They say it takes a village to raise a child, but the reverse can also be true: Sometimes it takes a child to raise a village. When it comes to addressing the world’s gravest ills, young people often have a freshness of vision that is an invaluable tool for creative problem-solving. Luckily, the world is getting better at recognizing that our youth are the key to our future. Among those organizations acknowledging the power of youth to lead us forward is Santa Barbara’s Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF).
Founded in 1982, NAPF is a nonprofit group dedicated to the abolition of nuclear weapons and to peaceful world leadership. Since 1995, NAPF has held an annual writing competition, the Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Contest. Named after the wife of NAPF cofounder Frank King Kelly, the contest is open to applicants of all ages from across the world. The poems printed below are the winning entries from the youth categories of the 2007 contest. These are the voices of tomorrow’s statesmen and women, thinkers, and problem-solvers. They are our best hope for a peaceful world.
First Place (tie): “My Brother, the Soldier” by Megan Elliott from Overland Park, Kansas. Megan served as an editor of her high school yearbook and is now majoring in English and journalism at the University of Kansas.
My Brother, the Soldier
Bombs go off in brains
Neurons fire imaginary explosions
To pounding eardrums
Mom slumps in the wooden kitchen chair
Elbows on the table
A glass of wine or two or three
And tears and tears and tears
He’ll be gone for Christmas again
We open presents silently
Avoiding each other’s eyes
And his name
Mom gets drunk
And says “Fuck the war”
Dad and I do the dishes
I walk outside in the chilling air
Tiny Christmas lights twinkle secrets at each other
They are grenades exploding in the desert
I write a letter in my head
I tell him a joke about mom
I ask him to come home
I wish him Merry Christmas
Maybe he’ll be home this time next year
Hopefully he’ll come home next year
He has to come home
First Place (tie): “Love’s Lullaby” by Hanna Hurr. Hanna is from Laguna Niguel, California. She plays on her school’s varsity tennis team and is the president and founder of the Malawi Club.
A mother cradles her child against her thin breast
And gazes sadly into deep shining eyes, a mirror of her own
The infant cries, wanting milk
But there is none to give
The woman has not eaten in days
And her breasts are dry as the bone-cracked land that
She whispers into his ear
A single word
Suddenly the stars rearrange
Painting perfect patterns in the inky sky
Apologizing for their constant pandemonium
Mothers look at the sky, listen to the stars, and whisper
The word flows from mother to child
Cracked lips to soft ears
The newborns remember without understanding
Years later, as the world writhes in war
The word ricochets in the grown children’s minds, and they drop their weapons
Silent, thoughtful. They turn their heads to the sky, and again, the stars sing.
Age 12 & younger
First Place: “In the Form of Rain” by Celeste Fox Kump of Fort Bragg, California. Celeste plays soccer, loves reading and writing, and wants to become an author.
In the Form of Rain
War is a fire,
with all the power and menace,
in the form of rain.
First it sprinkles,
and slowly but surely the fires of war are put out,
and there is peace,
in the form of rain.