These are the winning poems of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s 2020 Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Awards. For more information on the peace poetry contest, and to read the winning poems from previous years, click here.
Adult Category, First Place
In the movie we sleep fearlessly on open planes because we cannot imagine
any danger more tragic than those that have already passed. For weeks we
have been arriving over the earth’s broken skin, over mountains
and rivers, shaking the aching flagpoles from our shoulders. Now
all the priests and imams and rabbis and shamans are gathered beside
the others, teachers, brothers and kings and they’re sharing recipes
and cooking sweet stories over fires. Suddenly we hear a voice
calling from the sky or within – or is it a radio? – and it sings
of quilts and white lilies as if wool and petals were engines. It’s a lullaby,
a prayer we all understand, familiar like the scent of a lover’s skin. And
as we listen we remember our grandmothers’ hands, the knitted strength
of staying, how silence rises like warmth from a woven blanket. And slowly
the lines begin to disappear from our skin and our memories spin until we’ve forgotten
the I of our own histories and everyone is holy, everyone is laughing, weeping,
singing, It’s over, come over, come in. And this is it, the story,
an allegory, our movie – the ending and a beginning.
The producer doesn’t want to take the risk. No one will watch it, he says,
but we say, Just wait. All the while a familiar song plays on the radio
and somewhere in a desert far away a soldier in a tank stops
as if he’s forgotten the way.
Adult Category, Honorable Mention
In the Cool of Morning
At dawn, we rise to the remains of a moon
shrouded in smoke,
news of a mass shooting in the capitol.
Drinking coffee, we contemplate the future,
swallowing our hearts.
Children in cages, separated from their mothers.
In the cities, the homeless sleep in cardboard boxes
and under freeway ramps, while the cunning invest in prisons.
Yet there’s something that resists greed
and frees the oppressed: fathom that.
In the cool of morning, I sweep up bamboo leaves
and cellophane, thinking of the poet Du Fu
who wrote about suffering in a time of rebellion –
755 A.D., in China – still pausing to observe
willow twigs sprouting at his gate.
Youth Category (13-18), First Place (tie)
For the Martyrs of My School
(In memory of the victims of the terrorist attack at the Army Public School Peshawar, Pakistan on 16th Dec 2014 in which 150 people were killed including 132 students)
Studying the laws of geometry
Staring at the clock
Waiting for the dreadful class to be over
When all of a sudden I hear a bang
Everything goes silent
Until I hear screams of terror and a man with a black mask
Points his gun at me
He shoots and I fall
Blood circles around me and I slowly drift away
Locked in a cupboard choking with cries
I tell her I might not make it today
I hear her trying to hold back tears
I cry and cry till safety arrives
Lying on the floor hiding behind the dead body
I close my eyes because this might be the last thing I see
I try to keep calm
But I burst into tears
When her body was dragged right in front of me
I lost it
I could not wait for this dreadful day to be over
A bell rings. Safety has arrived
We pass through the bloodied hallway
With her hands up
We get out and we run
We run towards the ones we thought we’d never see again
while we cry into their arms and feel thankful to be alive.
Youth Category (13-18), First Place (tie)
“I watched my baby girl die slowly.”
—The NewYork Times
Behind wires in cages of crinkling aluminum.
On TV, I watch the colorful dreams of children
shrivel in the open sun.
Held in cages, each family
loses hope that summer will end—the rusting
fences, the humanity of drinking rain.
Metal bowls scratch the wooden tables until dawn.
In a video, the ribs of malnourished babies protrude
from tattered clothes, from rows
of huddled families, aluminum foil blankets.
Down the road
from my house, I watch
gulls fighting across red sand beaches
over small nests of fries, and I cup
the sand in my hands, hoping
summer won’t end.
To the beach, my father brings buckets
of water to me, my mother
molding the sandcastles—and still
the castle washes away on the shore.
In its place, a heap of mud.
On the news most nights, I watch
babies with vomit-stained bibs
around their necks. I think of them
From his place in the sand, my father
shouts be careful, be careful—still I run
into the sea, I laugh, I keep running.
Youth Category (12 and Under), First Place
Kaya Kastanie Ankerbo Brown
War is so ugly that I refuse to even draw it
but peace I would love to draw
I draw children playing
I draw flowers blossoming
I draw birds chirping
If you are a child in a country at war you have to be careful
and you have to hide under the trees
can you draw from there I wonder?
Let’s draw a blossoming beautiful world
where nobody is fighting
where nobody envies what the others have
where we share what we have
let’s draw now!!!