Poetry Friday: Help Me Choose The Winners!

I've been judging the 2007 Fire Escape Teen Poetry Contests, and am overwhelmed by the quality and quantity of entries. I've managed to narrow the entries to those I think are the four best poems. I've already ranked them in my head, but I'd love your input before I award the prizes. Which of the poems after the polling box deserves first place in the contest?

The House at the Top of the Hill
Anugraha Heights

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by Sophia J.

In Chinese folklore, there was a boy who heard
upon his first day of calligraphy study
that one is a horizontal slash. Considering himself clever, he
deduced that each consecutive number
would merit an extra line,
and found no more need for education
not when the stream outside
and all its silver-throated fish enticed him,
and his fingers itched for the hook, the worm, the kill.

My parents, so eager to impound in me the validity of
"try hard, work long, no play"
went on to describe the old man with the cognomen of
"one thousand" who asked for his name
to be written on the creek bed. The character is,
after all, only three strokes long.

I often wondered at the image my mind produced
of this boy, of our similar mistakes,
our similar sorrows. In these dreams, his fingers are my own,
trembling as they complete line after line of meaningless scratch,
ten hundred streaks flooding away in the next day's rain.

The House at the Top of the Hill
by Alessandra S.

Where the grass hangs like hair over
The hot road
We watched the old men sitting in their
Fold out chairs in front of
Their houses, smoking
Like slow chimneys, puffing home made
Italian cigars clenched between
Ruddy-calloused fingers.

Living slower then the
Pace of the shadows moving across the piazza
And breathing lazily like
The monotonous humming of the crickets
We cupped our small hands to our mouths
And giggled when we passed
The deserted house at the top of the hill.

Listening for the ghosts whispering
Around the broken beams
Sounding like blades of grass rubbing
Their palms against each other.
We pulled our claves through the
Wavy grass up to the house.

The front doors hung from the frame
Like an old women’s teeth
Clinging to her gums.
Saturated boards
Felt the underside of our naked feet.

An empty bathtub in the middle of the room
Wondering at the decaying tile falling, falling
From the ceiling into its
White porcelain belly.
Stairs birthed from upper unexplored floors
Breathed dust clouds onto our ankles
As we stepped onto their chipping backs,

We explored wide rooms, where glassless windows
Stared at us like wide-eyed owls.
We wanted to hide behind invisible and non-existent furniture.

The sky began to drip the beginning of
Deaf to
Calling aunties and uncles
Mommies and daddies,
Words that had been born from the rock
And carved out of the crevices
To become Swiss.
The old men folded up their chairs and
The daddies went down to
The piazza to drink.

At the top of the hill
We cupped our small hands to our mouths
And giggled because hiding was fun.
Flash light beams darted amongst the trees
At the top of the hill
When they came looking for us.
When they found us in the bathtub
Bathing in a pile of tile

That house at the top of the hill
Where fiestas were held on sweaty nights
Held memories for my family.
Returning now to the
Town tucked away in the Swiss-Italian Alps
I hear those same ghosts whispering
But they are whispering ancestral secrets
Into the curve of my ear,
Whispers I will remember even when I go back home.

by Claire G.

Clack clack claack
My grandmother jumps like a little brown bird,
whirling, stepping over the hollow poles
bamboo traps snapping
at ochre ankles in rhythmic time.

Clack clack claack
Schoolmates peer from black almond eyes
she hops and twirls to the syncopated braap-brap-brap
of the Arisaka rifles.
She dances the tinikling
to the beat of the firing squad.

The gauzy symphonic overtures of the West
pour frantically from a phonograph’s brassy throat—
but its staccatos and tremolos are too, too thin
to quell the angry spit of gunfire.
Bullets hurry forward, then settle
abruptly in pounding chests of sons of the republic.

Still dancing…
and the morbid percussion ends.
Wisps of anguish escape the lips of mothers and wives,
extinguished by the wails of the phonograph.
One thousand tiny eyes watch as the souls of their brothers
rise into the pink smoke sky.

With an upward glance and a whispered prayer
my grandmother continues to hop and twirl
to the clack-clack of bamboo
and the reverberating beat of the firing squad.

Anugraha Heights
by Runjini R.

Anugraha Heights pulls me into her soft insides; I climb
her foreign steps, the humidity placing pools of perspiration
into the curves of my arms. I want to fly back home,
cry into my Ninja Turtles pillow, where my tears
don’t mix with sweat. But Apu Mami points out the Bay of Bengal –
(the little children splash in her body) buys me an Arun Orange
(the sticky taste erect on my tongue) and flipping through Tagore,
wants me to love my mother’s country.

Under the perfunctory prose of Seaward Road,
the sweating current of sunned children, beside
the pillars of Krishna Koval, around the monolithic
art towards Mahabulipuram, it grew.
Muted obedience leaning
slightly towards interest, in the walk between
India’s gangling history and aggressive peace, I wanted
(first) more Arun Orange, and s l o w l y
more recapitulations.

Later when the thunder rolled, the family
moved upstairs to Meghna’s room; I tossed
my X-Men toys off the bed, so small
in relation to the huge rain. It fell on the house and
exotic plants, but our exotic insides were licked dry
with Ramayana stories and Cadbury Chocolate Crèmes.
As the lights slapped out, we formed
the ethnic lump of family, and
I admired triumphantly for India,
how Texas never saw this kind of rain.

Afterwards , Chennai was wearing pinpricks of light
on her black sari, and I roared passively through her pleats
in the Maruti, inhaling the explicit want
for permanent family.

And when the tears of departure
became tears for return, I couldn’t imagine India
flowering jasmine in the spring without me,
the Amar Chitra Kathas stacked like
cheap napkins in the bookshelf
and the chirping sounds of incensed Indian women
in nightly soap operas
pounding through the six-storied flat.