These are the winning poems of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s 2018 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
Carla S. Schick

When Birds Migrate, They Follow Nature
(after Salgado’s photos of Migrations from Rwanda)

Birds migrate; they instinctually know their path
A woman, skin down to bone, rests on a vacated train track.
Hiding in the bush, she gazes out at the photographer,
Covers her mouth as her child, tied to her back, tries to rest.

A woman, skin down to bone, sits on the side of a train track,
Young children stare past smoking trees.
The mother covers her mouth as her child tries to rest, looking up;
The children bear no guns, one stands cross-armed, others look bewildered.

Young children stare past the smoking trees;
In the distance people are moving trapped in a genocide
These children carry no arms, look out, look bewildered
Endless cycles of war chase them down, forced migrations.

In the distance people are moving trapped in a genocide
Centuries of colonial destruction inflame conflicts
Endless cycles of war chase down all sides in forced migrations
The woman wears a wedding ring, but sits alone among dying children.

Centuries of colonial destruction inflame internal wars
Dysentery, bullets, cavernous quarries of wealth robbed
The woman wears her wedding ring; at her side are dying children
She draws her awakened baby closer to her warmth, wrapped in a checkered cloth.

Dysentery, bullets, cavernous quarries of wealth robbed,
She waits and looks back at the photographer with deep eyes
She draws her awakened baby closer to her warmth, wrapped in a checkered cloth.
Human remains scattered everywhere as they try to escape from certain death.

She waits and looks back with deeply sunk eyes at the photographer;
He is invisible in their lives and cannot deliver safety although he sends out warnings.
Human remains scattered everywhere on the path away from a certain death
We never see the expression on the photographer’s face or his hands.

While images from Africa float before us in a New York gallery
His body bears the illnesses from the deaths he has witnessed.


Honorable Mention Adult
Madison Trice

Their Families Wore White

if i had a dollar for the times i’ve been distrusted
because i am not cynical enough
because people say i am all hope, that if you ripped me open, i would bleed sunlight
so people poke and stab and jab and tear
asking impatiently, “why would you choose such a futile cause”
master of hopeless causes, i will put the hope in hopeless, against all odds
i will hold the hope like a butterfly between my fingers, gently, gently, and hold it up to my heartbeat to remind it that it is alive
i will cradle it in war zones, between buildings hollow and shaken
i will hide it away in government-given housing in far away places
and when i am told to stop holding on
i will release it, into a jar, with little holes in the lid to allow it to breathe
and my butterfly and i will share the same air
because i cannot afford the freezer burn of logic and detached conversations about the rationality of letting situations deteriorate,
sitting in sections with people who have never met someone from the regions they debate
no, i can’t afford to let go


First Place Youth 13-18
Stephanie Anujarerat

Sleeping, Over

We are restless in the dark,
bright-eyed gold-painted by sodium glow swallowing faint moonlight
whispering wonder at the black between stars.

The weight on our tongues:
Friday’s shooter drill, where we

locked cardboard doors
pulled down paper blinds for early dusk
squeezed ourselves to roots and shrapnel in shadowy foxholes

children to embryos to paintbrushes in plastic wombs or coffins.

Now, like then, silence rattles in our lungs.
Meanings spill from the dictionary of war:
v. to press a finger tightly to bomb-shocked lips, quivering chin
v. to steal the edge off the telltale scream of a gun
n. the immutable heaviness of death and earth.

You take my hand so we can fall asleep, together.

Walkout day, mourning gathers outside the garden gate.
The flag flies overhead. In the quiet
you pluck petals off a shriveling crimson geranium. I count

Seventeen for the lost.
Seventeen for how many desert winters we’ve survived—
lived, it should be. Rust flake petals, crumpled cardinals neatly
ended, fluttering

A promise.
As we grow up and grow old we will plant gardens with white roses.
We will not need them for early
funerals, for hate that drives people to hate.

We close our eyes, listening to each other breathe
steadily, like courage.


Honorable Mention Youth 13 – 18
Emily Cho

The 38th

There are mountain gorals
and deer and rare cranes that walk
the breadth of soldiers and their boyhoods.
Their fur smells of wetness and rain,
and this is what snouts the canopies of barbed wire
that crawl the spaces of blackened history.
June 6th to July 7th, when my mother tongue was not Korean
anymore, vernacular capitulated into shallow cries and
even the sky writhed against the painful
speed of fighter jets, oblique organs of
white metal splitting cities into buildings
into rooms into children into bad smells.
If at night a northern boy
wakes from a nightmare and watches the moon,
my greatest concession is that I cannot feel his loneliness.
In the morning, his small face may squint at the
sun, his hand stretching toward that vast distance where soldiers crouch
and whisper about home.

I think of visiting, sprinting the sparse miles between two sister
nations, estranged under a great wrongness, outrunning these
historical truths, old letters and vernacular and crooning songs
over military loudspeakers, wanting to savor that feeling of origin.

I do not know when I will return to you,
your staggering mountains and mukungwhas and
mothers and fathers. The programs on television that
show reuniting siblings: How much I have missed you.

But in all my wrongness, in the ways my tongue
and eyes and soul will have hardened,
will you still take my hand?


First Place Youth 12 and Under
Milla Greek

The Silence

In the last hour of the last night, the shadows will dance away,
and as the final candle flickers out, never to be lit again, the stars will fall away
and past, present, and future will be enveloped in the newly midnight sky.
The frostbitten mountain tops will fall into a deep sleep,
and the snow will melt away, leaving the rivers to flow for the last time.
The trees will whisper their final farewells into the wind before they, too,
are silenced by the heavy darkness that will fall over them like a blanket.
The low hum of the scattered rocks will cease as darkness falls,
and with the darkness, the beautiful, calm, and silent darkness,
everything will heal, the earth will come back together where it has been torn apart,
the sky will lose the brown haze that has choked it for so long,
and the air, the beautiful, essential air, will return to how it was when it was born, and be crisp, cool, sweet, and clear.
All that is not wanted will go, and go silently, until all that is left becomes one, one with the world, the planet, the quiet and forever dark sky.
The sun will set, and then all will be silent, silent and asleep.
We will go softly, and calmly without making noise, and simply cease to exist,
just like all other things unwanted.
When all has rested, it will rise again, like a phoenix from his ashes. The snow will fall and the rivers will flow from the mountains to the seas, and the trees will whisper in the wind. The stars will return to the sky and then the sun will sing its beautiful song, and time will arise, and begin again.