Camillia North, age 14
School for Creative and Performing Arts, Over-the-Rhine
"Every Woman Is Secretly in Love"
I think every woman is secretly in love with her lips
A soft kiss upon the smooth skin of one's heart
Gracious and full.
I think every woman is secretly in love with her words
Rolling up her throat and dripping off the tip of her tongue
Like the last drop of honey in the jar
So sweet and promising.
I think every woman is secretly in love with her fingers
Never too thick or too slim
Dressed in diamonds or maybe just chipped pearl paint across the nails.
I think every woman is secretly in love with her legs
Coated in rich, dark fudge, caramel cream, or maybe something in the vanilla
I think every woman is secretly in love with her feet
Floating across the midnight ocean, swaying in the tears of the sky.
I think every woman is secretly in love with herself
Ciera Brooks, age 14
St. Boniface School, Northside
Excerpt from "The Secret Within the Pool"
We walked to the pool area and sat on a bench while we waited for the lifeguard to go over the water safety rules. The whole time we sat there, I just looked at the wiggling, scary, clear blue water. Finally, the lifeguard asked who couldn't swim. I raised my hand nervously and looked around and, to my surprise, two other girls also raised their hands. That was a big relief to me. I figured that we just wouldn't know how to swim together, which meant I could run away from my fear like I have so many times in the past.
The lifeguard instructed the rest of the girls to get in the water. She told JaHe, Camillia and me to wait on the bench. I knew from that day on, the bench was going to be my sanctuary. When all the other girls got into the pool, the lifeguard walked back over to the bench.
"OK, sit on the edge of the pool, I'm going to show you how to get in the pool properly."
This came as a major blow. She must not have understood that I couldn't swim. At that very moment, I wanted to stand on top of the bench and yell, "Do you not understand the words that are coming out of my mouth!" while doing my own version of sign language. She must not have comprehended that I was planning to spend the rest of my pool life on that bench. I sat there and acted like I didn't hear her. When she repeated herself, I knew she meant business, so I got up reluctantly, feeling scared, ashamed and ultimately P.O.ed!!! How dare that lifeguard make me get in the water!
Clare Rettig, age 18
Mt. Notre Dame High School, Reading
It digs into your ribs filling them
Caressing their pearls, their ligaments
A parasitic vine embedded deep into the marrow
and your skin is taut across the tide of ridges
Your skin becomes a drum with your hollow
Belly striving not to miss a beat
to the hips jutting forth wide
and open they sway like the wings of birds, delicate
and primitive they slice through the skin
hanging veils on flying buttress ribs
that fall away harshly in the day
But crawl deadly in the night
It is a skull grinning on a spider's staircase
Grinning, grimacing down on its self-lust
Down upon the dried landscape backs of Africa
Down on the rags breathing in Broadway alleys
Down on itself leaning inside the mirror
in the valleys of barren wombs and joints floating against nothing
in the piano key fingers plucking at themselves
and finally collapsing six feet under their own yearning
Mandy Teemly, age 16
School for Creative and Performing Arts
Excerpt from "Grace"
I had nothing left: just me and the fire in the end. All I wanted was to be
completely consumed by the flame.
And so there I was, watching the flames crawl onto the bed. I was barefoot. It crept along the comforter and began to lick my toes. I gave a gasp and bit hard into my lip when it started up my foot. And now my fingers and hands were searing, too.
Now I really cried. This was pain as I had never experienced before. My very bones were on fire. I was screaming with pain. All around me, everything was burning.
And suddenly, I didn't want this death. I stood up on the thing that had been my bed, but was now a great, burning mass. I was shaking and screaming and panicking. I tried to reach for the glass of water that I kept by my bedside, but I couldn't, because my whole arm was on fire, and I didn't know what to do. So I ran into the shower, and I turned on the cold water. It felt as if my soul was being ripped from my body.
So I ran outside, looking for someone, anyone, screaming, "Mom! Dad! God!" But there was no one there. No one. Because I hadn't let them near me.
I sank onto the grass and I thought, "I'm dying...alone. I'm dying alone. Isn't this
what I wanted?" And this so perplexed me. Why did I ever want this? Why...? And then...nothing.
Esther Freeman, age 15
School for Creative and Performing Arts
I get on the scale and become an object: not human just mass
Beauty is not contained with numbers, measurement being impossible
Make me the meat butchers slap on the scale, there will be a raw honesty in society
No human owns the ability to set standards
The social decay pasted on every billboard glamorizes all kinds of disease
And onlookers begin to cough
I look into your eyes and the world becomes a hazy background
I hear your laugh and then hear it echoing in my head
I am the ocean and you are the moon pulling me from around the world
A thorn slides across your finger and I begin to bleed
A baby will best grow in our womb, with two hearts to feed its soul
You look into my eyes and the landscapes soften
I cannot deny the beauty of a woman
Samantha Robinson, age 17
Walnut Hills High School, Walnut Hills
Excerpt from "Somewhere In Between"
My stomach rumbled, gargled and sputtered, but not because it was deprived of food.
No. This was a very different kind of void. I was stranded at the top of a set of winding wooden stairs. The paint, peeling from the steps and banister, revealed the faded hues of decades past. Brown, grey, blue, red, then raw amber-colored wood. These stairs were old. They moaned and creaked with the crush of a hundred feet. I had climbed them with excitement and anticipation, following the tie-dyed back of the large man in front of me, mimicking the sluggish fat-man strides as the crowd inched forward. When I reached the top, I was faced with an enormous, metal, loop-di-loop roller coaster, which at the last moment I deemed too frightening. I sensed the pressure of the crowd behind, waiting for me to step onto the rickety car, strap on the black, suffocating seatbelt and suck it up. I felt their annoyance and impatience at my hesitance.
Yes. This was another kind of empty. The kind of empty which can only occur during the period in a young girl's life when she is expected to simultaneously begin shaving her legs, painting her lips with pink, bubble-gum flavored lip gloss, saying the words "like" and "totally" every other sentence and chattering about which boys were cute or hot, spelled with two Ts.
This deluge of new expectations was intimidating. I didn't feel as if I could double-task as well as the other bubbly, blonde, pretty girls, but I was starving, hungering to fit in.
Jess Nolte, age 16
Seton High School, Price Hill
This house doesn't really feel like home yet. There are boxes everywhere and I woke up to the renovation man pounding on the walls. This house is huge. I guess that's a good thing, but I miss the small coziness of my old house. I grew up there. So many memories are hidden away in that house. All of the other neighbors I grew up with are leaving, too. The blond boy I chased around my yard and ended up dating at the age of fourteen. The girl I considered a friend even after she ripped the arm off of my favorite baby doll. The girl I raced slinkies with down the stairs until she was ripped away from me by the divorce of her parents. The boy that, until this day, holds me when I cry.
Thirteen years is a long time to be in a house. It's all I remember. Christmas in that house. Grandpa in that house. My mother tucking me in at that house. My father having a tear in his eye as he watched me grow in that house. Walking to school from that house. Playing Legos in that house. Missing that house while I was gone. New Year's Eve in that house with those party poppers that were fun at the time, but then we had to clean up the strewn streamers...
I slept in those rooms, vomited in that toilet, fell down those stairs, watched that TV, ate at that table, collected penguin figurines in that curio, cooked food in that kitchen, measured my height on that wall, played with Barbies on that floor, had birthday parties in that basement, and kissed for the first time on that couch.
Pictures are the only things I could use to show one these memories. Things will come together soon, though. It will feel like a home, the boxes will be unpacked, and the renovation man will leave quite soon.
Kathryn Wendeln, age 17
Mt. Notre Dame High School
Excerpt from "my strength flows forever on"
*Title taken from Nikki Giovanni's poem "Ego Tripping"
on the first day I molded with bare hands all the light of the universe into one sphere she radiated tirelessly, dispersing into every corner of the void
as ages passed the heat became merciless and unyielding
so I enfolded her fervor in my arms and hugged her to my breast
when I grew tired I stole the silver lining from my storm clouds
and with one long breath blew a moon, shiny and hollow like glass
I scattered flecks of my radiant presence into patterns throughout the blackness
created an earth to call home, dirt in which to sink my toes
took one long look around and saw that it was good
I birthed myself hundreds of times over
sharpening the ache each time to feel the stretch of my genesis
so I could pinpoint my pain down to each cell
from my first attempt blossomed Eve, and from me the children of the world began to multiply
Laura Pearce, age 16
Walnut Hills High School
Excerpt from "The Lament of Sophia"
I gave them stories and they called me a god. I lectured them and they fell on their knees. I invented things for their sakes and they created things for mine. I sat upon their altars and doled out dreams.
But I did not sit well with fools, and they decried me as false, setting hollow statues where my thrones had been. They condemned me to myth and footnotes, reduced me to whispering my tales.
Now I am a small god, if even still divine. But they cannot kill me truly.
And I have stories still, for those who will draw close enough and perhaps call me a god...
* Special thanks to Mandy
Excerpt from "Every Woman"
She'll get up on live international TV and give all ad companies the middle finger. She'll bust into Saks-Fifth Avenue and kick all the make-up stands to the floor. She'll waltz right into The Gap and burn all the size 0 pants. She'll get on the radio and rap about beating up fickle men. She'll rent a wrecking ball and smash down billboards with it. She'll only order regular Coke. She'll stop everyone she passes in the street and tell them how beautiful they are. She's out to change the WORLD, because Lord knows it needs it, and no one else seems to be lifting a finger.
She is hotmadconfidenttruestrong.
She's got chutzpahpowergoalsdetermination.
She is a WOMAN.
* Special thanks to Ciera
Erin Baumann, age 18
University of Pittsburgh
"I Want To Be a Woman"
I want to be Delicate. For people to see me
As a swan, or the twilight
When the horizon glows gently
Of pinks and muted greys.
I want to be Harsh, like a punch
In the face. I'll be your morning shower
When someone flushes
And scalds your sensitive skin.
I want to burn, to scorch.
I want to be Special. I want flowers
To blossom with my words
And the sun to linger
A moment longer, just to kiss
My translucent skin. I want the sexes
To swoon at the delicious caress
Of my critical gaze.
I want to be Heard. I want to talk
And have people hear me.
No, listen to me. To not be
Another faux-intelligent sex
Symbol. I want them
To want me for my mind,
Not my hips, my lips, my breast,
My sex hair.
I do not want to be your woman
I just want to be a woman.
And to be.
Rachel Williamson, age 17
Norwood High School
Excerpt from "The Ungirl Manifesto"
I was all about my kindergarten buddy, Zack. The first time I went over to his house, there was another boy there who thought I wasn't man enough to play war. In response to his sexism, I punched the boy and chased Zack around until he agreed that I could in fact be a soldier.
What you have to understand about me is I did not play with the girls on the playground. At my school, the boys and girls were separated on the playground out of habit. Almost daily there was a big chase. Boys chased the girls in mad circles around the fenced in areas, being loud and aggressive. That's where you found me. It wasn't that I was looking to pick a fight; I just wanted to feel strong and free. I would not allow myself to be vulnerable and run away screaming. I still don't. Some boys were cool with that, some boys I made be cool with that and some could not be convinced, no matter how many girls I tagged. As for the other girls all they saw was a crazed thing in a dress racing toward them, tagging them and celebrating victory with the boys. I was a traitor to my X chromosome.
On and on it went. Zack moved away, my male counterparts began to reject me with increasing speed and I became just another loner on the playground. I played boyish games that involved pretending there was lava where the dirt should be and if you touched it you were burnt to a crisp and had to leave my tree dwelling at the far corner of the playground. When other kids dared to brave my corner, either they played my games or stayed out of my way and didn't interfere. I did not accept party crashers.
More fights ensued, the most memorable of which landed me in the office. A big burly boy a foot taller and a year older than I took a nice beating from me. The next day I was called out of music class. I happened to be wearing a pink floral dress with a poofy pink scrunchie in my hair. As much as I despised that dress, it saved my skin that day. My principal was disinclined to believe that I could have done any real damage. I even told him the truth, and he still did not believe it happened. "Yes, I did punch him." "Yes, I kicked him in the leg." He glanced again at the note the boy's parents had sent him that morning. He shook his head. He said, "I just think it was a game that got out of hand. I honestly don't believe that this little girl could have hurt you."
That was that. I got a day of recess in the office. They didn't even tell my mother, who worked at the school at the time. I found the whole situation humorous, but was offended at the same time. I mean, words like the principal used were the reason I got into fights. I could not stand for someone underestimating me because I was a girl or because of how my mother dressed me. That was just unacceptable. Fortunately, I had enough sense not to punch my principal in the nose.
JaHe Woody, age 16
McAuley High School, College Hill
I made the choice not to let those material things purchase me
See the irony?
He buys those expensive rings for his fingers and hands
Those expensive rings buy you for a one night stand
And now he the man, and you don't understand
Why he's not calling yo' phone making future plans
Baby girl it's supply and demand
When he demands you to give it up
You supply him with your most precious accessory
Nevertheless it be
Over the next day
What else do I gotta say
To embed in your mind, that purchasing folks was before your time
Master Crooks bought yo' great granny
Now spinning wheels buying a piece of yo' fanny
How times repeat themselves in different forms
Young women torn, between dysfunctional homes
And glistening chrome, left alone, and prone
To a life of prostitution, no restitution, for being youth in
I speak a different beat, now that I see
How acceptance of a ghetto black female can be so bleak
Those chic, designer clothes
Cause a female to turn up her nose
To those who really know
How this misleading world goes, but then again
Those green dollars are her new best friend
She can't depend on the wisdom of a sage
But she can depend on the income from booty calls every single day
That's her way of paying her bills and getting her thrills
On a daily basis
And I see these faces, then I thank God for my graces
For my blessings and His letting