I Am Losing Everything

By: Sofia Kwon

Kent Place School, New Jersey, USA

I am losing everything, and I don’t know why, and it seems like I’m the only one who notices. I walk around, limbless and lifeless, and my mother says, “Good morning,” and pours me cereal. The breakfast table moans under the weight of my white bowl, and the chair creaks in sympathy, but these sounds are interrupted by a dissonant birdsong. I hear the bird shrilling away, boastful and arrogant, and I want to go outside and snap its neck until I know every little bone has broken. Either it dies or it loses its voice, and I don’t care which as long as I never have to hear it again.

It wasn’t always this way. When I was little, I used to love birds. In fact, I used to love all animals. I watched rabbits on green, sloping hills of grass and weeds and flowers. I watched mice nibble cheese and squirrels scale a mountain of bark. I watched the neighbors’ domestic cats cross the street, bored and yawning lazily, but I loved birds most of all. I used binoculars to spot them perched on branches, hiding in the green, sleeping in a nest or moving their wings frantically to keep afloat. I devoured book after book about them. When I turned eight years old, I was given an encyclopedia about birds, and I turned page after page to see an owl with unblinking, yellow eyes surrounded by the cold and the white, or an ostrich, a clumsy majesty running in orange dust.

Now I am done with birds and animals and silly little things. I am standing in tight shorts and an oversized T-shirt that soaks up underarm sweat like a sponge in a bath. My legs are exposed, which means everybody knows that I haven’t shaved in a week. There is hair all over me in a tangled jungle.

“You’re a young adult now,” my mother told me when I turned thirteen. “It is time to be done with childish games.” She began teaching me how to play the piano, how to study, how to cook noodles. Yet she never prepared me for this: standing in a musty old gym in ratty sneakers surrounded by a bunch of bored, hormonal kids slouched against the wall, waiting to see me run against another girl—a girl more graceful than I. Chelsea is soft yet sharp, full of angles and curves. I am smudged, undefined, too hard for my own liking. She is blonde and tall and athletic, rosy-cheeked and bright-eyed. She puts her thick hair into a ponytail and smiles at her friends.

“It smells awful in here,” someone says.

I sigh. I wish Coach Bell would just blow the whistle already so I could get this over with. The more I stand here, the more I feel like I’m naked. I just want to run and then sit down and forget it all ever happened. And yet I don’t want to run ever, and I hope his whistle suddenly breaks. I hope that the whistle’s sound is replaced by a larger, more ringing noise—the sound of the bell signaling the end of class.

But the bell doesn’t ring and the whistle doesn’t break. Coach Bell blows it hard and suddenly I am pumping my legs as hard as I can and yet it isn’t enough. I feel like I haven’t moved. Meanwhile, Chelsea is far ahead of me. She touches a point on the gym floor to show that she’s done with her first lap. By the time Chelsea runs back to the start, I’ve barely touched that same point. I wish I could stop and take a breath. My lungs feel like they’re on fire. Suddenly my legs feel like they’re made of bricks, not bones. My breath comes out in shallow gasps. I feel the heat of everyone’s stares on me and there are tears in my eyes. I beg myself not to cry as I run back to the starting point, but the tears are blurring my vision and I’ve realized that my shoe is untied, but it’s too late because I am falling, I am falling, I am losing everything, I am falling—

BAM. I hit the floor.

Chelsea watches from the bench, where she has sat for a comfortable minute. I am on the floor. My face stings from the impact. I hear someone snigger, “Are you okay?”

Coach Bell blows his whistle again. It feels is if time was severely altered. I can only move sluggishly. Everything seems like it’s in slow motion. I cough and jog back to the starting point, and it seems like an eternity before I’m there. I tell myself, “Only ten more seconds ’til you’re there. Nine, eight, seven, and then you’re there. Six, five, four, three, two…”

I don’t realize the tears streaming down my cheeks until I’m back at the bench. People stare at me but say nothing; they just look away. One boy rolls his eyes.

Later, after the run, I will crawl into the corner of a bathroom stall and sit and wait for a while. I will wait until there are no more people in the locker room, until I hear no more laughter or chatter, until I’m alone and watched by no one. And then I will sit and think about how my mother told me that I have to grow up. I will wonder what she would tell me to do right now. And then I will stop thinking about my mother, and I will stop thinking about how I am losing everything, and instead I will think about birds. I will think about how they sing. I will wonder if they are at peace. I will wonder if they are happy.

The Colors of Gumbo

By: Tyler Newman

Kent Place School, West Orange, New Jersey

 

The old book was dusty and seemed to sigh as Mawmaw heaved it off the top shelf of her kitchen. “Diane,” she whispered, “out of all the books you’ll read in your life, not one will be as important as this one, for this book is magic.” On each brittle piece of browning paper were recipes passed down from generations, hurriedly scrawled in cursive. “It’s about time I taught you how to make one of my favorite dishes, seafood gumbo. It’s a meal that every son and daughter of this family should be able to make!” Mawmaw bustled around, gathering ingredients here and there, settling them on the counter beside an old fashioned cast iron pot. I could almost see the dozens of batches of gumbo that had been created by this magical pot over the years. After all the preparations were made, Mawmaw flicked on the stove and beckoned a gangly, 7-year-old me to a step stool in front of the fire. I looked down into the pot to discover chicken marinating in stock. We got straight to work, me chopping up garlic and celery, Mawmaw mincing onions and bay leaves. “The key to a good gumbo is the roux,” Mawmaw said smiling. “Make sure it isn’t lumpy now!” I stirred the stew, making sure to beat out any lumps. Next, in a skillet, Mawmaw added

gumbo-1

I watched in awe as she stirred the mixture and the fire in the old stove sparked, flying through the air like fireworks. When the concoction was brown, she added it to the stock.

After an hour, we returned to a kitchen alive with delicious aromas. I fought the urge to jump up and down as Mawmaw pulled out

gumbo 2.png

Finally, when the gumbo really got to brewing, Mawmaw added a dash of black peppers and a generous dose of Lawry’s. “Remember Diane, the gumbo ain’t the real thing if there’s not any Lawry’s in it. I swear by that stuff.” I stirred the gumbo for a while afterwards, watching the sea of gold swirl round and round with an occasional protruding crab leg. The sky was a dark, velvety blue by the time the table was finally set to eat. Grandad woke up from his nap and Mawmaw changed out of her apron for supper. Smoke mingled with the spices of soup as Grandad exhaled his last ring of cigarette smoke and snuffed out his cigarette in the ashtray before taking a seat at the tidy dining room table. He picked me up and set me on his knee as Mawmaw brought out bowls of gleaming white rice. Finally, out came the gumbo pot, which I watched with delight as it was set in the middle of the hard oak table. Mawmaw beamed at me and exclaimed, “In honor of you making your first gumbo, I’ll allow you to taste the meal first.”

After we all said Grace, Grandad poured a serving of steaming golden soup over my rice. I picked up my spoon, scooped up some gumbo and took a bite. I closed my eyelids as an explosion of light went off behind my eyes. It was as if the spices of the gumbo were colors and, as I ate, I was painting a picture of my own.

Finally, I opened my eyes and smiled.

 

Shaking Hands With The White Man

By: Afia Oduro-Manu

Kent Place School, Summit, New Jersey

 

November 11, 1620

We see them step onto our land
Off of a big ship with grand, white sails
With black shoes
That leave imprints in our muddy soil
Which provides life for our plentiful crops

There are not many of them
Their faces are all as pale as snow
And their cheeks are as rosy as berry juice
Because of the chilliness nipping at their skin

The mothers look distraught
And keep hold of their children’s hands
Children wiggle free from their grasps
And run around in excitement
The journey, perhaps, did not tire them
The men look at us
Some with indifference, others with uncertainty
And all with a glimmer of hope

November 18, 1620

At a tribal meeting
Massasoit tells us to be wary of these people
For they are from the same nation
That took some of our people years ago
And made them their slaves
And even put some of them in their graves

We see these pale-faced people
Riding atop fast creatures
Which they call horses
And use black weapons, guns
To shoot down their prey
Very useful tools
We are very wary of these dangerous people
So we keep our suspicions and watch with a careful eye

November 25, 1620

Our people are dying and we do not know why
The elders suspect it is the White men
Who have brought us this disease

They tell Massasoit to lead a fight against them
But he says “No”
Because they could easily kill us
The village men are very angry
“For the gods are with us and will not be defeated!” they cry

Rashes continue to spread like wildfire on the bodies of our people
From the chubby-cheeked, little children
To the wrinkled elderly
The elders again say that it is the white man’s fault
I see my younger sister
Laying still on the ground
Her chest still
I hold my breath and turn her over
She is dead
My mother and father cry, despair etched into their faces

Something must be done
Do the gods want us to act?
Did they bring these foreigners to us for a reason?
Only time will tell

December 1620

The winter is approaching
Cold air cracks our lungs to remind us of the battle we have to fight
Against the Pequot and Narragansett
Our tribe leaders are worried
We are outnumbered and our warriors are dying
And our weapons are not effective

The morning-light people have their worries too
For they are dying
They are not used to the relentless weather
We are all at our breaking points
But we don’t know who will break first

March 1621

We shook our hands with the white man today
Squanto and Samoset went to trade with them
And make peace
We need their weapons
And they need our fur to keep warm

I hope that we are making the right choice
Some of our people are angry
They believe that the men will betray us and take our land
Others are optimistic, like my father
He believes that our tribe is doing the right thing
I hope that my father is right

September 1621

As we give thanks to the Earth
For her bountiful sources that allow us to thrive on her land
The Whites come to us
To keep peace
So Samoset and Squanto agree
To prepare a big meal for both of our people
With plenty of meats
Vegetables of all colors
And pastries from the women of the whites
My sister would have loved the sweet, tart pies
I can imagine her sitting next to me
With the berries staining the area next to her mouth
And her tongue a dark, cranberry red

Oh, I hope that the peace between us prevails
To keep our people alive for generations to come
For this has been a lesson to us all
To keep faith in the gods, and the spirits of nature
And most importantly
In the power of unity
Because everyone
White and Brown
Knows that “The Earth only works because the elements work as one”