Successful Student Poems: Ninth through Twelfth Grade

Poems featured on this page also appear in the 2017 volume of Cascadia, OPA’s student poetry journal.


i lost my heart in the sidewalk by the school
i forgot to pick it up when i flew to mars
(didn’t get there but i tried)
didn’t realize that no one else could see the stars in my eyes

i lost my hands because they fell off
i drew too many aliens on my wall and they just
and they drilled into my watch
and became the second hands
—tick, tock

i lost my voice
don’t know how, or why
one day i reached for it and it had flown away

i lost my mind
under the fluorescent light of the gas station
i left it in my painting of mars on the wall
and the rain washed it away
unleashed it into the colorless sky
(which looked just like the face of my watch)
and it left behind a blinking neon sign that screamed to the
rhythm of my lost heartbeat and no—

i never flew to space

Madeleine Adriance
St. Mary’s Academy, Portland: Tenth Grade
Sara Salvi, Teacher


I’ve heard
that writers
usually have the whole story
planned out
when they start the first page.
But I’m not like that.
Each sentence
is a discovery.
Like I’m unraveling a riddle.
When I begin a tale
I have no idea
where it will lead me
so I chase it until
we wind through
dark alleys,
down well swept streets,
into smoke clogged homes,
and screaming children
on slides and in sand boxes,
I find
the next sentence.
And each new word
is as much a surprise for me
as it is for you.

Eleanore Bainbridge
Eddyville Charter School, Eddyville: Eleventh Grade
Sarah Croy, Teacher

In Lieu of Sleep

By my experienced estimation,
It is now not nightfall and not daybreak in equal measure.
The monochrome of the wee hours yet again—
It seems like I spend half my time drowning in the pages of a
And the other half watching you.
You are mostly shadows at this hour
As though ink is pooling in the folds of your clothes,
In your eyes and the line of your mouth and the hollows of
your ears.
Moonlight is painted on with a sparing brush.
It catches a cheek,
The swoop of your neck,
The veins traversing the back of one hand.
You are distant, but not absent.
Night is tipping, but not overthrown.
I am weary, but not asleep.
Sometimes, I think we could stop time,
If we never spoke or moved—
Holding both joy and sorrow in the silence between us.
And, if that is no better than daybreak,
At the very least, it is no worse.

Gabrielle Cohn
Manningham Senior Level Honorable Mention
Wilson High School, Portland: Twelfth Grade
Joy Root, Teacher

Letting Go of a Balloon in the Pitch Black

There’s a girl perched at the edge
Of the world, falling slowly, barely tipping towards the
On the other side of the precipice in the sky.
And her pudgy legs and her pudgy arms are pulled towards
the ground
Across the other side of the air and that vast infinity.
And the men, and the women, and the people looking up
from below
Wonder why. The chain that pulls her wrist that pulls the rest
of her
Along the shortening path to the apex of her balance
And her willpower, and her bravery, made of the plastic
Silky fibers of a string tied tight around her hand. Gazing out,
Up, away from the little circle where she’ll land, even now
Filling up with blood and broken feathers.
In her sight is the brightest red balloon,
Filled to the finest rubber film, sickly pink
And shiny with the tension and the revolt of the rest of the sky
staring on,
Still tugging at her very frame as she tilts out over the empty.
And she won’t let go! cry the people staring from the ground.

When the balloon floats finally into the very edge of that hole
in the world,
And they look away, her arm goes limp and the
Knot slips from her fingers, and the balloon is
Let go.
She tips back to that last bit of solid ground beneath her
muddy, stained, sun bleached feet
And the clouds and the air around her exhale relief.
Someone whispers her name.

Zaidie Long
Catlin Gabel School, Portland: Tenth Grade
Brett Mathes, Teacher

black-eyed susan

she reaches out and sets the bud
in the pool of her palm
the other blossoms watch with yellow
faces as she unfolds its fingers
and spreads them across her own

he watches from across the broken road
as she plucks the petals—like notes from guitar strings—
lets them twirl above the pavement—sinking with the seconds
he wants to catch them before they fall
but instead just watches

she sprawls her body out across
the grass—legs folded, ankles stitched cross-ways—
she wants the rain to kiss her
but is struck with apprehension
at the thought of asking

he remembers when she used to fit
in his arms—apricot-cheeks, blueberry-toes—when the rain
would kiss them as they dug in the soil—he knew
all that she had been, but who was she now—
the rudbeckia was budding and it was almost her time

she hears the leaves whisper up above as the clouds
dribble upon her chest—the golden petals
lace themselves in her hair as she drinks in those spring
in the garden, her hand in his—apple-lips candied-laughter—
where he went, she would follow

he watches now as she sits up, and turns to him,
black eyes still full from across the broken road
she pauses, but then reaches for his hand—for it still fits,
perfectly, around hers.

Adam Nayak
Manningham Senior Level Fourth Place Winner
Cleveland High School, Portland: Eleventh Grade
Keri Troehler, Teacher

To Laugh is to Cry without Water

I once knew a girl who laughed tears without water,
her sound attacked the room and collapsed into walls,
like shoulders caving in upon the heart.
She never told me she was crying.

Her eyes so bright they peeled themselves from her face,
detached and floated eerily in the realm
between the sane and the insane,

harsh, washed-out, fluorescent lighting
caught her hair on fire, pulling each piece into focus
as stiff, coarse strands of straw.

She burned as she laughed,
back to wooden pole, wood to wood,
cut a tree and kill it for warmth.

I once knew a girl who laughed tears without water
as her older brother was found behind bars
for stabbing another man with a knife,

My brain, unknowing of connections,
danced to the sound of heroes in storybooks
whose swords fell onto flesh,
and drew back without blood.

Sometimes I wonder,
How much of me catches fire as I burn?
How much of my flesh is human enough to burn?

I once knew a girl who laughed her tears,
until she dyed her hair: purple
(the burning stopped),
And she started looking sideways at the ground
instead of up.

Our eyes still meet in passing,
And mouths curve up in kindness.

Yet, I can still hear her laughter.

Anisha RajBhandary
Lincoln High School, Portland: Twelfth Grade
Bill Lynch, Teacher