2017 Poetry of Place

2017 student poets pose in the Capitol rotunda
From left to right: Janna Marley, Matt Mason, Charis Erickson, Cienna Friesen, Manishika Balamurugan, Ruth Mencia, Reilly Diaz, Samantha Wiedel, Ethan Stowell, and Twyla Hansen. (Not pictured: Jenna Mu and Shelly Zhang)

Junior High/Middle School Poets

Manishika Balamurugan, grade 6, Pound Middle School, Lincoln (Teacher: Vicki Rankin)
Charis Erickson, grade 7, Pound Middle School, Lincoln (Teacher: Vicki Rankin)
Reilly Diaz, grade 7, Irving Middle School, Lincoln (Teacher: Joel Green)
Ethan Stowell, grade 7, LaVista Middle School, LaVista (Teacher: Margaret Alexander)
Janna Marley, grade 8, Irving Middle School, Lincoln (Teacher: Nancy Svoboda)

High School Poets

Ruth Mencia, grade 11, Grand Island Senior High, Grand Island (Teacher: Judy Lorenzen
Jenna Mu, grade 11, Brownell-Talbot School, Omaha (Teacher: Kirsten Macdissi)
Shelly Zhang, grade 11, Brownell-Talbot School, Omaha (Teacher: Kirsten Macdissi)
Samantha Wiedel, grade 12, Thayer Central High School, Hebron (Teacher: Anne Heitmann)
Cienna Friesen, grade 12, Thayer Central High School, Hebron (Teacher: Anne Heitmann

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Manishika Balamurugan

Manishika Balamurugan

The Color of Freedom

It shoots into the night
Tears through the sky
A wispy trail of smoke
Trailing close behind
Like a small child to his mother
It bursts in a flash
Every color you can dream of
Piercing through the darkness
Blooming into the night
Gaining the spotlight
Shaking the ground
Demanding attention
Falling to the earth
In showers of bright light
Smoke in the air
Mixes with the smell of barbecue
Creating a distinct aroma
Eyes never leaving
The magical show occurring above
Year after year after year
Same time
Same place
Celebrating independence and freedom
Different for everyone
We spend it
Huddled close
On a blanket
In the cool grass
All evaporate into thin air
Because right now
At this very moment
Everything is just right

Charis Erickson

Charis Erickson

Song of One

As the prairie grass stands tall above the plain
Holding their tufts high
As willows bow their heads in shame
Oaks and maples seem to sigh
Breathing in the midnight air
Not feeling any rays of sun
Knowing that here and there
Everywhere a song of one
Has floated to the sky
And made Nebraska what it is
But why?

Because of people where they are
Lying on their bed at home
Wishing on their favorite star
Knowing that they’re not alone
In this little world of ours
Where you are free to be who you are

As the prairie grass stands tall above the plain
Holding their tufts high
As willows bow their heads in shame
Oaks and maples seem to sigh
I’m breathing in the midnight air
Knowing that it’s best to care
About that little song of one
That almost floated to the sun

Reilly Diaz

Reilly Diaz

Everything is Older Than Us

Everything is older than us
This stone house has been sitting in this very spot
Before my mother's feet touched the ground
And the old worn path that leads to the front door was set into the earth

Before my father’s name was spoken
The oak trees that shade my home have heard the Cold War’s sirens
And the bright grass that always grows back after every trial.
Everything here is wiser than us

The land holds the wisdom
The trees hold the life
The stones hold the courage
The grass in the wind whispers the truth

And the house protects the love
Everything is older than us

Ethan Stowell

Ethan Stowell

In the Land of Solemn Silence: The Marsh at Crescent Lake

The water like clouds
In the land of solemn silence,
With the reeds in crowds.

The boundless fog so harsh,
While it consumes all,
Within the endless marsh.

The stout stranded stalks,
Are lonely travelers of life,
Though completely unable to walk.

The distant hills,
Are walls to us
It is as nature wills.

The soul of this land
The sand and water,
Is what makes it so grand.

The water like clouds,
In the land of solemn silence,
With the reeds in crowds.

(top of page)

Janna Marley

Janna Marley

The Old House Stands

The old house stands.
It lives among so many other houses,
in a city.
In a city that sits on the rolling plains,
in a city molded from the struggles of dreamers,
that is where the old house stands.

A shriek cuts through calm night air,
as an infant unknowingly breaks the fragile stillness of night.
With painstaking care,
a weary parent attempts to fit the shards of silence back together.

The house saw that.

After finishing their fort,
two sisters debate on whether they are standing in
a dark cave, with monsters lurking around every corner,
or a ballroom at their palace, hidden in the clouds.

The house saw that.

The sound of smashed glass.
A guilty child leaps up and flees the scene,
her futile hope that no one heard visible in her every move.

The house saw that.

Trying not to expect anything,
a mother hands her daughter her favorite book as a child,
hoping that she will one day
love it as much as she does.

The house saw that.

Screams rip through the air.
Frustration ripples in waves
as two opposing sides feud.
The stairs creak and moan
As one party storms off,
retreating from a battle she knows she cannot win.
However, both sides are aware that the war is far from over.

The house saw that.

Eager for more practice time the night before an audition,
the violinist’s bow ghosts over the strings of her violin,
her fingers tap on the fingerboard.
She plays quietly,
Trying not to wake her still-sleeping family.

The house saw that.

While the long hours of darkness seem to drag on,
a pinprick of light in the upper right-hand window
is all that gives away
the presence of a girl who is all too awake,
unable to pull herself away
from the pages of yet another book.

The house saw that.

The old house stands
in a city molded from the struggles of dreamers
in a city that sits on the rolling plains.
In a city
among so many other houses.
That is where the old house stands.

Ruth Mencia

Ruth Mencia

Nebraska, Her Moods Change

March--in just ten minutes
She’ll change her attitude.
She’ll lash out her anger,
giving swift punches of air,
creating such a storm.
Not only that,
She’ll throw tantrums
as She pounds the clouds,
causing them to cry--
Her tears thunder
Her drops glaciate.
All I am left with
is white, soft glaze,
surrounding me.
I plead for mercy,
She then releases her sweetness
luminescing the stubbled cornstalks,
glorifying Her sweet greening.
Her fragrance so deep, so crisp,
faint kisses drizzle,
pattering the earth.
As I overlook such grace,
the gale is not over,
showers are yet to come.
Filling humid airs,
She let’s Her children bud,
preparing the fools for April.
Oh Nebraska,
how Your moods change.
It is clear that without You, the world would be so strange.

(top of page)

Jenna Mu

Jenna Mu

What Is Nebraska? (Nebraska Poem)

A mocha-colored path rips through the land like a zipper rips through jeans
It beckons you to come and you take a careful step on the dusty trail
To the right, you see a spatter of cows
Like snowflakes, no two cows are alike
To the left, you see a field of corn
Bright yellow kernels compliment rich green stalks
You take another step, where are you?
To the right, you see a glimmering ribbon of river in the horizon
Its waves are as calm as yogis after a meditation session
To the left, you see a golden songbird perched on a fence
It boasts a black puff of hair on its chest
You take another step, this time, to the beat of the songbird’s melody
To the right, you see rows of soybeans
The light breeze scattered them on the damp soil
To the left, you see bundles of wildflowers
Their vibrant purple flowers attract the most extravagant of winged creatures
You take another step, a curious step
To the right, you see chocolate-colored bison
Running, rushing, racing across the open field
To the left, you see coffee-colored horses
Sprinting, speeding, sporting across the hilly terrain
You take another step, a fascinated step
To the right, you see barrels of pale brown hay
They are tall and they are strong
To the left, you see a vast prairie
Sunflowers peek over the tall grasses
You take another step, the last step on the path
You look to your right
And you look to your left
Why, of course, you’re in Nebraska!

Shelly Zhang

The Abandoned

A family was once here,
Living inside of me years ago.
The best of their days; the best of my days
Which didn’t last long
I still recall the day they left - a heartbreaking departure.

Years have passed and I stand here alone.
The sun rises and sets on me.
Watching the reddish hues blending in this azure canvas,
I wonder if those people still remember me.
A forlorn farmhouse.
An abandoned friend.

I ain’t nothing in this huge prairie.
Sunflowers hold their heads high to show off the beauty.
Angelic yellow-bellied flycatchers skim through the air.
Children enjoy a beautiful afternoon at the cross road far away from me.
Watching them is all I do.

Before long, the canvas starts changing its color.
The dark purple sky scares off the children
Wind blows wildly as flycatchers fluttering to the nests
Lightning comes,
Painting the canvas with some zigzagging lines.
A coruscating shock to the world,
but not to me.
I continue standing here,
Watching it silently like I watch everything else.

(top of page)
Samantha Wiedel

Samantha Wiedel

My Nebraska

Riding bareback
feeling the muscles of my horse move
as she walks along an abandoned dirt road
her ears flicking back and forth
Every so often she glances back to make sure I'm safe

A calm breeze brushes the hair out of our faces
An oriole sings somewhere in the distance that surrounds us on all sides
Grass, flowers, and trees dance along to nature's song

For just a while
My mind is calm
and my heart is full

For just a while
The troubled world can't find us
And we are free

Cienna Friesen

Cienna Freisen

The Junkyard Church

Lazy Sundays
after Church
are a current I ride
drifting me through the doors
out into the sun
as I wait for Dad to finish talking
and Mom to put away chairs

So I drift along
past the little taupe building
our Church
It used to house
Prisoners of war
before it housed
Practitioners of peace

So I drift along
down the narrow gravel road
deeply eroded
It used to lead to the highway
Now it leads to the horses
and stops a few yards short
of all the noise

So I drift along
right into the junkyard
And the air changes
from the warm, laughing
voices of spring
To a respectful quiet

The road winds
under unkempt trees
Reverent as they bow
in their way

So I drift along
Rusted grain trucks
open a bleary eye
and shut it again
Broken-windowed school buses
snooze in the shade
A rust-scattered forest
with weeds
conforming all
to the landscape
One body

As the congregation drifts
out into the sun
I watch them
Children run in the bright yard
a haven for play
Parents swap war stories
and favors
A mother and her daughter
walk home
They are adults

It is a curious thing
People drift in
to the Junkyard Church