The third place winner of our Summer 2022 National Teen Storyteller Contest, presented with the student-led and founded Decameron Project! We invited young writers to share a story responding to the theme of Community Solidarity.
This contest is part of our 2022 NEA Big Read initiative, made possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, in celebration of Toni Morrison's landmark novel, Beloved.
In a town along the ocean,
full of people as beaten and weary as its shore,
is a girl born from the sea.
Her eyes sparkle like the sun at high noon,
her tongue is sharper than the cliffed coast,
and her mind is quicker than the diving osprey.
She will be the town’s skipping stone,
thrown by loving hands into the raging storm.
She will be the first to leave it behind,
and make them proud in the sprawling city.
Her tower of textbooks sways on the table,
and her stacks of scribbled notes piles high,
but the wind cannot topple her work.
Wild and salty, it slips through the window
and turns a gentle caress into a thunderclap,
but she was forged in a tempest.
She is learning how to stand in a hurricane.
She works with her head bent low,
and the schoolteacher reminds her
to keep her gaze high, towards the horizon
and the opportunities that wait.
As she studies by lamplight, the fisherman
does not let her go hungry.
The girl insists she pay for her meal,
but he knows her journey to the city
will be payment enough.
She scrapes and scrounges for money,
puts dull pennies in shiny tin cans,
for the ferry to the mainland.
If she notices more coins
than she counted that morning,
the librarian isn’t being quiet enough.
And when the day comes,
the town sends her to the city.
Crying eyes seem to outnumber
the grains of sand underfoot.
She hugs them goodbye
and dives into the deep.
The months tumble into years.
The town grows older, and they wait
for a letter, a package, or a ferry in the distance.
Hands as wrinkled as prunes tap anxiously.
Worry lines crack and spider along foreheads.
In hushed whispers in the glow of the lighthouse,
the people say their skipping stone has sunk.
They grieve the girl that ran like water,
into the embrace of a city
that must not have loved her
the way they did.
She comes home a broken bottle,
all jagged edges and empty wishes.
This is her message:
The wind of the city knocked her down.
She’s sorry she wasn’t good enough.
But the town hushes her, saying
only the seagulls may cry today.
They taught her better than that.
They’re so proud of how long she
weathered the storm.
The town buoys her up
and gives her to the waves.
The water smooths her splinters
and polishes her into sea glass.
Like Aphrodite of ages past,
she rises from the foam.
After all, love was born of the sea,
and this seaside town has so much of it to give.