These are the winning poems of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s 2017 Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Awards. For more information on this annual peace poetry contest, and to read the winning poems from previous years, click here.
First Place Adult
They went to hear music.
The lucky ones came home
missing only friends.
Raising children in this world
is like running upstairs
with a glass of water
clutched under your arm.
I have five sons.
They are frogs and snails
and feathers dipped in gold.
They are blueberry eyes
and backs that curve to the palm
They are the longest breath
I’ve ever held.
Sweat cools on my brow
as they sleep. This
is what passes for peace
to a parent—
a slackening jaw,
the heart unclenching
every child comes home.
Honorable Mention Adult
Let us now find the courage, together,
to spread peace and pursue a world
without nuclear weapons.
Barack Obama, the first sitting president to visit Hiroshima,
May 27, 2016
Wanting to make it right,
President Obama read the instructions carefully.
Take a square piece of Japanese paper,
one with flowers, or maybe apricots, cherries,
fold it from top to bottom, crease and open,
then fold in half sideways.
That day at Hiroshima,
the president gave his handmade paper cranes
to two schoolchildren, a symbol of peace
so simple, yet years in the making,
as if he wanted to promise
these tallest of birds would forever soar
above their city, their wings stretching
into the clearest center of sky.
Six decades ago,
12-year-old Sadako Sasaki,
her bones slowly disintegrating
from “A-bomb disease,” carefully folded
medicine labels, faded scraps of wrapping paper
into a thousand cranes, as if to ask the gods
that in return for her ancient offering,
they would make the world well again.
First Place Youth 13-18
Ana K. Lair
Before the War
We never stayed at home.
We were eleven, bony and wild,
we sat and carved sticks with our teeth,
still for an instant as dusk fled,
then bolting off again, hungry for more chaos, more dirt,
face paint and saliva.
We tasted metal, ate bone.
Smiles greasy with lying,
our brothers told us a birch tree was a ghost’s hand.
We slid past, its bent white claws
screeching down the belly of our canoe.
I’m sorry we don’t speak anymore,
the day the telephone stopped announcing
the other’s need, in its shrill metallic call.
But no need for talk of that now.
When I walk back through the autumn woods
with leaves like raw meat in the cold,
I see your teeth marks on the birch,
I hear you crashing ahead through pine, howling mammal cry,
feet flashing up like the warning of a deer’s tail
as you caught the very first scent
of our parents calling us home.
Honorable Mention Youth 13 – 18
Ella Cowan de Wolf
You suddenly see a set of random numbers, such as 374251. What comes to mind?
I think of science, I think of math.
I think of “old school” clocks and petals on a daisy gifted by a lover of poetry.
I think that 3.14 is the start of a number so simple that it has cracked the minds of countless
mathematicians yet is engraved into the minds of children before they can count to 100 in a
I think that 143, “I love you” flows so easily off the tongue of a 7 year old child with 3 less teeth
than she wants, telling her 2 parents that she sees the world through looking glasses covered in
blue waves of her own imagination.
I think that it only took 4,224 pages and 7 books to redefine my entire childhood to believe that
magic was granted to those who were chosen and that the boy with the lightning scar was too old
to think about as I wrapped my head around the next 1,155 pages of a 3 part series of a girl on
fire. This was my childhood.
But now, I think of an old joke which makes the wrinkles of my smile shine bright as 4 is
considered a study group, but 5 is a party. Yet, I wonder that it takes 2 to make a pair which is
only 1 away from being lonely…
And I know now that in 374,251 seconds I will be 4.332 days older than I am in existence at this
moment in time, so I am going to become someone I am proud to show the world.
Numbers define the essence of society itself, and with each new member I am reminded how
small I am, how I am 1 in 7.125 billion, a large, never ending, form of 3.14, a number to confuse
the greatest minds in the century, but then it dawns on me…it only takes 1 to make a difference.
First Place Youth 12 and Under
I am colorblind, can’t you see, I can’t see you and you can’t see me,
I see no black, no white, nor yellow, I see no harsh and see no mellow,
I see no sick or healthy, and no poor or wealthy.
I see no religion or race, no pretty or out of place.
No skinny or fat, no I-don’t-like-that!
I see faces, so many faces around the globe from different places.
I see life, so many lives, like plants that grow and plants that thrive.
I see sound, sweet music, as the rhythm is abundant in the world of human.
I see touch, people touching the hearts of others.
I see smiles, so many smiles, the ones that go on for miles and miles.
I see laughter, curiosity having fun with the tips of grins,
the laughs that brighten a day filled with grim.
I see light, warmth, and a touch of love shining through cracks
of a broken melody of color.