Awards announced for annual Rotary and Summit Daily Poetry and Short Story contest for students
May 30, 2018
Awards were presented to winners of the annual Rotary and Summit Daily Poetry and Short Story contests on May 15. From left to right are Meg Boyer (Rotary/Summit Daily), Abigail Wineland (third place for her story “To Fly”), Audrey Anderson (second place for her story “Happily Ever After“), Freya Schlaefer (first place for her story Harlem:March 19, 1936 and first place for her poem “they say science is the great enemy of poetry”), Onistie Mills (third place for her poem “18 in 45”), Nathan Berry (second place for his poem “Words”) and Marcy Woodland (Rotary).
Read the winning entries below.
1st place story: Harlem: March 19, 1936
I walk out of the precinct office on Eighth Avenue, tucking my head to my chest against the driving rain and wind. Usually, I wouldn't dare venture out in Harlem in this weather, but it's my job every week to go down to the Cotton Club and wrench some dough out of the gangster Owney Madden's sticky fingers to keep the NYPD out of his crooked business.
I wrap my coat more tightly around my shoulders and peer up into the clouds. Pewter. But, there, in the distance, the clouds are darker, almost black.
I shiver and hurry away from the relative safety and slumping structure of the 28th precinct office, into the depths of Central Harlem.
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There's a lot to hate about Harlem. For one, it's never quiet. At all hours, on every block of every street, the noise is constant. Children howl insufferably, music blasts at every hour, screams and cries litter the air like the rain that pounds down around me, It's unbearable.
For another, the stench of Harlem is completely revolting. The stretch of Harlem that the 28th precinct oversees is so deep within the central part of the neighborhood that the scent of trash, of human waste and gunfire, of burnt food and open fire, of crime and violence, permeates it to the last inch.
Of course, these elements are only products of what's really the most repulsive part of Harlem: its inhabitants.
They spill out of buildings, dozens of ragged, dirty children playing in the streets. For some, it's late enough that the parents and older siblings are home from work or school. Others roam in gangs, vagrants preying on members of other gangs and whoever they think deserves it.
The people who live in Harlem are lazy, unable to get a decent job or pull themselves out of the hellhole they're living in. They live like animals, in a seething pit of repulsive poverty, demeaning crime, and violence. Maybe it's the color of their skin, maybe it's their culture, but this is how all of them are. Not one of them escapes the tint of their class and neighborhood. They're all just one generation after another of criminals and vagrants.
They're all the same.
As I reach the edge of Central Harlem, the warm lights of the Cotton Club seem to push away the darkness of the rest of the neighborhood. The rain pounds like so many hammers on the pavement. The clouds above look darker, more dismal. The storm is growing teeth, with thunder booming in the distance and lighting illuminating the skeletons of buildings in horrible flashes. I rush down the rest of Lenox and into the elaborately decorated double doors of the club.
The doorman recognizes and greets me. "Here to talk to Mr. Madden?"
"I'll inform him that you've arrived. In the meantime, wait in the club. You'll be retrieved when he can receive you."
I stand in the back of the club wringing out my coat, in a vain attempt to shake some of the rain out of it.
A loud noise from the stage startles me. It's the drummer, warming up. The band is filtering back onstage to start their last set of the evening.
The piano player enters and starts warming up too, his fingers dark against the brightly blank ivory keys. The rest of the band melts out from behind a curtain onto the stage at the front of the room. Three saxophones, two trumpets, a trombone. The guitarist ambles partway onstage before slipping backstage, calling after someone hidden behind the Greek-style columns and plantation-painted backdrop. The bass player seems to appear out of nowhere, suddenly standing in the middle of the stage holding his instrument: a vague, voluptuous shape in the dim lights.
The singer takes her place at the microphone, wearing a beautiful white flapper dress adorned with bright feathers and pasted-on jewels that glimmer almost like real gems in the low light of the club. Her eyes are done up dramatically in the style of Egypt, lined in dark kohl and surrounded with paint.
It's Laila, a singer I know from my weekly trips. She has a voice like an angel, and I can't say I'm disappointed that I get to watch her perform. Her skin's the color of coffee, and her hair's like silk. It's easy to see why Madden keeps her on, watching her croon at the audience.
The band starts in, and so does Laila. Her voice reminds me of fire, warm, like coals glowing in a fireplace. It's husky and low, soft and sweet, and I'm completely taken in by it. I'm so busy listening to her that I don't notice one of Madden's bodyguards standing behind me until he shakes my shoulder.
"You the copper to see Mr. Madden?" the goon grunts.
As I stand to follow him, the song ends, and the audience erupts in cheers. I glance back at the stage to see Laila smiling and bowing towards the crowd before slipping backstage.
I duck under a curtain on one side of the Club, finding myself in a backstage hallway. Directly in front of me is the door to an office, the window made of frosted glass bearing simply the word "Owner".
"Wait here." The goon hefts his gun and disappears into the room.
As I stand in the hallway, Laila passes, still in her costume, presumably headed to her dressing room. When she sees me, she breaks out in a grin and stops. The gems on her dress flicker, and the feathers shake and bobble with her movements.
"How's the bleeding Madden goin', Sarge?" she asks, voice light.
I smirk back. "Oh, you know. Same old, same old. Dough sticks to his fingers like flypaper."
She laughs musically. "Wouldn't I know. Half the time he tries to pay me sourdough, 'stead of the real thing."
"Shouldn't be doing that, from what I saw of you earlier. You're the best scatter in this whole speakeasy. If he doesn't pay you right, you'll split and the club'll collapse."
"Nah, I won't split. Madden's a pill, but I like it here. Besides, how'd I see you if I left this joint?"
"Sergeant?" a voice calls. "Mr. Madden will see you now."
"Good luck, Sarge." Laila turns back down the hall.
"See ya next week, doll."
I slide my jacket back on and walk into the office.
Later, as I step back outside, I realize that, though the rain has turned to swirling fog, the clouds overhead remain dark and heavy. I take a deep breath, relishing in the fresh scent of the rain that seems to mask the disgusting scents of Harlem.
Then I catch one smell, stronger than the others. Closer.
Something is burning.
I take off down Lenox Avenue, following the scent. I have to see, have to know what's burning.
I see another member of the force, a lieutenant, also running down Lenox.
"Lieutenant Jackson," I call, "What's going on?'
Jackson jogs over to me.
"Some damn vagrants are burning the city down."
"Some bastard got caught nicking a pocketknife at a dimestore and got beat half to death by a clerk. There's some rumor going around that the little bastard got offed, and now the whole damn neighborhood's rioting."
We run for several blocks before stopping in front of a burning storefront. The scene is chaos.
Around a dozen people, all men, all clearly locals, are standing in front of the fire. I see one throw a brick through a nearby window and run in circles, howling like some ridiculous monkey. Two people are fighting in front of the fire, ghostly silhouettes illuminated by the furious blaze.
A larger crowd of bystanders, about ten feet from the main riot, is watching the progression of the violence in fascination. Some of the crowd seems to be egging on the smaller protest, but most of them are simply staring at the fire and slowly elevating violence, shock painted clearly on their features.
Jackson decides that he has had enough with watching, and slides his gun out of his holster.
"Stop! Stop this in the name of the law!" he shouts.
One of the rioters finally sees the two of us standing shoulder-to-shoulder, notices our uniforms.
His eyes go wide and he shouts to the crowd of rioters, "Coppers!"
Jackson swears and levels his handgun at the crowd. He begins to fire.
As the rioters begin to scatter, Jackson fires at random into the fleeing group. Some of them run towards the bystanders to one side. Others scatter in the opposite direction. Several run past the fire, deeper into a nearby alleyway.
As Jackson continues to fire, he aims at the rioters who are fleeing in the direction of the bystanders. They scream and scatter as well, the majority of them running back up the street that Jackson and I came from.
Jackson fires until he empties his clip. By the time he reloads, the scene is abandoned. He raises his gun to fire again.
I lay a hand on his arm. "Jackson. Don't bother. They're gone."
Jackson lowers his gun. I scan the street, searching for stragglers. And that's when I see the body.
It's a woman, that much is clear. She lies in the street in a simple dark dress, the ragged cloth betraying her as a typical resident of Harlem. Her skin is light for the neighborhood, but still chocolate-colored.
I don't remember seeing her among the rioters. All of them were men. Jackson has shot a bystander.
I take several steps towards her body. Then, as I approach the woman lying spread-eagled in the street, I realize something horrible.
I know her.
I remember how bright and vivacious she was onstage, the glint of her eyes, of the gems on her dress. Her lovely voice echoes in my head like the call of a ghost.
I kneel beside her body, brush the hair out of her eyes. Her stage paint is smudged now, her eyes open and glassy.
I shut her eyelids with my thumbs.
By this time, Jackson has joined me at the body.
I find my voice. "Why did you shoot her? She was just watching. She didn't do anything wrong."
"I wasn't aiming for her in particular. Just at the crowd. Besides, what does it matter? She would have done something sooner or later. They're all the same."
His words echo in my head. Forty minutes and one dead singer ago I thought so, too, I think. As I realize what he is saying, what I believed this morning, a drop of water lands on Laila's forehead.
The sky is crying for her, too.
The next morning dawns clear and crisp, the sky a faded cerulean. The storm has blown out in the night. A brisk breeze flutters behind me as I walk towards the 28th precinct office in plainclothes. I carry a brown paper bag, my uniform folded neatly inside, and something small clutched in my other hand.
I approach the desk at the front of the room, overseen by a kindly older man named James. He greets me, and I smile in response, placing my bag on the counter in front of him.
"So, what can I do for you today-"
His voice falters as I open my hand to reveal my police badge. I set it on the table in front of him.
James gapes at me. I understand why, of course. With the economy as it is, quitting a job is near suicide. But I just can't stay.
As I walk away from the circulation desk, I hear James behind me, begging for an explanation. But all I notice is how much lighter I feel without a badge on my chest or in my hand.
I stop at a florists' before I leave Harlem. Laila's funeral is today. She always loved daffodils.
1st place poem: “they say science is the great enemy of poetry”
they say that science is the great enemy of poetry
and yet science is the creator of the greatest poetry i know
science tells us
that the atoms inside of each of us were likely once in the body of julius caesar
people of consequence and people of no consequence
but people nonetheless
we contain the atomic mass of these beings within ourselves
but we use it to become something unique.
is that not poetry?
science tells us
that each day billions of our cells die
and billions more are born
each day we die
then we are born again
millions of times over
is that not poetry?
science tells us
that when we die our atoms will be remade a thousand times
we will become grass
and everything in between
the matter that we once claimed will never be destroyed
only recycled infinitely into everything in the universe
is that not poetry?
science tells us
that love is mere illusion
chemistry on the brain
that the only truths in this world are observational facts
and yet it also tells us
that without human love
our species would fail
is that not poetry?
science tells us
that every detail is important
that all things must be observed in their entirety
that we must never overlook anything
as those details which appear so insignificant
may in fact be the key to our understanding
everything we do not know
is that not poetry?
they say that science is the great enemy of poetry
but i believe that the true enemy of poetry
is the destruction of creativity
2nd place story: “Happily Ever After“
When I was younger my mother always told me about true love. Not directly, of course, I was still just a kid and like every mother before her, she didn't want me to grow up anytime soon. She told me through books, like Cinderella and Snow White among the many others books involving the princess and her prince. You see my true love wasn't about having your prince save you in the one huge dire situation the princess got herself into. Snow White from the evil queen, sleeping beauty from the dragon, Cinderella from her stepmother and sisters, you get the idea. To me it's about the prince being there to support them after it's all said and done, to be there to comfort them after the villains left an emotional scar. True love is the happily ever after of a story. And I was yet to find mine.
Unlike these characters from these books, unfortunately, I'm not a princess. I've never had a dire situation, and though I hate to remind myself, I've never had a prince. I'm turning thirty soon and I feel like I'm running out of time to find true love. Sure, everyone says I still have time, but all my friends that say that are either engaged or married. Of course, I've found guys who I think could have been the one, my prince, but as always they have girlfriends or just enjoy playing with my feelings. Sometimes I even doubt the existence of love, let alone true love.
You see, I'm a writer. I write scripts for the dramas that are shown on TV and my name is Emily Tran. I'm not really a full-fledged writer either; I'm an assistant writer although I hate to say it. You see it was always my dream to become a writer, ever since I graduated high school till when I graduated college. So far I've helped write a few dramas but they've never really made it big, so my name as a writer has never really gotten out there. I write romantic dramas they're my way of making up for my lack of true love, stupidly enough. But, even though I've never experienced it it's still fun to write about. Anyhow, even though these scripts are my fantasy they are, however, just scripts. At this point, I doubted if love, let alone true love, even existed, to begin with.
I slipped my laptop into my bag and thanked the barista for the coffee. I had to be at work in fifteen minutes and unfortunately, it was a twenty-minute walk, so if I was going to be late might as well get something out of it. I took the coffee and walked out of the coffee shop, Sadie's coffee, it was the small shop in the city but it was by far my favorite. Sometimes I even wrote it in my scripts, though it always seemed to get cut out. I started speed walking to lessen the time of my commute. I know I talked about how to get something out of being late, but the later I was the more trouble I could get into. I sped up my pace, carefully watching my coffee cup as it began lapping out the small hole on the top. I stared intently as the caramel colored beverage slightly erupted through that small hole; my thoughts began to drift away. I knew it wasn’t my place to think, because I was just the assistant writer for the drama, but I couldn’t help it. If Scarlet married David, the plot would remain stable; the audience would most likely be bored. Could we pull the amnesia card? Ex-lover? No, the ideas were too mainstream, every drama on TV has seen those. We needed something new, something fresh in order to succeed. But what?
I felt an object ram in my shoulder, although the impact wasn’t very hard it caused me to lose my balance. I lunged forward, my legs failed to recover from underneath me. As I was falling I glanced over to see what I hit. Next to me stood a man, he was tall, fine brown hair, he was built quite nicely too if you ask. Suddenly a fiery sensation shot through my left hand as it hit the sidewalk with great force as I tried to save my fall. My stomach turned, the man, who I had run into, made an attempt to grasp my other arm and ended up with a large quantity of hot caramel mocha spilled up the right arm of his suit. The contents of my bag had sprawled across the sidewalk in an arch. I desperately climbed to my feet, hot coffee dripping down from the new stain on my crinkled white blouse. I bowed my head to apologize and quickly began to gather my scattered belongings before they were trampled by the oncoming nine o’clock foot traffic.
“Are you ok?” The man’s words cut through the bustling morning sounds of the New York streets.
I glanced up, shocked, normally if you bumped into someone on their way to work they would get very angry, and pass you by. In the instance of me spilling coffee on them, they would most likely curse at me and scold me on how I should use my eyes. They never would ask if you were ok. I nodded my head and muttered thanks while continuing to gather my things. Assuming he would carry on his way and mutter the missing unheard words under his breath.
“Are you sure you're ok?” Before I knew it he was beside me helping me gather my things, “I should have been more careful, it looks like you were in a hurry so I’m very sorry if I made you late.”
I was taken back, “No, I’m fine really. It’s not a big deal." I turned to look at his face for the first time, he had a kind look in eyes, and they were a pretty blue, like the blue I would see when I looked up into the sky back home in Michigan.
"Do I have something on my face?" He asked with a small chuckle as he interrupted my thoughts.
"No, not at all I'm sorry," I respond quickly adding an embarrassed laugh at the end. I hadn’t realized that I had been staring at his eyes for a good five seconds. We both rose to our feet and he handed me a few papers he had managed to gather. I smiled warmly, "Thanks for helping me gather my things, not many people would do that for me."
"Don’t worry about it. I’m glad I could right my wrong." He smiled back at me and began to give a small wave but stopped. "You got something, there."
"What?" I mumbled.
"Your shirt it’s stained." He said.
"I'm sure it’s not that bad." I laughed nervously and looked down at my blouse. I hadn’t realized how bad the stain actually was, I gasped in shock and panic. Today was the day we were having an investor come read one of my scripts, it was the first opportunity for me to become the real writer I had always wanted to be, and my shirt was stained with the majority of that morning's coffee. He must have seen the panic in my eyes and removed his blazer from his shoulders and handed it to me.
"Use this for now; give it back here at Sadie's Coffee on Tuesday, a week from today, same time." He turned away before I was able to respond and hurried off into the other direction.
"Wait!" I yelled back at him, "You've done enough already, you don’t have to do this for a stranger!" He put an arm up, gave a wave and just kept on walking. I sighed and slipped his blazer on, It was big on me but it managed to cover the large stain and that in itself I was thankful for.
That day, I was able to secure the investor and get a chance to let the world see my true potential that day, thanks to that stranger's kindness. It's been a few days since I had been assigned the new scriptwriter of a drama. All my hard work to achieve my dream had finally paid off and I was finally getting a chance to become a recognized writer in my field, not just to be an assistant, or so I thought. After the first two days of getting my promotion, the previous writer I had worked with joined our drama team, she began editing my scripts and changing the purpose or intent of my writing. Instead of having created a melodrama it became a mainstream rom-com. I couldn’t take it anymore. It had been almost a week and my work was no longer what I wrote it to be, so I decided to give up my dream as a writer, on that Monday, August seventeenth, two thousand and fifteen. I quit my job that day, despite my dream, because my dream was to become a writer and show my work to the world, that was not my work.
The next day I woke up at my normal time and began to head out to work. Until I remembered I no longer had any work to get ready for. I no longer had any way to achieve my dream. I was an unimportant thirty-year-old who was jobless and alone who had chased a dream that had gotten her nowhere. I began to walk back to my apartment building, but suddenly I recalled my encounter with the stranger, it was Tuesday. I ran up the stairs, entered my room, and grabbed that dark blue blazer from out of my closest and quickly hailed a taxi from the side of the bustling street.
"Where to Ma'am?" The taxi driver asked with his New York accent as I hoped in the back of the cab.
"Sadie's Coffee," I said with a smile, it was the first time I had felt genuinely happy in the past few days.
The cab pulled up outside my favorite coffee shop in all of New York, I handed the driver a few bucks and thanked him for the ride. I stepped onto the sidewalk and headed towards the entrance. All I had to do was give him back the blazer, thank him for his help that day, and then be on my way. I pushed through the door and walked into the shop, the sound changed from the bustling street to the music played within the building, "Son of Man" from Tarzan was playing, which lifted my spirits even more, I had always loved songs that were used in Disney movies, as childish as that sounds. I surveyed the coffee shop looking for the stranger. I didn’t see him anywhere despite my efforts.
"Blazer?" As I heard that voice I turned and spotted him, he was sitting alone at a two-person table in the corner of the coffee shop. I smiled and gave a wave of greeting along with a small smile. He returned them.
"May I sit down?" I asked.
"Of course, knock yourself out." I sat down and handed his blazer to him in a medium sized department store bag. He laughed, "I thought that you might have run away with it."
I giggled and responded with a bit of sarcasm, "It was nice, but not that nice."
"Well, I’m glad I ran into you that day. I was able to help and got to see you again."
We talked for about an hour and in the end, he was able to convince me not to give up on my dream, to just find another company. Like I said true love is about the prince being there to support them after it's all said and done. True love is the happily ever after of a story. And I think I may have found mine.
2nd place poem: “Words”
Often looked at as powerless
It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword
But the pen can be forced pushed moved off course
While no one would force a sword
So how is the pen mightier than the sword
The pen form symbols
Those symbols to letters
Letters to words
Words the sentences
Sentences to paragraphs
Paragraphs to essays
Essays to documents
Documents to history science or even math
The basis of our knowledge comes from the pen
Words form communication
Communication forms community
Community to villages
Villages to towns
Towns to cities
Cities to the World
So how is the pen powerless?
See the pen is not powerless and neither are words
It doesn’t matter if they're written or spoken
They have power
Power to build up
Or power to tear down
The words you say carry farther than you may think
You tell three people and they all tell three
and all of them tell three
As you can see this gets out of hand quickly
What does this mean?
Be careful what you say
Think before you speak
You never know who may hear it
3rd place story: “To Fly”
I stand outside the double doors staring down at my old, worn leather sandals. Butterflies erupt inside my stomach as the loud steady beat of the music pounds my head. After what seems like hours, I finally have the courage to move. I watch my foot lift and drive to the ground as if in slow motion. I push open the doors to find myself overwhelmed with blinding lights and deafening music. Looking around I see girls with pink ribbons in their hair dance with sleek black shoes, their elegant lace dresses popping out about the waist like peacock feathers. My mother couldn’t afford to buy such beautiful clothing, so she picked one of her traditional cuban dresses for me to wear. It is old and smells like mildew and its rough texture rubs against my legs as I walk. It's orange color is faded making it look as if it were bleached by the sun. And of course, my old, worn leather sandals completes my shabby look. I scan the room and head for an isolated bench in the corner. Staring blankly at the ground, I think about my father and how he was brave enough to stand up for our beloved country, Cuba, and resist Fidel Castro and his dictatorship. I bite my lip as I remember the list of names in the newspaper the morning we left our home. The packing. The anxiety. The fear. It all comes back to me in flashes and my distressed body can no longer take it. A tributary of tears slowly trickle down my face, each one carving its way deeper inside me until my vision is blurred. All of my senses are knocked out of me and I sit still as a stone. I barely notice the figure standing in front of me or the tapping on my shoulder. I look up and see Henry, the boy I had been eyeing since my arrival at West Ridge Middle School. I sit not knowing what to do my mouth wide open. Before I know it he takes my hand and pulls me to the dance floor. The beat of the music sinks inside me, spreading throughout my body to the tips of my fingers and the bottom of my toes. Slowly, slowly it makes its way to my heart. And then, I dance, without knowing how or why. My body spins like a twirling top. I am a bird freely taking off on the wind. A sweet, tangy sensation submerges my taste buds as I continue dancing, my feet moving in a never ending routine of style. I forget about all my worries, all my fears, all my troubles. And for a moment, I fly.
3rd place poem: “18 in 45”
As my friend texted me saying one of her best friend's school was currently in lockdown for yet another shooting in Florida
I stopped smiling
As my teacher told me her niece had stepped over 2 of her best friend's dead bodies in yet another shooting
I stopped smiling
As the news casters told the entire state about 1st graders who had died from yet another shooting
I stopped smiling
As Instagram continued to tell me yet another shooting had happened and more had died and lost their lives
I stopped smiling
As friends told me about how their relatives in an entirely different state had yet another shooting
I stopped smiling
As I heard teachers in New Mexico had to carry guns on them to make their students feel safe. I thought about how a teacher learned to teach students and nowadays it shouldn't be right that they have to hold a firearm because yet another shooting had happened
I stopped smiling
And as I read the words that 18 school shootings and attempts had happened across my country in only 45 days
I continued to not smile