Equal by Anuoluwapo Adeoye

      • Equal


        Anuoluwapo Adeoye

        Grade 8, Poetry, Teacher Megan Kelly, Albright Middle School, Alief ISD

        POEM 1: Black isn’t just a color

        The men in blue
        are the ones who pursue
        The protectors meant to protect
        are the ones who wouldn’t accept
        Black is a color you can respect

        They heard when we wept
        while they stepped on our necks
        They refuse to live by the truth that we belong here too
        The land our forefathers tilted through
        They have seemed to forget black is a color too

        When we wail
           I can’t
        I can’t
        They don’t stop till we're deceased
        and have no more emotions to set free
        They seem to forget
        black has feelings too

        Another life to mourn
        tired of the same words
        “If they complied”-- “if they didn’t resist”
        ‘cause no matter what we do
        We’re still a target, always a threat
        because they always forget
        Black can be something too

        POEM 2: Why us?

        They seem to forget we exist
        maybe because their dark eyes
        look past our strangled cries
        And we can't help but question why?

        Why must we mourn for our lost brothers and sisters?
        Why must mothers and fathers cry out for justice,
        over matters that are senseless?
        How many times must we watch the news and see others defenseless?
        Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, grandmas, grandpas, nieces, nephews
        that have been through the same cycle that seems endless
        Why must our brains look for an explanation far past the existence of the universe
        Why us?
        When there is no explainable answer we begin to question
        How many times must we shed tears for our lost families?
        Until our tears dry and we say goodbye
        How long do we have before we go on repeat for the next black life taken?
        Why must heartbroken mothers ask, why my baby?

        Why must we watch the playback painfully?
        The repeat of his last words
             I can’t
        I can’t
        Why must we riot before justice is served?
        Why must we protest before they understand?
        Why must we demand before we are set free?

        But then we receive our answer, the only answer they are able to provide
        “we’re not the same”
        there’s one thing we do know, we’ll always be the same
        because the same blood flows through our veins
        The only difference is--
        We have the voices of the unheard
        But there’s still one question that has been asked from the beginning
        Why Us?

        POEM 3: Promises

        Promise; an assurance that one will do a particular thing
        We know that promises are as laws that must be followed
        Just as laws can’t be broken
        Promises must be fulfilled

        We’re tired of the same results
        We’re tired of having to beg for our lives
        We are numb our hope is stolen; broken
        We know what we deserve
        But they’ve broken their promises

        Where is the equality that was promised in the declaration of independence?
        that was never present for our descendants
        They say all men are created equal
        but we all know in this story there’s no sequel

        Where are the unalienable rights that we were endowed by our creator?
        that life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness are among
        How can we fulfill the life in these rights
        when lives are being taken left and right
        Or where is the justice established in the preamble
        when black lives are being handled like mammals
        Where is the freeness in liberty
        when he was held while he sobbed
             I can’t
        I can’t
        And where was the smile in happiness
        when his family wept with frowns on their faces

        “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union”
        Where is the we in people when we’re not being treated equally as one?
        How can we call ourselves united when we are divided?
        How can we be perfect when there is no order in the union and we can't accept our differences?

        POEM 4: America

        Afflicted, lost in pain and troubles, shattered dreams and broken pasts

        Mourning over lost souls with no insight on the future

        Everyone sorrowful and tired of the same cycle

        Riots here and there never ending until justice we deserve is served

        I      I can’t
          I can’t
        runs through our minds, fearful of our own tomorrow

        Can’t help but question our differences, and why we went through all the struggles from the beginning

        An answer that has been awaited; because you are different; we reply yes but the only difference is the color in our skin that is a crime

        POEM 5: Differences

        What is the difference between us?
        Other than the melanin in our skin
        That seems to be a sin
        Or the darkness in our pores
        That seems to make us bare

        What are our differences?
        When we all have the same blood flowing in our veins
        Or where are our differences when we all cry out in vain?
        Where are our differences when we all have
        the same diseases, the same illnesses, and death is inevitable for everyone no matter how we go
        We know our differences because we’re the ones who mourn over dead souls
        We know our differences because we're the ones who were enslaved from the start
        Never seeing the sun of freedom
        We know our differences because we the ones who watched him scream
             I can’t
         I can’t
        We know our differences because we’re the ones who mourned over his lost soul
        We know our differences because we’re the ones who protested for his justice
        We know our differences because we’re the ones who wouldn’t be set free
        We know our differences because we’re the ones who weren’t understood

        We know were the same no matter our differences because
        We breathe the same air, we swim the same waters, we walk the same land, we drive the same roads,
        we live in the same world but in different realms
        Our differences are different than theirs but there only is one difference that shouldn’t matter
        the melanin in our skin that seems to be a sin

      Mirage by Ethan Coraza

      • Mirage


        Ethan Coraza

        Grade 8, Flash Fiction, Teacher Lisa Liessmann, Krimmel Intermediate School, Klein ISD

        I stood there, silent.

        Situated upon the mellow beach with no one else in sight, the gentle gusts of warm, humid air tickle the tip of my nose along to the back of my legs. Gazing off into the distance of the summer-night beach, I observe as the golden goliath of gas slowly falls into the depths of the torrid horizon. It almost seems as if it is drowning. I take a deep breath of the ocean breeze, yet my lungs feel smothered with wads of water.

        A few minutes into staring blankly at the sinking sun, I turn back to the direction from whence I came and start to tread the sidewalk back yonder. I begin to let out a somewhat lengthy yawn as the night arose, stretching my arms out and closing my eyes for a brief moment. Reopening my eyes, I perceive a figure standing across the road: a twisted black silhouette of a human figure. Looked familiar. Once blinking, the figure disappears. “...” I stop and stay silent.

        Listening, I hear nothing— only the soft howls of the oceanside winds.

        "Don't ignore me."

        I freeze. The voice is louder than if someone was right next to me. It's always clear; it always feels like someone is controlling my thoughts, putting words into my brain. All I can do is try to resist, but it always gets through to me.

        "We're coming for you."

        I heard the voice behind me. Turning around I saw nothing there. I pinch my skin to force myself back to reality, although voices still flood my mind. Why? Why me? What have I done? Nothing, yet I am plagued by voices and VOICES. All I can hear is them. Their sick, grimy, ghostly voices repeatedly hollering in my head from episode to episode.

        “Come with us.”

        Another one, I ignore it. I search around myself to find no one. A few minutes pass, and I start to calm down. Anxiously taking a deep breath of the sea’s salty aroma, I notice everything with much more intent. My chest lifts with air rich in fishy fragrance, reaching the climax of the breath and pausing for a single moment, almost like the peak of a roller coaster, and steadily my chest drops back down in a sense of rather assurance.

        “Join us.”

        I take a double-take of my surroundings. Twisting my head behind myself, I catch sight of several of the similar crooked figures. Promptly I crank my head back forward to be petrified in place. Hundreds surround me. As if in a haze, they all seem to be shifting into familiar figures, yet simultaneously are still too vague to appear mortal. As they move around, their murky contours seem to fade from themselves like the fumes of shadows. It feels as if each one is 
        glaring at me with a sinister smile; yet, they have no face at all. All of their devious whispers continuously trickle into my mind with no end in sight. My heart palpitating, I close my eyes. I cover my ears.

        “Obey us.”

        Inevitably the familiar sensation of perpetual paranoia dawns upon the total mess of my current state of mind. I fervently crouch down into a ball position: with my chest contacting my knees, my eyes shut stiff, and my hands ferociously slammed onto the sides of my ears— forever holding tightly. The voices have yet to cease. Although my mind does not stop to think, my heart stings with emotion: rage, resentment, envy, grievance, and regret. Tears swiftly stream down my face, and the grip of my hands around my ears slowly loosens. My soul throbs in pain.

        I give up.

        The moon has arisen. The bluish hue of the dim-lit moonshine gleams on me in the summer night. In a forfeited state, I turn to the seaside and trek towards the shore. Every step taken in the gravelly sand pains me. Walking with the shadows, I start to feel free of my emotions— free of my body. Every step I take, the voices become louder, louder, and LOUDER. I don't care. I decide to become one of them. I've listened too lots; I've obeyed countless times; I join forever— forever in my mind. I reach the gloomy ocean shore. Staring into the glimmering water, I see no one, only the silhouette of a broken being.


        I take a step, another step, and then another. The water creeps up my legs; the ocean engulfs me whole.
        I hear no more voices; silence.
        I see no more figures; blind.
        I feel no more sensations; suicide.

      The "Waterfall" by David Liu

      • The "Waterfall"


        David Liu

        Grade 9, Personal Essay & Memoir, Teacher Kristen Bird, Kinkaid School

        The piano hummed with the pompous tune of the Polish march. The honey of music effortlessly dripped from my fingers, sweetening the melodies, and soothing my roiling anxieties. The vibrant melodies and colorful motifs of the Polonaise burst in the small practice room with its manila walls and gray chairs. As the last chord drained from the room, I stood, ready for the performance.

        I left the practice room and entered the lobby, where my mother had been waiting for the past two hours. This was my last chance. If I didn’t place in the top three, I would quit piano. Chinese parents, including mine, believe that if an activity doesn’t bear fruit in the form of medals or trophies, it’s useless to pursue. After a brief talk about the dynamics of the pieces, we walked to the recital hall, the room where I had twice received honorable mention, otherwise known by Chinese American kids as honorable loser.

        The door to the recital hall opened and a woman with the list of names stepped out, cueing me to enter the recital hall.

        My leather-sheathed shoes clipped heavily across the performing stage. Breathlessly, I bowed before the judges and took to the piano-bench. All I could hear was the squeaks of the wooden bench echoing throughout the auditorium. I could hardly control my nerves. Hands trembling, the notes tumbled from my mind in a deluge, crashing down onto the keyboard. My fingers hacked at the keys; it was a clubbing match between my hands and the piano. I took a quiet, deep breath and told myself, “Calm down. Think about the emotion.” My fingers, with new-found grace, darted lightly from key to key, finishing with a nearly perfect scale. Sweaty grip leaving the keyboard, I stood in front of the judges and gave a deep, sheepish bow.

        I knew it wasn’t good enough. I received my third honorable mention. In the back of the car, I fought back tears, anticipating my mother’s decision. Sure enough, my mom declared, “I suggest you quit piano.”

        A bitter feeling surged within me. I thought of my favorite piece Etude Op.10: No.1, nicknamed the “Waterfall” for its rapid arpeggios. Like its namesake, the piece is a dizzying, beautiful mass of acclivities, ascents, inevitable descent, and eventual calm flow. Then, I thought of Piano Concerto No.2 by Rachmaninoff, a piece dominated by grand chords with a touch of grandeur and lyrical themes full of longing. I also thought of the Heroic Polonaise in A-flat major. Despite the title “Heroic Polonaise,” the piece's seemingly imposing architecture also has underlying elements of regret and clumsy angst. I loved piano because I saw my personality reflected in so many of the pieces.

        I stopped private piano lessons and competitions, but I continued to play my favorite music pieces whenever I had time. Without the pressure of winning a medal or a trophy, I immersed myself in the beauty of music. Music, which used to cause stress, helped me relax and rest. When I felt nervous or distracted studying for a test, I would play whatever struck me at that moment, whether it be the jovial boogie of the Entertainer, my hands dancing from octave to octave, or the rigid tunes of In the Hall of the Mountain King, my fingers hammering the metallic notes onto the piano, granting me emotive release. Returning to my desk, I was filled with more vigor and confidence than before, my posture straight, and my mind focused.

        With my newly-gained confidence, I volunteered to play piano at my school’s book fair. When I started to play in the large gym, it was already full of students, teachers, and parents with young kids busy walking through the book aisles, browsing their favorite books. I smiled, my hands jittery with excitement, as the first note rang throughout the gym. I started with the most relaxing piece, Moonlight Sonata 1st Movement. I focused on the music and let my hands flow across the keys and my body sway to the melody.

        It was the storm of applause and cheer after my last piece that pulled me back to the reality, and it was then when I noticed the crowd around me had grown from a handful to a few dozen. As I met the smiles of book fair attendees, I saw that my playing had shared the feelings of tranquility and joy that I savored with my school’s community members. I later discovered that my mom had recorded and posted a video of the book fair crowd with the “Waterfall” as the background music. While I swayed on the stage, many of the book fair attendees hummed along as they milled around the gym, and some swayed along with me.

        My piano experience taught me to chase my passion instead of medals. As I entered high-school, I’ve started to develop a new passion— cross-country running. I am not one of the top runners in my school’s varsity team, and I may never win a medal. I run simply because I enjoy it. I treasure the time I spend with my team, sweating and running together. Every time my heart and muscles cry for relaxation, the “Waterfall” plays in my mind, and the melody push me forward.

      The Devil's Decree by Haylee Maxwell

      • The Devil's Decree


        Haylee Maxwell

        Grade 12, Poetry, Teacher Amani Stephens, Deer Park High School-S Campus, Deer Park ISD

        The odor—an addiction perhaps?
        It suffocates
        and the heart, it rakes.

        Did it know he had a family?
        A blind eye, I suppose.
        When the odor comes, he goes…

        I hated his shiny, clear bottles.
        The way they clink and chime.
        They knew it was a crime
        And so did he.

        He’s gone when his eyes turn ablaze,
        and I pray he doesn’t catch my gaze.
        I run and run
        Far from this place,
        A touch of grace,
        Some space,
        For me
        To run to
        But the odor
        Gripped me at the door.

        The slap was chilled like winter,
        The sting lasted longer.
        I longed for my mother
        A touch that was warmer.

        She said he loved us long ago
        Before the snow and hell bestowed

        We left that home before he showed
        We were now alone.


        When I returned those years ago
        He was gone,
        But the signs were enough for us
        To remember.

        The smell was first,
        Jack Daniels and Johnnie Walker—was that what he had?
        They walked down the halls with me
        Holding my hands
        The walls were stained yellow
        And would chip at a touch,
        It reminded me of our past.
        Of me.

        His savior lay dead
        At the foot of the bed.
        Pristine. His prized possession.
        Left alone.

        The long tube of metal stung
        As I touched it,
        I felt off.
        I felt sick.

        The bathroom smelled better,
        Lavender and vanilla.
        The last trace of my mother.
        He still craved for her.

        I dipped my face down
        And splashed it clean,
        Rubbed and rubbed
        Till it all was all
        I looked up, then screamed,
        There he was, facing me.

        Who was I kidding?
        I can’t break free.
        These hands I’m holding,
        Are haunting me.

        They’re seeking revenge
        On the devils decree,
        But he is not gone

        He's all around me

      Perceptions of Disaster: "White Noise" by Talia Martin

      • Perceptions of Disaster: "White Noise"


        Talia Martin

        Grade 11, Critical Essay, Teacher Kyle Dennan, St. John's School

             When we witness disaster, one of two thoughts often float through our heads: that could never happen to me or that could just as easily have been me. “Look! Did you see that?” millions of people exclaim each day as they drive past car crashes on the side of the road, heads turning in awe. More often than not, I’m one of the people that denies the possibility of danger, convincing myself that I’ll never be in a flipped car on the side of the road. To this date, I’ve never actually been in that flipped car, but I know the feeling: heart pounding, breath quickening, blood rushing.

             The sun had only disappeared about an hour earlier, but the sky was as dark as midnight. Car headlights flashed past, their off-white gaze illuminating the brownish-yellow slush on the road. We were supposed to be on vacation, an average family going skiing over winter break. Mom, dad, brother, sister. We needed a ride home from dinner, so my Dad called an Uber and we waited, shivering as icy snow fell around us. The Uber finally pulled up and we piled in, sighing as the warmth enveloped our bodies. I don’t know his name, but our driver’s face that night remains unforgettable. Brown hair, brown eyes, brown beard, brown coat. An average Uber driver for an average day. A picture of him standing on the side of the road, phone to his ear, is seared into my mind. We pulled away from the restaurant, our driver setting up his Google Maps for the way back. I leaned back into my seat, the radio playing music in a language I couldn’t understand, my breath leaving a foggy circle on the window, Christmas lights passing through my peripheral vision. I snap out of my post-meal stupor to the sound of my Dad screaming, the awkward silence that usually comes with riding in an Uber broken. “Slow down, slow down, SLOW DOWN!” his voice increasing in volume.

             There are so many different types of disaster: pandemics, fires, car crashes, and although some choose to deny it, we are all naturally intrigued by these crises. Who was involved? Was anyone hurt? Where did it happen? Maybe this is because we crave knowledge. If someone asks if we saw what happened on the news last night, we want to sound knowledgeable, we want to say yes. It could also be that the media has molded our minds into those that are constantly listening for the next dramatic event. All of this may be true, but reading Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise led me to understand that disaster stands out, unlike other news, because each one is unique, adding another element to our lives that we would never have suspected. DeLillo’s White Noise illustrates and my experience confirms that we are fascinated by disaster because it interrupts the monotony of everyday life and gives us a sense of security, but only if we are not directly impacted by the event.

             Since our lives often fall into routine, Jack’s actions in the novel demonstrate how disaster is almost thrilling because it satisfies our need for brain stimulation, without having to be in immediate danger ourselves. For example, Jack and Heinrich spend one evening on the sidewalk watching the Insane Asylum burn down like a movie scene. As they admire the firefighters, “a woman in a fiery nightgown walk[s] across the lawn,” Jack, Heinrich, and the other bystanders “gasp, almost in appreciation” (228). This group of people on the sidewalk are drawn to a scene of death and destruction because it satisfies their need for variety in everyday life. Continuous “white noise” fills our lives, and disaster represents a moment in which the “white noise” stops. The woman in the nightgown is aweing because her pain is happening in real time, right before their eyes, unable to go unnoticed. In fact, Jack tells Vernon that people take vacations “to escape the death that exists in routine things” (237). For Jack, vacation and disaster are similar constructs because they allow us to escape the mind-numbing routines built into the framework of our existence. Jack would rather witness death, breaking him out of this daze, than theoretically die slowly amidst daily routine. Back at the fire, “a sharp and bitter stink fill[s] the air, overpowering the odor of smoke and charred stone,” causing the crowd to break up (229). In this moment, the mood of the scene changes dramatically. The second that this smell reaches everyone's noses, they become a part of the disaster. Jack, Heinrich, and everyone else flee the scene, afraid that death is coming for them too. Once the disaster becomes personal, fear replaces fascination.

             Disaster not only allows Jack to escape life’s monotony, but also gives him a feeling of security. As Jack and his family leave town during the airborne toxic event, they come across the scene of a car crash and “pass silently by, feeling curiously reverent, even uplifted by the sight of the heaped cars and fallen people” (119). Jack and his family do not find happiness in watching others die; instead, the misfortunes of others make them a little less afraid of their own mortality. A sense of security is created: they are healthy and alive, while others are suffering and dying. This is partially why disaster fascinates people, knowing that they remain unaffected in a time where others are in peril. Later on in the novel, Murray addresses this notion of “life security” when he explains to Jack “how exciting it is, in theory, to kill a person in direct confrontation. If he dies, you cannot. To kill him is to gain life-credit” (277). Murray knows that murder does not literally add years onto the killer’s life; rather, he addresses the powerful feeling that might come with committing the crime, the same feeling that Jack expierenced as he drove by the car crash. Knowing that they still live while another dies, especially as a result of a dangerous situation, proves to both Jack and Murray that they are survivors. Up until this point, Jack is not able to classify the feeling, but whenever disaster occurs in his lifetime, he is comforted by his ability to stay alive. It is not just the adults who experience this fascination, Jack describes how his daughter Steffie is “brought close to tears by a sitcom husband arguing with his wife,” but is captivated by “documentary clips of calamity and death” (64). Even the children, who are theoretically too young to be bored with their lives, are engrossed by disaster. Jack and Babette are surprised by this, and although the children’s fascination may stem from their inherent curiosity, they experience the same feelings as Jack. Obsession with disaster can only increase because it creates a false sense of “life security” to witnesses.

             I have often noted disaster from a distance, and have never given it a second thought until reading White Noise. I may not be fascinated in the same way that Jack is, but I can recall times where I turned my head to observe the scene of a crash. That Uber ride in December was the first time I’d ever been in a crash myself. There wasn’t an ounce of curiosity or fascination in my mind at the time, no security, only fear.

             Windows shattered, airbags popped, and smoke filled my lungs as our car ran through that red light and smashed into another vehicle going forty miles per hour. My body flung forward against my seatbelt, and I genuinely thought I was going to die. “Get out of the car!” yelled my dad. I frantically jerked the car door handle and stumbled out into the winter night, gasping as I inhaled the sharp, cold, fresh air. It took me a minute to fully process what had happened, so after running across the intersection to the sidewalk and my parents checking to make sure my brother and I were alright, I broke down in tears. A fireman handed me a blanket, and I looked up to find the site surrounded by police officers and ambulances. I have no idea who called 911. Our driver was down the block from us, having a heated conversation with someone on the other end of his cellphone. After talking to some police officers about the incident, my family and I
        were given seats in a firetruck and driven back to our hotel.

             All of a sudden it was over. By the end of the week I was back in Houston, back in my own bed, back in the comfort of my room. The sight of the incident was miles away, the moment we crashed long gone, but the fear was still there. For the next year, I wouldn’t ride in the front seat of our car. My heart would pound every time I got into an Uber. Although the crash inflicted lasting effects on me that still remain vivid in my mind, it is strange to think that I can’t even remember what happened to the man in the other car.

             Although Jack encounters disaster more frequently than most, we all have varying degrees of fascination with these events. Some people are so intrigued by death that it turns them into sadists, while many others barely notice this inherent human trait. Similarly, some people, like Jack, become obsessed with the notion of “life security”, while others cannot begin to understand what it means. I don’t think I’ll ever look at a car crash the same way again because I know what it feels like to be on both sides of the disaster. Witnessing a terrible moment cannot compare to experiencing it. My car crash, like the moment when Jack smells chemicals from the fire, represents a turning point in which disaster shifts from something that could never happen to us to something coming at us from all sides. Once the windows shatter and the airbags pop, the sublime facade of disaster is broken.