end of the line and we’ve been here before,
it’s a wild place, fitting for us when every tender touch feels like pressing into a bruise,
when every blow is as soft as a caress and the blood is as sweet as wine.
Bite the hand that loves you and hold the one that condemns you.
Abandon the God that protects you and praise the one that will bleed you dry if you asked.
I’m not beautiful, but I could be.
You are Midas. Everything you touch turns to ruby,
and I will be your clay, your muse, your marble. Douse me in red,
give me a shape, a meaning, and I can be the river you wash your hands clean in.
The taste of your pulse, the knowledge that you would let me open you up, let me close
enough to kill but trust that I instead will choose to kiss.
This isn’t just love, this is mutually assured destruction.
Sometimes I wonder why God made me a vortex, a black hole with a desire so grotesquely
enormous as it is enormously grotesque, a mouth always open and always hungry.
I could eat you whole and still be starving.
Because what is love if not hunger? What is a kiss if not the moment before a bite? I want
to tell you that “close” will never be close enough, but instead I will say
Do you want me
to hold you? And by hold I mean pulverize, and you’ll say Yes,
and by Yes you mean Eviscerate me, take me apart and put me back together, again and
again until we can’t remember which part goes where.
I’ll be Theseus and can be my paradox.
How many times can we do this before it’s no longer us, before the damage is irreversible?
But we’ll keep doing it anyway,
that’s the problem for a future we don’t plan on making it to.
So get down darling, this sun is our salvation and it’s a sacrament best taken kneeling.
Here is my body, you just have to draw the blood.
This is the closest either of us will ever get to God.

It’s not my fault, but it is my burden.
Your hands are red but I’m the one holding the knife.
I’d bleed for anything that held me the right way.

*Quote by Kait Rokowski 

Emma Ramirez
Ann Sobrato High School
Grade: 12


Middle School Winner

i think i’m going rotten 
headache because
7+ hours of screen time
today but
i spent it reading an ebook
so it can’t be that bad right

tell me i’m not trash
tell me i’m not a lazy brat
tell me I’m not letting the time tick away
with every second spent doing nothing

i know you don’t believe it
i don’t either
no matter how loud i scream it at myself
but we can pretend right?
pretend together that
we can’t see the
growing on me

Abby Tricoli
Grade: 8


High School Winner

abecedarian for the ups and downs of motherhood 

after i leave for school do you fall onto your bed, face numb and
blue, and think of how you built me up piece by piece? back then, did your body grow
cold as two unblinking red lines glared back at you on plastic sticks from the supermarket,
daring you to say the words “i am a mother now”? touch
every inch of skin on your belly for signs of my presence,
find my heartbeat deep in your core: i am not complete without you. when your white manager
gave you a shorter maternity leave than other women because you
had just left beijing to come to texas, and you were young and sweet and naive;
identity broken between chinese and american, english vocabulary composed of
just a few phrases, i was there with you and
kicked my legs angrily against your womb because you did not know better, at
least at the time. you stood in the shadow of america,
missing the way life back in china would be—
night markets of roasted duck skewers, sugar coated gourds, spicy
octopus kebabs, your cheeks
pink as you bantered with the vendors. you
questioned if moving to texas was
really worth it. was it? was it worth it when you
stuttered in your broken english, your w’s sounding like v’s, and
tried telling doctors that you hurt so much you couldn’t breathe?
under the layers of skin and worry i curled up inside of you, a
vigorous ball of arms and legs, until
water spilled out and you cried for help and relief and sanity—
‘xcept now, fifteen years later, you stare at me blankly with the opposite and ask
yourself why in the world you gave birth to me at all, why you haven’t stuffed me into a
ziploc bag and shoved me back where i came from.

Ashley Mo
The Harker School
Grade: 10


Middle School Winner

the game

public class main {

static void Start(String[] rules, String begin){

rules = {"The Game is a mind game in which the objective is to avoid thinking about The Game itself”, “Thinking about The Game constitutes a loss”, “Are you ready?”, “Press BEGIN”};

welcome / to the game. //

am i a player (or am i being played)?  

you are a / cog / in a much grander / machine / a dispensable unit / identical to / me / and they / and our / innumerable brethren.

if the machine is a god / and we are one with the machine; / we too / thus become / one with the gods. //

we are / the computer / the machine / the game; / we exist / in a matrix / an infinite sequence / of 1s and 0s / problems and solutions.  

we are / a generation / that can think only / through productivity / competition / isolation.

they used to say we have / our heads in the clouds / now we have our heads in / The Cloud. / give us a machine / and we can solve any problem. //

we are / containerized / within / the problem-solution binary / reproducing / the coded input-output practice / that renders our subjectivity / machinic. 

we are / geometricized / within cartesian planes / of non-thought / ensnared / in spaces flattened / by neoliberal discourse / a deadening pedagogy / emptied of value.

you are a mirror / and i / am you. / we are trapped / in a glass room / looking down / the ceiling is a window / into my soul. //

the screams have long ceased / to echo in my ears / these white walls / black bars / cruel sneers. / i am / a ghost / in the system / faceless / emotionless / void. 

take a look / inside the mirror / what do you see? / be warned: objects in mirror / may be closer / than they appear.

if human and machine / are one and the same / how / do we glitch / the system? / how / do we begin / to see ourselves / as more than machine / and more than human? //

let us / be the cyborg / shatter the system / from the inside / out / a poltergeist / in the castle / dead / but living / human / but not;  

let us / break / this game / create inputs without / outputs / paradoxes / with no solutions / leave gaps in the feedback loop / the function / incomplete.

step back / stop / think. //

defy / the shackles of / logic / regulation / propriety 

this is my snap / this is my liberation:

interrogate / the algorithm / question / its ways; //

let us / abort this game / and construct / a new one  

do not hide / do not seek / do not draw / do not fold / do not roll the die / do not move forward or backward

find out where you are then / and

void abort {



i lost the game (but so did u)


**sidenote: because “i” has one letter, “lost” has four letters, etc., “1434” is a shorthand way to express “i lost the game,” alternatively interpreted as “u lost the game”

Fiona Liu
Redwood Middle School
Grade: 8
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