a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
I am a side effect,
a terrible side effect
of my whole family.
The genes they have
are not the genes I have
and I terribly detest my history
because the history I got
is not the history I wanted.
[Content warning: mentions of suicide, strong language]
After Kevin Coval. For Shlomo. Aba means Father.
my manhood was a notebook full of suicide letters and a dictionary of
people shaped into fiction and lavender. my manhood was lyric dug
into every grave next to my grandfather’s, it was the tombstone woven
into the soil like god had became human. suddenly, soon i knew that
my manhood became desperate and wanted to vacate humanhood.
my manhood was suburbia, i just hadn’t found it yet; my manhood was
shlomo not aba, his manhood was predator,
my manhood felt like the day he died
talk to me by Anonymous (16, Virginia)*
[Content warning: suicide ideation]
talk to me,
he says. the stars have
shifted to form his soul,
this purest essence imbued within
bated bubbles that read typing . . .
typing . . .
(i am a black hole.
i am imploding at my heart
and my intestines feel all twisted,
like my body is eating away
at my strength as my mind erodes at my hope and the ocean tides wear at cliffs. i read somewhere that black holes have a sunken center, and i find autonomy within this disembodiment—do you feel kinship with the galaxy, have you ever dreamt about going still and turning to stone and returning to the stars?)
Playing the piano. Millions of possible sound combinations echoing with each touch, the black and white keys envelop the tremors and delicacy of a relationship. Harmonies capture an elation, a development of happiness as the keys consequently tumble, like a person down a flight of stairs into a low, melancholic state on the cold concrete of the musical passage. The louder the notes become, as if a person were screaming at the top of their lungs, and then immediately descend into a soft, meek, whisper in attempt to make their voice heard. The gradual pressing of the damper pedal, slurring the sounds together, a slow, sluggish mixture of melodies in one melting pot as if they were one.
I sit quietly, numbly, with my legs perched off the rooftop
My legs swing like a pendulum, constantly going back and forth,
back and forth, much like my aching heart
I bite back the urge to speak through my dry, cracked lips,
but the feeling is sour, uncomfortable. What can I say?
There are no more secrets left to tell, I ruminate as I reach for something to soothe my lips,
only to remember that my cherry-scented chapstick is now ruined, much like my soul from sweet and sour flavors of beverages, cigarettes, and the occasional stench of powder,
I think I am dying, a slow, numb process as I feel myself reel toward the lines of death
Like a star about to supernova,
I’m waiting to finally crack
Lately I’ve been thinking
that the lonesome dining table chairs
and fuzzy televisions,
the ones abandoned on the side of an open road,
are just where the ghosts go to sit and to see.
Don’t they deserve peace too?
When I say that music has been moving me recently,
I mean it has packed me up into brown cardboard boxes
and stacked me up in the back of a white van
rented by a family of four for the day.
I am unleashed into a lonely, tangy kitchen,
and I sit on the floor.
11:00 by Lindy Feaster (13, USA)
[Content warning: possible suicide ideation, strong language]
cobwebs coat his mind / mine is sealed with thick swirls / ice cream / frozen like the statues downtown / drunken sobbing / echo / when will it end? / he wants to die / the kids are safe, I hope / he wants to die / the lake is right there / I’m scared / he wants to die but I’m scared / the acrid scent of alcohol floats / a bobbing ship above a never-ending sea / or is it a drug? / it goes around and turns over again / circular / he’s always the monster / he’s always the shitty fucking villain / headlights reflect in dilated pupils / cold glass / fingerprints turn windowpane / come get help / tinny stereo and the ringing in my ears / mosquito / embers mash form ball pit of dog barks and burning fear / goose bumps over coyote howls and car alarms / crying beneath sleeping bag ears plugged whisper fight / fearfearfearfearfear / he can smell it
The War's End by Hwisung Ko (13, Korea)
When hunger struck Yeong-Su, it was like the venom of a snake. It was long, and painful. It wasn’t like the hunger one gets when it is time for lunch. It was the type of hunger one got when starved for days. Yeong-Su had been spending time with his friends when an artillery strike wiped out his neighborhood, one of the many destroyed towns in Incheon. The Communists in the North were responsible for the flattening of Yeong-Su’s town, and that was why he scavenged for food every day. Although he found nothing, he would always search.
A Soulless Body by Siya Dhamija (16, India)
[Content warning: hints at sexual abuse.]
My soul left my body
the night you were inside me
and my soul felt so claustrophobic
that it couldn't stay there
My soul left my body
the day I concealed
the crimson bruises you gave,
instead of acne marks
you’ll be told to caress the smirks between bloodied rivers
before you’re allowed to touch your own hips like a lover;
honeysuckle blossom, lie across ruptured statues, sighing
velvet euphonies like a newborn lake and pour into him;
but, on an eve of sweet macabre, the wary moon will sing
a spare mockingbird’s ballad; now they’ll teach you to beat
against yourself until there’s a Starry Night Over the Rhône
plastered on broken flesh; second coatings lick beauty with
a sugared tongue and they’ll say “garden like God himself”
but you know God is a loose pomegranate seed sort of lady,
birth swimming in Her endless pupils and spilling like wine
atop our salvers;
the departure by D.Y. Ink (13, USA)*
she leans back into the void,
wet hair plastered to the curve
of her u-shaped spine, eyelids
seared into her pupils. her only
company is it, the agony buried
deep in her skull. it throbs like a
lover; it hurts like a friend. she clutches
her head and claws it out / hurls it into the abyss.
As the theater lights fade, the audience quiets and cast members begin walking across the stage. They hurry in random directions, sporadically entering and exiting the stage. The music grows louder, and projections of social media apps flash across the set. But the silence, which comes suddenly, shocks the audience even more. Evan Hansen snaps open his laptop, and its screen illuminates his face so the audience can see his hesitation as he leans forward to type. “Dear Evan Hansen: today is going to be an amazing day and here’s why. Because all you have to do is just be yourself,” he writes. There’s a pause, and the theater sits still for a moment. Resuming abruptly, Evan says, “But also confident. That’s important. And interesting. Easy to talk to. Approachable. But mostly yourself. That’s the big, the number one.”
Let’s say there’s a time-travelling machine that only I can use. I am thirteen again and Grandma has finally passed away. I know she didn’t leave any will. Or an inheritance. It’s the winter of 2005 again, the coldest winter since 1992. It won’t be this cold until 2019. Jindos are tightly leashed inside the homes for the first time, because the dog houses are covered in thick snow. At the burial, father and I are wrapped in geese feathers, under a black umbrella.
In the pulpit, my aunts and uncles are giving eulogies. They speak in a dialect so strong, I can hardly understand it. My city-born father is staring at his feet. Whether of respect for his mother-in-law, or to hide his boredom, I am still not sure. No one is crying, so I don’t cry either.
Opening my eyes,
Staring at the cerulean void with half-closed eyes.
The ridge of moving cotton dune in the azure desert.
Scribbling and scrawling,
Composing my notions.
The chain breaks and there's a crack,
a crevice from which the sunlight escapes,
the blaze scorching my exfoliated skin.
It's taken twenty springs and autumns, and I've only now come to accept it. I am an absent-minded pessimist who lets sadness seep in every now and then, but actively tries not to bring it up in conversation. The walk we took after our evening class, I don't recall the name of your new basketball team or what I said when you told me your dog was sick. I remember the crackle of leaves underneath our boots, the out-of-ordinary red of your nose, and the shock of your frost-bitten fingertips touching my forehead to release the stress creases. I won't remember the road we need to take but I remember the sequence of songs we need to play along a car ride. I can lie still beneath the open sky and engage in hour long games of pareidolia - a candy floss machine that poofs up a high necked poodle or a distorted pineapple formed of panicky clouds. Nothing cancels pessimism like escapism.
Exoskeleton by Anonymous (13, New York)
Over and over again, my mount is nearly demolished
by the conceptual norms of "conventionality."
Each time an insult is spat out, I can feel myself
crumbling & my confidence gradually deteriorating.
The condemnation I face stunts any sort of determination I previously had.
Each time I discern the leers on their distorted faces,
shadows of self-doubt nearly swallow me whole.
It is then when I'm reminded of every single one of my flaws.
My internal fragility quickly becomes one comparable to an egg shell;
I can feel it gradually on the verge of cracking.
I close my eyes and rock my head
but my closet, if it were a glass ceiling
barely ever low lying
would only provide a dent
on the sideboard bed
the scorching grounds at recess
hiked up skirts and muddy fingers
you look at me and drag me by the arm
like a maverick claiming abandoned luggage at last minute
My eyes are sunbleached;
when my mother isn’t looking,
I stare directly into the sun,
because I refuse to deny something
so searingly bold of what it begs for
reborn at high noon, I’m
draped in warmth,
something organic and so utterly human.
Mockery by Nikki P (United States)
What is time but an illusion?
Perhaps an entity made to mock me.
One day I wish for it to hurry;
Another I wish it to slow down forever--
A constant source of worry
For the three assignments I have due at midnight,
Or the fear of any time being the last minute I have.
What pain isn’t related to the humble clock?
What tragedy isn’t related to timing?
Days Back Home by Amy Lee (12, Korea)
[Content warning: death, drowning]
They know they have died, and they
crouch down on the floor of the
bright golden room, their long white
gowns dangling behind them,
sprawled across the wet floor. It’s been
six years and their bodies still float
through the currents, inside this wrecked
ship. They talk about the days back home,
[Content warning: alcohol]
the dinner party looks like a scene from a movie:
grappa splashes into shot glasses, then into little
flower-painted espresso cups over a laugh track.
how hilarious, the silly forgetful american hostess
forgot to count her guests before her shopping trip
at the grocery store, the one set to "mambo italiano."
after “ever fallen in love” by the buzzcocks
speak now or forever hold your peace,
the pastor warns. speak now or forever
hold your tongue. forever is a long time;
forever is death and taxes, inheriting the
family recipes and spending money on
diapers instead of flights to switzerland.
ever fallen in love with someone?, the
buzzcocks ask. ever had to reckon with
that night, sparks flew
the pages breathe in perfume,
as her fingertips soak through
the edges of paper, interlocking
smudged words incited to be read
sharp stings on my tongue
and a mouth full of blood
her lips moving softly with words
coldness seeps from the pages
as she pencils within the margins,
yet another life she has forgotten
i. the silent night
moonlight from windows
painted blood-stained glass
casting shadows intertwined
on the white concrete wall
her dark silhouette i can’t erase
stone-paved road under the
bleeding soles of my bare feet
left a trail as red as her lipstick
leading to where quiet skies
kissed the drunk waves of the
sapphire ocean under a whisper
[Content warning: childbirth, domestic abuse.]
step 1, let the midwife's hands
map the expanse of your courage
let your courage crumple
beneath her fingertips till
it dusts her palms
step 2, spread your legs and
let her fingers trace a map
into your womb
a map with entwined roads
and dusky forests and silent seas
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.