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2014 Poetry Competition: "Homeland"

The Humanities Institute is pleased to announce the winners of our second annual poetry contest. This year’s theme was “Homeland.” and was divided into two categories: High School Poets and USF Poets. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd place poems as well as all the Honorable Mentions will be featured on the NPM@USF Website throughout the month of April, 2014. A new poem will be posted each day, Mon. - Fri. so be sure to check in regularly.

1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners in each category will receive their awards in a special event featuring distinguished poet Li-Young Lee, who will be in residence at USF the first week of April.

High School Poets:

  • First Place: Sorella Lark Andersen "Homesand" St. Petersburg High School
  • Second Place: Sashinya DeSilva "Elephant Eyes" Admiral Farragut Academy
  • Third Place: Kshanikadevi Persud "Matrbhumi (Motherland)" C. Leon King High School

  • Honorable Mention: Eduardo Areingdale "A Poem of my Country" Durant High School
  • Honorable Mention: Brittany Cravatta "Homeland" Tampa Catholic
  • Honorable Mention: Kaitlin Curington "Where I'm From" Howard W. Blake High School
  • Honorable Mention: Jessica Kelly "Light Sheets Cover Scarlett Foxes" Durant High School
  • Honorable Mention: Julia Licona "Wonderland" Durant High School
  • Honorable Mention: Rosalind McDaniel "The Battle" Howard W. Blake High School
  • Honorable Mention: Radhe Mehta "Red Dot" Strawberry Crest High School
  • Honorable Mention: Ciara Ogden "Still Waters will Restore my Soul" Durant High School
  • Honorable Mention: Cahill Shpall "Jewish Boy" Admiral Farragut Academy
  • Honorable Mention: Lindsay Wright "Title Wave" Howard W. Blake High School

USF Poets:

  • First Place: Floydd Michael Elliott "Some Kind of Story"
  • Second Place: Andrew Hemmert "What I learn Of Florida, My Stolen Ancestral Home"
  • Third Place: Melanie Graham "Mother land"

  • Honorable Mention: Ryan Cheng "As My Grandmother Prepares"
  • Honorable Mention: Casey Clague "Past Aural"
  • Honorable Mention: Dell deChant "Outside Near Dawn: August 2013"
  • Honorable Mention: Laura Estes-Swilley "Wood Nymphs"
  • Honorable Mention: Elan Justice Pavlinich "A Castle in Tampa"
  • Honorable Mention: Whitney Templeton "Into Which We Swing"

    Read last year's winning poems.

    April 1
    Lindsay Wright: Honorable Mention

    11th Grade, Howard W. Blake High School

    “Title Wave”

    Why does the title come first?
    Because you don’t know what you’re saying
    Until you’re saying it.
    It should trigger something
    Like how one triggers two
    The pull triggers the bullet
    The sky triggers the storm
    One two three
    Death with a capital D
    An you’re lost in the rain

    I’ve been warned by thunder
    By death
    By titles before
    Because they couldn’t tell the ending
    Like the story could
    Because Shakespeare titled it
    Romeo and Juliet
    Stopping before it was called
    Romeo and Juliet Die
    And that’s what they think it’s all about.
    What we write is what they see
    What we say is what they think
    And if they want us to read minds
    I pick up a book and read.

    Why do you have a title
    Before a story
    Why do you have a name
    Before you’re born
    What does your mother scream
    When you’re lost in a crowd
    What separates you from the masses,
    From the library?
    You are Juliet’s Romeo
    You are your wife’s husband
    You are your mother’s son
    And when buried under the ground
    Of the earth on which you were born
    She can still find you.



    April 2
    Eduardo Areingdale: Honorable Mention

    12th Grade, Durant High School

    “A Poem of My Country”

    My Sweet Venezuala
    Heritage retained, but I yearn for your beauty

    Oh how I miss you
    Your beautiful mountains, your rustic nature

    But I cannot return, for my country is dying
    Infected with corruption and government greed

    Wounded my country is, yet
    My people still smile, for my country lives on

    Here I am, on the outside
    Looking through a glass, stained with blood

    My country, my people, my family, my pride
    All warped by the Venezuelan government

    My poor country, beat and abused by the government
    Providing everything but order, but peace

    Return I want, but stay here I must
    Behind the glass, across the seas

    Dѐjanos vivir en paz, Let us live in peace!
    On the mountains, in the jungles

    Free from greed, free from corruption

    Where the sun shines warmly always
    Where the people smile amidst the chaos

    I will speak no more of my country
    For the nostalgia that lifts my voice
    Also brings tears to my eyes



    April 3
    Cahill Shpall: Honorable Mention

    12th Grade, Admiral Farragut Academy

    “Jewish Boy”

    Shady looks, hidden laughs,
    I’m sorry I worship a scroll instead of a book,
    I’m sorry I pray to God and not his son,
    I’m sorry my great people had numbers on their arms
    Staining deeper than any ink could,
    I’m sorry for being weak,
    I’m sorry for joining in on the jokes,
    I’m sorry for being ashamed of me,
    I’m sorry for nothing,
    I’m sorry for embracing who I am,
    I’m sorry for wearing the star with pride,
    I’m sorry for being proud of my people,
    I’m sorry for your ignorance,
    I’m sorry for you.



    April 4
    Ciara Ogden: Honorable Mention

    12th Grade, Durant High School

    “Still Waters Will Restore My Soul”

    Hot showers burn off the dead skin and every memory I ever held
    Of those who held me, people and objects alike that I-
    I allowed myself to call home, if only for a minute
    And that’s how long it usually lasted.

    The frumpy beds I made, the silly songs I danced to
    With melodies so warm and lyrics so cold
    The doors slammed in my face, backs turn away
    Leaving me able to take my knife and pull it down their spine with ease
    But I can’t.

    Because every time I aim, I see the memories held
    Between their worn joints and my fragile skin
    I see dark grey clouds hanging above their shoulders
    Knowing the storm brewing is what led them away from me
    And not the knife I envisioned piercing, reaching through my spine
    The one I thought they had placed there on my moment unaware.

    No, it is only my mind stealing vision from my eyes
    Making me pack my bags with loneliness and inadequacy
    Replacing all of my warmth with chill
    As I step away from yet another house, another bed,
    Another sun-kissed tree and laugh-evoking friendship
    And start walking to God only knows where
    For the twenty-third time
    < Because I am too free-spirited, independent, liberated
    Isolated, fear-stricken, prideful, thoughtless

    To let myself call anything home.



    April 7
    Radhe Mehta: Honorable Mention

    11th Grade, Strawberry Crest High School

    “Red Dot”

    Awaken to Angles, watching my every move… “karma, karma, karma” they sing.
    Out of the straw cloud upon I sleep, mother scolds,“Oot cam carwanuche*!”on her forehead red dot.
    In the water room I wash away filth from yesterday’s labor, cool water dancing upon my sun kissed skin.
    I wear now colorful embroidered cloth, which hugs all my body but my arms, face, and stomach.
    Mother’s mother tells me to make tea; I respect my mother’s mother, so I make tea for everyone.
    As I make Chai, I watch out the window in the kitchen, cows grazing upon sweet green carpet.
    I see a man in beautiful red and gold cloth riding upon an elephant moving onward toward his marriage.
    Not too long after comes the bride, on her forehead red dot, drummers commemorate her arrival.
    The Chai is done, and I serve it to father, mother, brothers, sisters, and mother’s mother, chai is too hot.
    We wait, father turns on the news, only 5 rapes were reported 3 less from the day before, we drink.
    After we together go to the nearest temple walking on dirt and mud pathways, I bring fruit for offering.
    As I walk I see a homeless man, no clothe, no food, no smile, the sun’s rays disturbing his slumber.
    As I watch him the Angles sing to me “Karma, karma,” they say, I run to the man and give him fruit.
    We arrive at the Temple; the idols of beautiful forms of God welcome me with smile and love.
    I offer fruit, the temple’s devotee places his finger in a small bowl of red mud, I wait for the moment.
    He places his finger between my brows, red hot. I pray, “Om bur buwa swah,deyoyo nahat prechodea.”
    I ask God for blessing in my studies, health, and wealth, I turn around and walk with my family home.
    At home I do all my chores like Mother told, cooked lunch, and began my daily studies.
    Within time the stars awakened, red dot on my forehead, I listen to the crickets sing and dance.
    Before I sleep I think of my beautiful land, family, and culture, to how it shapes me to be a good person.
    I close my eyes singing with the Angles the song of karma still wearing the red dot.

    “Wake up, you have chores!”



    April 8
    Rosalind McDaniel: Honorable Mention

    12th Grade, Howard W. Blake High School

    “The Battle”

    His wife washes dishes in worry as she watched the skies fade,
    From blue to gray
    From the smoke releases by the bombs and gun shots.
    She created stories in her head about what could be taking place
    and wondered why her husband,
    an Asian,
    was so interested in fighting for America.
    Until it hit her.
    This is where he learned to speak English,
    the place that he received his education,
    The money that was used to allow the water in the sink that she stood over to wash
    dishes to be clean.
    A month of constant door bell ringing, cards, and red roses that are now shriveled
    and sitting in brown water went by.
    And now she,
    A loyal army wife,
    A mother.
    Eats at the table with her two children and an empty seat.
    And lays in bed,



    April 9
    Julia Licona: Honorable Mention

    9th Grade, Durant High School


    Home is where the heart is they say,

    But what if I said my heart is in books?

    When I hear the sound of the clock, it resembles that white rabbit, tapping his foot,

    Telling me I’m late.

    I race across the cobblestone walkway. My glass slippers step in tune with every

    Chime of the town clock.

    The castle, the enchanted place that looks like the sound of French horns,

    Laughter and singing.

    Gold chandeliers hang like crystal fireworks reflecting light onto a crowd of smiles.

    I walk down to the dance hall where my beast awaits me.

    He looks like the feeling of warm covers that cocoon you making you feel safe.

    His large hands feel like the smell of pine trees, cinnamon, spice- I am

    Whisked away, I am a child.

    The child with my brother lost in the woods. The pine trees remind me of the


    When we come upon a candy house I pause. White icing outlines every corner.

    Vibrant gumdrops sit on every window sill and peppermint logs build the sides.

    I walk up the red licorice path and creak open the door.

    The evil witch who looks like the sound of her wicked cackles, waits inside.

    She gives me an assuring smile, but her devious eyes say otherwise.

    But, I see her green light, desire stirs inside me and I prick my finger.

    I begin to drift back to wonderland, second star to the right, and straight to my




    April 10
    Jessica Kelly: Honorable Mention

    12th Grade, Durant High School

    “Light Sheets Cover Scarlet Foxes”

    There are unspoken words on our skin.
    My freckles are constellations of speech,
    “Hello. I love you. I feel so safe around you. Stay with me.”
    Walls, with scuffs like brush strokes are painted with memories
    It is a den and we are the scarlet foxes nestled there.
    Us against the forest, us against the world.
    Here I am cozy, here in the comfortable shade.
    Bright, harsh worldly light rarely enters, like a hidden waterfall glen, we are set apart.
    Bubbling voices that fade in and out of thought, laughter always echoes there.
    And dreams settle so easily, a light white sheet drifting to swaying, pastel green grass after being blown
    from a laundry line, and caught rippling like a lone sail.
    I feel like I am walking through an early morning hallway, cool dawn light spilling onto the floor and
    kissing my skin, there is freshness I can smell in the colors of faint marmalade pink and lilac purple
    stretching the once forgotten sky.
    Was always and will always be, full of promise.
    Their arms, yes.
    Memory gives me sadness in strength, and strength in sadness.
    For soon, I know I will have to tie a sheet around my freckled shoulders and fade into marmalade mist.
    Fear and love and dreams all colliding together like a mighty storm conjured up, lightning
    flashing their rapier blades at each other in an startling clash.
    Marmalade clouds will settle again.
    And I was born to whisper words, “I will return”.



    April 11
    Kaitlin Curington: Honorable Mention

    11th Grade, Howard W. Blake High School

    “Where I’m From”

    I am from parking lots
    from streetlights and blasting care stereos.
    I am from the bottom bunk.
    (messy, cluttered
    it was my form of expression.)
    I am from talks with Demetrius about his dream of living in
    New York,
    the drug dealer neighbors
    whose names I have forgotten
    but their children’s faces are burned into my memory.

    I’m from computer and T.V. screens
    from Yu-Gi-Oh! and Sailor Moon
    I’m from the loudmouths
    and the jokers,
    from be quiet! and stop hitting!
    I’m from Sunday naps
    on the couch
    to the arms of my father carrying me to bed.

    I’m from end of summer brunch at Grandma’s,
    steak fingers and homemade gravy.
    From the memories my grandpa lost
    to the dementia,
    the hospital bed in my grandma’s living room she laid in.

    Across the street
    was a park,
    my laughter and tears
    mixed into the sand box.
    I am from high-hopes-
    far above the sky-
    my arms in an eternal reach.



    April 14
    Brittany Cravatta: Honorable Mention

    12th Grade, Tampa Catholic High School


    My home is like a cloud
    completely spread out all over the world
    and my entire family is the rain that is protected within it.

    My home is many cultures
    American, Italian, Irish and Welsh
    but it binds together as one land.
    Each country is in my blood and I represent each one
    This is my home.

    My home travels
    And the cloud is scattered everywhere
    Here in the Sunshine State, I am born and breathe the warm heat.
    Then to New York where the white snow glimmers
    To the dry deserts of Texas
    and finally to the lukewarm land of Massachusetts.

    My home is where I roam.
    My neighborhood, my school, my team.
    The friends I make and the friends I had
    and everything in my past.
    The places I loved and have been.
    And my home continues to grow as I move forward into the future.
    This is my home.



    April 15
    Ryan Cheng: Honorable Mention

    USF M.F.A. Student, English Major

    “As My Grandmother Prepares”

    Her hands, papered and crinkled, roll
    dough flat, thin against floured wood. Pockets of air

    crater the discs of dough, leaves pressing
    their faces to a window to glance at the passing sun.

    The Penang sun, furious and inflexible. She sprinkles
    green onions cushioned. She kneads

    each piece, coils them into snail shells.
    Why does the hibiscus understand the need

    of the sun suffocated by the savage blue below?
    In the widening aperture of morning, her eyes

    sharpen--then, retune, gazing
    through the panes of dragonfly wings



    April 16
    Casey Clague: Honorable Mention

    USF Undergraduate Student: Psychology/Creative Writing

    “Past Aural”

    These were meant to be my last
    days on the rocking horse, but I feel
    more cowboy and less toddler. I dig
    my heels into her plastic sides and a song
    of creaky springs announced my departure

    A fierce gallop from home, marking up
    camp, stemming the advance of God’s own
    pavement where the only brooms are
    kaleidoscopes of boot-ground cigarettes.

    I chase a paper boat downstream. We crash a rapid,
    unfold together. Out ink leaches a shared promise
    to the water—I will only unfold in you. Out here,

    every day is an eclipse when
    inheritance moves across ambition.

             If everything keeps its orbit,

    twelce hours later we’re a constellation—three
    anemic flashes in a coughing
    semi-line through an otherwise void.



    April 17
    Dell deChant: Honorable Mention

    USF Senior Instructor, Religious Studies

    “Outside Near Dawn: August 2013”

    Near dawn the bats returned
    as anxious coming home as leaving at dusk.

    I aimed my flashlight
    to the heavens,
    little insects found the light,
    drifted through it,
    then the bats
    found the insects.
    Higher still the Perseids.

    Earlier, just after sunset,
    in the West, the Shawwal crescent
    ended the fast
    with a little feast.
    How long repeated the tales of night,
    cycles of crescents,
    meteor circuits.
    before us

    with our measure and our time
    to tame our marvel and our awe:

    inevitable as insects
    drawn to light
    and bats to them
    under a shower of stars.



    April 18
    Laura Estes-Swilley: Honorable Mention

    USF Alumna: English Education

    “Wood Nymphs”

    Descended from
    anger and cowardice
             they stepped from a wood
    formerly inhabited by
    a nobody
    they had never named,
    cleaned up his messes
             (as the always had),
    buried him with coffee spoons
    and walked away…
    the dirt of their father’s land
    washed away in time zones and calendars
    until he faded into



    April 21
    Elan Justice Pavlinich: Honorable Mention

    USF Doctoral Student: English Literature

    “A Castle in Tampa”

    He danced on shimmering lights all the while
    pushing platelets more closely together
    trying to convince blood to congeal and
    make skin.

    The drawbridge bowed to androgynous thrust
    -ing fever into their fold so the sing
    -ing girl was kept quiet until midnight
    had struck.

    Beyond smoke and turbid humidity
    on the cusp of the mote where gators sleep
    scales like skin stand stiffly seeking the sun

    'til dawn.



    April 22
    Whitney Templeton: Honorable Mention

    USF Graduate Student: Creative Writing

    “Into Which We Swing”

    Fingers gripping hard the knotted rope, we lifted
    our tanned skins skyward, scooped

    limbs forward to open the billows
    of low-lying cloud. We, alive

    with dewy curve, slipped languid,
    liquid like tongues

    into the muggy mouth we knew
    as mid-July.

    The cypress knobs taunted our limbs
    as we thighed the thirsty rope. We clung,

    pendulums over the water,
    then let loose our bodies,

    a wild untangle of shins and wrists
    airborne in the drowning Florida sun.

    Humid squalls sighed heavy on our napes
    and backs as we dangled. How we dipped

    below the lakeline, warm quenches of tarn,
    our dunks as guttural moans, our bodies under

    water, drunk with lust— that murky churning
    gulping us whole.

    Summer long, horizon wide, we bowed like branches
    to the boys. Swimming in the throat

    of Lake Kissimmee, we parched
    our lungs to slake our skins.



    April 23
    Kshanikadevi Persaud: High School, 3rd Place

    C. Leon King High School

    “Mātrbhūmi (Motherland)”

    Across the raging and turmoiling seas, you found your way to me.
    You found a way to make me believe
    In all of your memories.

    Now all I see are swirls of vibrant greens, yellows, oranges, and reds
    And the rocky terrains of chilly mountains that tower over
    Miniscule villages sitting far below.
    The smell of spices seeps through the thin walls of small huts
    Where mothers cook and sweep.
    I can hear the laughter of children playing cricket in the dirt fields,
    The gingery taste of chai smoothing down my throat chases
    The spicy taste of curry away.
    The cool Ganga River flows between my fingers and
    Washes around my ankles as I bathe in the holy river.
    In the city, verdors are yelling, "Sastē kaparē yahām bēcā!" Cheap fabric sold here!
    I am jostled in the dense crowd of busy men and women,
    The scent of agarbati fills the air as I pass by small shops with women crowding inside.
    The syrupy sweet taste of garam garam galub jamun explodes
    In my mouth as I bite down on the soft and sticky sweetmeat.

    Suddenly I am in my room once again, staring at the blank wall in front of me.
    Somehow you found a way to make me see
    That you are my Mātrbhūmi.



    April 24
    Sashinya DeSilva: High School, 2nd Place

    Admiral Farragut Academy

    “Elephant Eyes”

    11 days into the triprd,

    a chord dyed red, white, and blue (the name brand I thought everyone could afford)

    fastened me to the white-yellow palm of the araliya flower silent in its tombstone temple,

    the forgotten noble cities of the old Ceylon kings now littered with Coca-Cola ads and McDonald’s signs,

    and the e-mail or post card or phone call relatives I hadn’t touched in years.

    11 days into the trip,

    the closest I’d felt to home was on the plane ride,

    the filtered, inside-air that I’d grown up on, food as plastic as the silverware,

    sickly, sweet flight attendants with lips too red to be happy,

    nothing but a safety bubble where I spent the majority of my time absorbed in Friends.

    11 days into the trip,

    the photo taken atop Sigiriya rock seven years ago still stood on her dresser;

    my cousin and I could’ve been mistaken for Sri Lankan school girls,

    both of us comfortable in our cocoa-colored skins, toothy grins of our giggles frozen in the frame,

    yet I remember thinking how odd it must be for her to always feel like she belongs.

    11 days into the trip,

    a beggar was kneeling in front of me, stubby eye lashes, scaly hands outstretched,

    and I, wrapped in Aeropostale, new iphone tucked in the back pocket of my American Eagle jeans,

    quickly dropped a rusty quarter onto the ground next to her, scurrying away

    I tricked myself into feeling good as I watched her carefully lay the coin on an otherwise empty mat.

    11 days into the trip,

    the elephant trainer told me how the famous Sri Lankan elephant never forgets anything,

    not even who she is or where she came from.

    Just then, the elephant in her cage rolled her eyes—two proud unblinking amber moons—down at me,

    and I stole them without warning, without apology; they are mine forever.



    April 25
    Sorella Lark Andersen: High School, 1st Place

    St. Petersburg High School


    My young body floats, adrift in a seawater blanket,
    Pulled into a salty caress by a bed of green sea grass.
    Enwombed gently like a pearl, rocked by the tide.

    Foamy waves break around island limbs.
    Ripples dilate around head, shoulders, knees; I rise from the sea.
    Infant dreams: they smell of the ocean.

    These wrinkled feet dig into a carpet of shells.
    Newly borne to the land, I delight in the sweeping shore,
    In the sand lit gold by the sun. My legs stretch,

    Grow long and strong and quivering like beachgrass.
    Wet footprints fill and fade in the swash, where pastel coquinas dig.
    I, breathless conqueror of the beach, find home in the dunes.

    Grown restless, mature eyes rise to the sky.
    Stark white seagulls careen in contrast to the bright expanse;
    I admire their stretching wings. Yet forever searching,

    They fly on, dwindle to nothing against a violent red sunset.
    I stay nightly with shore birds who huddle beside a calm, infinite sea.
    Sticky sand grains form enough constellations for me.



    April 28
    Melanie Graham: USF, 3rd Place

    English Faculty

    “Mother land”

    December crusts Virginia earth. I search
    for her engraved in speckled gunmetal.
    Remember the itch of whittled wrists, and
    again, the story - bus stop, shattered ice,
    hair ripped from another child’s head, red roots
    dangling like quivering fingers. See her
    jaw, too small to be broken, fed cambric
    tea, potatoes boiled to paste. See my jaw,
    black eucalyptus, swollen. Wind stitches
    me here. Each blade is a hand, each word, a
    blade. I know how pine thins in frozen ground.
    Under me, she curls, fist-tight against cold.
    I have learned the taste of my own blood.



    April 29
    Andrew Hemmert: USF, 2nd Place

    Undergraduate: Creative Writing and Sociology

    “What I Learn Of Florida, My Stolen Ancestral Home”
    —after Audre Lorde

    Of tide’s mephitic low,
    of the black mangrove’s
    naked pneumatophores.

    For every sinkhole that eats a sleeping house,
    a thousand hungry mouths
    loose their lips under the suburbs.

    What I learn of this place—
    of phosphogypsum
    hills, of alligators hunted
    for skull and skin—
    is lost on the snowbird
    children tromping our beaches, sharks’
    teeth like crosses
    at their throats. But I smile

    at pythons in drain pipes,
    at cichlids thick as plaque
    in our canals.
    It is the same smile I offer
    this vision of my forefathers, dragging
    the lead tablets of manifest destiny
    through a snarl
    of cypress and sedge.



    April 30
    Floydd Michael Elliot: USF, 1st Place

    USF Library Faculty

    “Some Kind of Story Program She Watched for Years”

    Her Uncle Frank was in WWI, got his stomach all messed up; he’d go out drinking to settle
    it. One day the wool undergarment froze to the clothes line, “I thought it was a ghost,” he
    said, “So I shot it.” Three doctors cleared him. The stairs in the old houses by the Wabash
    river were narrow so only one Indian could get up at a time. She lived out on the land.
    He’d go out drinking. At 7:30 the blind man would come and sing. She used to crotchet
    blankets, do the washing by the river. Secret door in the panel wall, to hide. He cussed, it
    sounded so bad. They only had the one dog growing up, took it fishing in the Wabash.
    Jimmy, Johnny, George all

           went to WWII; George hated it, wore the loudest t-shirts under his uniform; he
            was told if he hated it so much he would be shot at sunrise. The records were lost.
            45 years, an atheist. Riding the rails. The first two wars took all the men in her
            family, accept Uncle Frank. He’d go out drinking.
                   Once he shot three holes in his own undergarments
                   as they hung on the clothes line.