The 15 Radical Potato Renegades

The process of bringing a new poem or story into the world involves tuning into the senses and removing whatever stands in the way of a fresh perspective. These young writers came to camp every day with an attitude of openness and the willingness to dig deep to find the materials needed to accomplish such a task. These magicians of narrative and technicians of the rhythmic line have the ability to conjure images, characters, and worlds instantly, and the following poems and stories are a sample of what is possible when such experts of the imagination practice their art together and support each other. This collection is a constellation of worlds, where the depths and complexities of human desires, joys, and struggles may be rediscovered through these writers’ impulse toward curiosity and surprise.

Adam Edelman
Badgerdog Teaching Artist

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Roach History

I come home from school
I see a big fat roach
slimy and juicy
crawling away faster than
Leo Bolt, the fastest man alive
a round sphere is thrown
into the circle of time
with the roach spinning
with it
this sphere is blue with
scribbles of green
384 – 322 B.C.
Aristotle thinks the Earth is
the center of the solar
system… he was wrong

in Aristotle’s room
there was a roach

both roaches looked
the same

which makes
both roaches the

same roach

Will Sharp

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Tiffany and the Moon

Tiffany was sick of her house. She was sick of having a smaller room than Barbie, and her closet was only the size of an RV. She wanted somewhere to live where she would have more space than her sister.

One night, she was staring at the moon and it hit her. The moon had all the space she needed without anyone to share it with. She rushed inside and asked Barbie, “Can I have money to buy a rocket?” Barbie, being the selfish person she was, declined.

Tiffany was riding her bike home from school, sulking, when she noticed a closed bank. She walked to the door and took out the pocket hammer Ken had given her. She broke the glass and walked inside, stealing all the money. Then she opened the unlocked door into the empty street and rode away while the alarm blared behind her.

Tiffany rode all the way to the rocket store and bought the pinkest-looking rocket she could find. Too impatient to wait, she flew to the moon, the Earth fading behind her.

Several years later, she settled on the moon and relaxed but could not get the ringing of the alarm out of her head. It was everywhere. She looked at the pink rocket and, for the first time, she regretted what she had done.

Himanshi Malik

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Song on Thanksgiving Dinner

– after Czeslaw Milosz’s “A Song on the End of the World”

At the beginning of dinner
The fresh, clear water enters the cups
Warm gravy spills onto the steaming mashed potatoes
Rasberry jam splats and spreads itself onto the heated toast
Salted, crisp potato chips pour onto fancy plates
Sliced sausages and beef tastes perfect with BBQ sauce
The wonderful aroma of turkey takes over the house
Finally, the hot, crisp turkey slices into layers
And peppers and salts itself
Cold, freezing vanilla and chocolate ice cream
Heaps onto plates in gigantic scoops
The meal ends and the children go outside to
Play in the warm light of the sun
While adults turn on the TV to watch football
Stars play their hardest
Everyone waits for the next Thanksgiving
Everyone hopes it will be as good as this one

Joseph Park

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Engine

– after Dara Wier’s “She Thinks She Hung the Moon”

My head is a broken motor.
The same song plays on repeat.
My head is an endless ocean.
It has jumping monkeys that can fly.
And my heart is a dark abyss,
If all bad thoughts would vanish from the Earth.
My heart is an unfinished tale.
It has experienced the strangling of wind.
My head is a beatdown system
That wishes paper could come to life.
My hands are rolling pencils
That may reveal unknown voices.
My heart is a heavy drumbeat
That may cause dreams to contain reality.
If it has a lightning storm that brings joy,
My head is a burning cabin.
It creates shoes that run on their own.

Natasha Telang

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Sunrise

All set to go outside, the sun pops up
The cats are ready to meow
Gleaming its rays on us, the sun is out
The people are moving their brushes across their dirty teeth
The cats are anticipating their first meal
The sun is a vivid bright orange and yellow
The sky, blue as a puppy’s eyes
Getting dressed, the hungry people eat their meals
The energetic cats are anxious to play
The sun and sky, ready to start the day

Athvait Manikanatan

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Sunshine’s Story

Once upon a time, in the Orchard of Happiness, lived a cherry named Sunshine. Sunshine was the brightest red cherry in her whole tree. There were many cherries that fell in love with her, but she did not love any of them. Her friends nagged her day and night to give some of them a chance, but every time she refused.

One day, in the apple tree across from her, Sunshine spotted a dazzling and handsome apple. His lush green leaves highlighted his deep red skin. He was so beautiful! He was always flirting with the other apples and never paid any attention to Sunshine. Nevertheless, Sunshine couldn’t stop thinking about him and would not give up. But her friends saw her looking lovestruck at the apple, and immediately reported her. The leader was furious, for it was against the law to fall in love with a Pomme. You could only love small-tree fruits, such as kumquats and figs. The leader ordered his guards to move her to the other side of the tree.

“Hey, let me go!” Sunshine demanded, but it was no use. During the struggle, a twig scratched her side, destroying her flawless skin. Her reputation was ruined! She was miserable. The guards finally set her down at the other end of the tree. Sunshine started to cry.

“Why are you crying?” a kind voice said. She looked up. Sunshine saw a purple fig with green stripes running down his sides. He had a concerned expression.

“Why do you care?” Sunshine asked bitterly.

“Because I can’t stand to see a beautiful cherry like you upset,” the fig replied.

“You think I’m pretty even though I have this horrible scratch on me?” she asked the fig, very surprised.

“Of course. It makes you look tough. My name is Stripes, by the way.”

“My name is Sunshine,” she said.

“That’s a pretty name. It suits you,” Stripes said happily. Sunshine blushed. She stopped crying. She thanked Stripes for making her feel better.

“Anything to see you smile,” he replied. They ended up loving each other and were together forever.

Maryn Medlock

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Victories

I own an expensive supercar. My heart explodes as I race down the track. My hands are rattling roller coasters, trying to keep the car under control. I have sped down the steep snowy mountains of Colorado. My feet become slithering snakes as I turn side to side to slow down. I have ended the sorrow and sadness of war. My feet are thunderous elephants as I run through the streets, yelling that war is over and world peace has begun. I have ventured into the vast nothingness of space. My mind, an airport of thoughts, thinking about what we will find. I have traveled to some of the most famous places in the world. My arms are swinging pendulums as I run off the airplane, ready to explore and discover. I wish I could travel back in time and meet Muhammad Ali. My imagination is an open door, ready to make that dream into a reality.

Evan Deeny

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What We Are

– after Dara Wier’s “She Thinks She Hung the Moon”

My head is a hungry pigeon scavenging in lively New York City.
My heart is a single teardrop streaming down powdered cheeks,
messing up makeup as I go.
My hands are dull steak knives, forgotten in the kitchen drawer.
I am a velveteen rabbit buried beneath the wet earth.

Your head is a rusty train trying its best to make the distance.
Your heart is a wild stallion, scarred yet powerful.
Your hands are the soft petals of a freshly sprouted daisy.
You are an unforgettable chaotic hurricane destroying everything you touch.

Our heads are drops of water spraying from a hidden waterfall.
Our hearts are pictured in a lonely Polaroid
laying on the creaky attic floorboards, collecting dust.
Our hands are woven into a cool-colored quilt, hiding in between the threads.
We are the sun rising and setting, painting the sky warm shades,
admired from the rooftop where you and I lay.

Sophie Holloway

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A Rainy Day

A yellow daisy blooms
Basking in the sun
Until thick clouds cover it
Their color changing from white to gray
Water wets the ground
First the drops are small
Sliding down the daisy’s petals
There is only a quiet pitter-patter
Then the rain comes down hard
As a powerful sheet of water
And the daisy’s yellow is lost
In a sea of gray
For what seems like forever
The pouring downfall does not stop
Then the rain is gone
As fast as it appeared
The only sound is a flow of water trickling down the gutter
While all else is still
Even the sun, peeking out from behind the clouds,
Seems to have stopped midway
Through the morning sky
Shining on the blooming yellow daisy, wet with dew

Eve Nguyen

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Song on a Day at the Beach

– after Czeslaw Milosz’s “A Song on the End of the World”

At the beach
Glittering waves crash upon the shore
Slippery dolphins are jumping out of the water
Seashells stud the sandy shoreline
The air smells of salt and sandy hair
The way it should be

The beach is joyous, celebratory, imaginative
Rosy-cheeked children run along the sand
Laughing and skipping, full of life
The way it should be

At the beach, you are peaceful and comforted
Brightly striped umbrellas are staked into the ground
Above beach towels to keep you dry
When the tide comes in

Then sunset strikes
Seagulls squawk their last before returning to their nests
As if being called home for dinner
The tide rolls away
Families pack up their memories from the day
Until I am the last one left in the cool darkness

At the beach, new days begin
New people walk the salty sand
For the beach is a place of new life
Every time the tide rolls in
Every time the tide rolls away

Emily Kahn

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The Three Pups

There once was a mother wolf who had recently given birth. She treasured her three pups as if they were her life. She cared for them by feeding them salmon, licking their coats clean, teaching them how to enjoy the woods while respecting nature, and gently tucking them into bed every night.

One day, while the pups began preparing to head into the woods for lessons in hunting, their mother warned them, “Take caution, be observant of the environment, and always stick together!”

They all replied with an obedient tone, “Of course, Mother!” They ran off into the woods, carelessly yipping.

Lash and Cacti, the mother’s two favorites, began playing hide and seek with Ginga, the other pup. “Ready or not, here I come!” howled Lash. Lash bounded through the shrubbery until he came upon an oak tree where he located Cacti hiding in the roots.

“Hey, you found me! Now we must go find Ginga!” Cacti joyously said. They fumbled through the underbrush, howling Ginga’s name, but were unsuccessful. They briskly returned to their mother.

Their mother was in shock. “How could you two lose Ginga? I told you to stick together!” She was furious, but concern swept over her anger. They set off into the woods. “Ginga, Ginga!” they repeatedly called.

They dashed through the woods in panic. They checked behind every tree, rock, and bush. Ginga was nowhere to be found. Suddenly, they broke into a clearing, and a flash of sunlight hit them, blinding their vision for a brief moment.

Ginga, the scrawniest one with the worst hunting skills, sat in front of a pile of salmon. “Ginga! You had me so worried! Don’t ever split up from your siblings aga–“ his mother barked, only to be interrupted.

“Mother, look what I’ve caught! Now you, Lash, and Cacti don’t have to hunt tonight! Aren’t you proud?” Ginga beamed.

“Ginga, I will always be proud of you, but all that matters now is that you’re safe,” his mother responded. She protected her pups in a warm embrace, weeping as she vowed to herself to always protect her pups.

Honor Mackdanz

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My Random Story

my bicycle pump is rusty
my car won’t work
a bicycle sits under a tree
the water jiggling in my glass
that sticker on my shirt
sticky tape on a dog
red birds that are mean
flat earth
round sun
a big caterpillar eats a city
cool dog with sunglasses
Clair bear rests in her den
dairy products in a store
green eyeballs in my head
bluebirds in a tree
my touchy story

Sean Ryan

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Sparkler’s Talent

Once, in a place very far away, lived the Kingdom of Dragons. In the Kingdom lived a dark red dragoness named Sparkler. She had blue dots lining her wings and blue gemstones under her eyes. She spent her days in a small, cozy den at the edge of the Kingdom. It was nice there, but Sparkles was very sad. She had been banished from the castle, the center of the Kingdom, because she could not breathe fire like the other dragons. She tried many times to ignite the flame inside her, but she just couldn’t.

One day, she was walking out of her den when she heard a swoosh, boom! She looked up, startled, and saw the castle was being attacked! Flames engulfed the castle, and even from where she sat, Sparkler could hear the screams of terror. Before she knew it, she was flying full speed to help. She stared down at the crumbling castle, horrified.

Suddenly, she felt something strange inside her. She opened her mouth and breathed water! Sparkler quickly closed her mouth in shock. Then she thought, Wait! I can help with this! She opened her mouth again and breathed water all over the burning castle. Steam sprayed everywhere she went.

When Sparkler was sure she had extinguished all the fire, she landed on the remains of the castle. She looked around and saw crowds of surprised dragons beginning to swarm her, congratulating her on stopping the fire. A large shadow was cast over her and the crowd fell silent. The Queen. She swooped down and landed gracefully in front of Sparkler. The Queen, radiating power, towered over her. “Did you fix this?” she thundered.

“Ye-yes, Your Majesty,” Sparkler stammered.

“Thank you very much. You saved our kingdom, and for that, you are welcome to stay in the castle whenever you feel like it,” she announced.

“Thank you, your Majesty!” Sparkles said happily. She moved into the castle and lived there for the rest of her life and she lived happily ever after.

Kate Medlock

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In My Head

– after Dara Wier’s “She Thinks She Hung the Moon”

In my head, the singsong voice of the jay never stops, like wings wanting to fly.
In my head, the howling and screaming cries of the distant coyote
silence – a broken window, cracked.
In my head, a salamander stops fearing and climbs out
from under his rock – an unsteady ladder.
In my head, the inner thoughts and feelings of flower
and tree circulate – like steamships, big and bright.
In my head, all the stars share stories from their travels
around the Milky Way – a starless night, clear.
In my head, the pyramids touch the moon and stars,
a black cat, mysterious and haunting.
In my head, the great works of the Greeks come alive
and speak – a book store open and waiting.
In my head, the slippery skipping stones of the river
have tea with the jagged ones of the sea – finger-like pencils drawing in the details.
In my head, turtle and tortoise explore outside their shells, a bomb shelter, secure.
In my head beautiful, hand-sewn rugs fly freely, a ball game, a home run.

Haley Kate Nettleship

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The Forces of Nature

Mountains of molten magma-turned-lava
Rush down the volcano’s side
Blistering hot, a glorious golden-red
It sends out a call to every predator near
“I’m here”

The wind wildly blows as it sweeps through the streets
Twirling, whooshing, swooshing into the night
It throws down those who stand in the way
For what good are those who defy us?
The voices of the wind say

The night is dark, cold, and empty
Night is black, soulless, and a void without joy
But it can be merry, too
You just have to show it what to do

Stars flicker through endless nights
Never seeing the sun, never dimming the bright light
Still, they soar just beyond our reach
Knowing that a lesson, they still have to teach

Ramya Nambala

Ordinary Extraordinary

Each summer, we spend a day with our creative writing campers outside the classroom in a different sort of space—usually filled with visual art. In these museum galleries, our young writers encounter a different form of expression, find new ways to puzzle through an artist’s intention, and explore what visual representations can show us about the world and ourselves. This year, we are so grateful to have visited The Contemporary Austin and found inspiration among the work of Robert Therrien, a Los Angeles-based artist who works with familiar, everyday objects and places them in new contexts that invite endless interpretation. His installation (specifically designed for The Contemporary) featured a series of small black-and-white photographs of everyday household items; a chest of drawers against the wall replicated on the other side of that wall, surrounded by memorabilia; a metal door that leads to an uncertain destination, and a room of giant folding chairs and tables that make the viewer feel miniature by comparison. Our campers spent a morning writing stories and poems inspired by Therrien’s compelling work, joining in conversation with the artist, unleashing the multiple interpretations Therrien hopes to elicit. We are excited to share just some of their work with you. And so grateful to The Contemporary Austin for making this possible.

Cecily Sailer
Library Foundation Programs Manager

Four Different Ways to Look at a Bedroom

– inspired by Robert Therrien’s photographs

I.

As the cold, harsh winter
swirls by,
a warm bed awaits.

II.

On restless nights,
when I can’t get comfortable,
worries blanket my thoughts.

III.

While a storm brews,
I hide from monsters
under reassuring covers.

IV.

On late nights,
when it took time to arrive,
my bed is still here.

Kyra Sampson
Upper Elementary Workshop, Austin Waldorf School

Robert Therrien, No title (room, panic doors), 2013–2014. Wood, brass, fluorescent light fixture, and mixed media. 121 x 107 1/4 x 151 inches. Installation view, Robert Therrien, The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Austin, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.The Door
Robert Therrien, No title (room, panic doors), 2013–2014. Wood, brass, fluorescent light fixture, and mixed media. 121 x 107 1/4 x 151 inches. Installation view, Robert Therrien, The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Austin, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.The Door

The Door

Behind the door is a
Classroom filled with buzzing children,
Another world full of magic,
A generous dragon,
A secret lab (don’t ask, it’s SECRET),
A humongous monster,
Blank nothing,
The last secret dinosaur,
A movie portal,
A dusty janitor’s closet,
A massive high school,
A normal kid,
Magic that can do almost anything,
A room that smells like roses,
You,
Zombies that are very nice,
An old eye,
A white zucchini,
Pink and purple aliens,
An ancient passage that leads to treasure,
A secret,
People who turned into magical fairies.
Behind the door is a field of flowers under a sky full of stars.

Mannat Ahluwalia
Lower Elementary Workshop, The Girls’ School

Eleven Ways of Looking at Folding Chairs

– after Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”

  1. A midget you are, looking up at the enormosity of a human chair.
  2. Rust climbs up the green painted table like vines and weeds taking over a garden of flourishing flowers.
  3. Folded, lonely, against the stark white wall, the girl kindly unfolds you and sits her curly haired doll down for a tea party.
  4. The grandfather clock strikes precisely 1:37, and hundreds and hundreds of rats pour into the kitchen, looking for scraps of food under the depths of the cave-like table.
  5. In the world of candy, you could be a throne of chewed-up gum, but in my house you would be folded in a corner, never even glanced at.
  6. After a long day of shearing the sheep, the old, tired farmer sits down his behind and decides to retire.
  7. The chair creaks and croaks as she lies back and puts her huge feet on the rusty table.
  8. There are four chairs; there are four people. One is folded up. One person must sit on the floor.
  9. The folding chair was used for his wedding. It was also used for his funeral.
  10. The little white mouse climbs up the leg of the chair, surprising the cat. Doom awaits.
  11. The little boy stands on it, trying to sneak a cookie.

Ava Masterson
Upper Elementary Workshop, The Girls’ School

Robert Therrien, No title (room, pants with tambourines), 2014–2015. Wood, enamel on Masonite, and mixed media. 114 x 139 x 151 inches. Installation view, Robert Therrien, The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Austin, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.
Robert Therrien, No title (room, pants with tambourines), 2014–2015. Wood, enamel on Masonite, and mixed media. 114 x 139 x 151 inches. Installation view, Robert Therrien, The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Austin, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.

All He Wants Is Jane

– inspired by Robert Therrien’s photographs on display at The Contemporary Austin

James is a janitor at an elementary school. Everyday he brings home the cleaning supplies from the janitorial closet because he is afraid ghosts will take them. His grandmother told him ghost stories as a child. She was later found dead next to her Ouija board. James became paranoid. There is a black cloud over his bed. He found it at a flea market as an anti-ghost charm. He spent twenty dollars on it instead of the twenty-dollar chair his mom wanted at Target. His mom is still mad at him, but he does not care. His girlfriend, Jane, loves him, and that is all that matters. Jane is his life. When she is around, he feels invincible, but Jane is in Barbados now for work, so he is lonely and does not care if his bed is made. Right now, he is at Subway eating away his loneliness and crying into his Diet Coke. He knows the manager will come kick him out for disturbing the other customers. It happened yesterday. After he gets kicked out, he will go home and sob on his rumpled bed and fall asleep. But the manager hasn’t come to his booth yet, so he continues to cry and eat his soggy black pepper sub and drink his now salty Diet Coke. He will do this every day until Jane comes home. All he wants his Jane. James looks up from his food to see the manager.

Mae McMillin
Middle School Workshop, The Girls’ School

Pot, Pan, Hold

A string, extended in space, holding up an array of pots and pans. Pot, pan, strainer, pan, pot, bowl, pot, hold. The body put those up, stringing them one by one, drilling holes, the clank of metal on metal, ringing out in the empty room. The mind thinks, and remembers. Pot, pan, strainer, pan, pot, bowl, hold. Hanging it up so that it would hold onto the ceiling. Pot, pan, strainer, pan, pot, hold. The mind hurts. Callused hands carefully working, not wanting to smudge the clean metal. Pot, pan, strainer, pan, hold. The dark non-stick against the silver gray. Pot, pan, strainer, hold. One for each relative to remember. Pot, pan, hold. Mother, who died in childbirth. Father, killed by an angry mob on his way to work, trampled beneath a thousand feet. Pot, pan, hold. Brother, a fatal car accident when he was twenty. Pot, hold. Sister, diagnosed with cancer when she was two. Uncle and Grandpa, in the army a day too long. Hold. Hold. Auntie, who baked cookies until she burned with her house. Hold. Grandma. Hold. Pot, pan, strainer, pan, pot, bowl, pot, hold. A string, my string dangling silently in space, end barely brushing the floor. The knot frays undone. Hold.

Emma Buechler
High School Workshop, The Girls’ School of Austin

Badgerdog campers writing in the galleries of The Contemporary Austin
Badgerdog campers writing in the galleries of The Contemporary Austin

Eleven Gargantuan Perspectives of Giant Folding Chairs and Tables

– after Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”

  1. Mom and Dad confer in the living room

while I eat bread and jam at the table

and Brother leans against the wall, napping.

  1. A small rodent sticks his head up,

ears and nose peeking out behind

the metal legs of the table.

  1. I hear a noise: something

stomping up the stairs, coming towards

its chairs and table.

  1. The giant gently heaves himself onto

one of the folding chairs, motioning

for his wife to fill his bowl with tomato soup.

  1. The green metal on the chairs is edged with rust.

These chairs look to be about ten years old.

The tables stacked on top of each other

are blanketed in carpet like snow in a meadow.

  1. “Help me!” I cried as the shrink ray

zapped me and I went down and down.

  1. The lights flicked off and I opened my eyes.

My chair form turned into me: green eyes, dyed green hair,

green cardigan, green skirt, green leggings.

  1. Crash! The table slips, crashing onto the cement floor, making a dent, an ugly face.

I quickly try to escape with the others when Ms. Callie is suddenly

trapped by two chairs who block the door.

  1. At last! The secret treasure is here!

Now which chair is hiding that gold? Or is it the table?

  1. “Argh!” Mother cried. She scooted her chair back,

and it lifted her off, her feet dangling,

her high heels slipping off her feet.

  1. “There you are,” an eerie voice echoed as I stepped into the room.

Suddenly, I realized what was speaking.

The furniture.

Karina Schwab
Upper Elementary Workshop, The Girls’ School

A Giant Story

I’m so excited! I’m going to an art museum. “We’re here!” calls the teacher. We rushed out of the bus. The museum instructor gave us the rules. My class went up the elevator. Mrs. Lauren pushed Floor 2. Cole pushed the shrink button. The elevator started shaking. We grabbed onto the railing. Ding! We’re at floor number two. “Wow, look at this giant room!” said Mrs. Lauren. “Look at these giant chairs!” exclaimed Amani. “Awesome, look at these giant tables!” said Neel. “Cole, you shrunk us!” said Lilly. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to,” said Cole with a mischievous smile. We all went back to the elevator and made ourselves bigger. Except Cole, he stayed tiny. So we made him our pet.

Kinsey White
Lower Elementary Workshop, Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church

I Seem to Be, But I Am

– inspired by Robert Therrien’s photographs

I seem to be an empty room
But I am full of imagination
I seem to be a simple spoon
But I am the beginning of creation
I seem to be a little man
But I am a little giant
I seem to be a tiny pan
But I am a bit defiant
I seem to be
But I am
I seem to be
But I am
I seem to be a pile of books
But I am a stock of knowledge

Lilith Potter
Upper Elementary Workshop, Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church

Robert Therrien, No title (room, the other room), 2012–2014. Wood and mixed media. 120 x 107 x 155 inches. Installation view, Robert Therrien, The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Austin, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.
Robert Therrien, No title (room, the other room), 2012–2014. Wood and mixed media. 120 x 107 x 155 inches. Installation view, Robert Therrien, The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Austin, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.

Wind-Up

I noticed the small wind-up toy on my dresser, from when I was younger; it had been almost four years since I gave it a passing thought. It was the shape of a puppy. I examined its painted features then turned it over to reveal the wind-up key. I took hold of the key and turned it clockwise. Once… twice… I finished the third turn, something happened.

The walls and everything around me started to grow. The dresser that used to be waist-level now towered over me like a skyscraper. I dropped the toy and tried to run towards the door, but suddenly the distance seemed to stretch on much further than before.

I looked around the gigantic version of my bedroom, and I noticed that the room had not grown bigger; I had become smaller. Based on the things around me, I guessed I was about five inches tall.

Suddenly, I heard thumping noises. They grew louder and louder until they halted. I didn’t dare turn around. I felt the hot, heavy breath blowing on my back like a powerful gust of wind. I turned around to face the creature but was almost knocked over. Not by the power of the breath, just the reeking smell of it.

The creature was covered in shiny, black fur. It had four thin legs and a tail that continuously wagged from side to side. It wore a plain, red collar around its neck. Though I knew this behemoth to be my friendly, harmless dog, at this size I wasn’t so sure how harmless he really was. I stood up and cautiously walked away from the monstrous dog and back to the wind-up toy.

“Good dog,” I mumbled. “Thanks for not eating me.” I took hold of the golden key and turned. Once… twice… three times… four… I wanted to be bigger so badly that I lost count.

Kate Hirschfeld
Middle School Workshop, Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church

I Remember

I remember the taste. It was like liquid, rusted metal flowing inside my mouth. I remember the smell. Heavy. Like I’m breathing more dust than actual air. I remember the texture. Smooth, like the scales of a dry sea monster. But I don’t remember what it looked like, and I probably never will.

I remember it was there.

Hadar Rozenberg
High School Workshop, Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church

Poem

A table, chairs, four
times life size,
a giant awakens
to them, the rust scrapes
on the big chair,
tables stacked on each other
like a squishing sock,
here and there no one,
but I spy on them,

Nimah Ahmed
Lower Elementary Workshop, The Khabele School

At the End of the Hall

A door at the end of the hall seemed to be yelling at me to open it. I walked toward it and soon started sprinting toward it, but it seemed to move further and further away. I tried to stop, but I couldn’t. My legs seemed to be moving on their own. I hit them, but still they kept running. My lungs were gasping for air, my throat was completely dry. I gasped like a fish out of water. My eyelids felt like closing, so I couldn’t help but close them. … Of course, though the girl was dead, quite completely, she kept on running, and the door always seemed to get further and further away.

Simona Kao
Upper Elementary Workshop, The Khabele School

Memory

– after Robert Therrien’s “No title (room, panic doors)”

we used to make whole towns
out of the withered building blocks
tucked away in your overflowing attic

and we built so many more mighty empires

because if you walk behind those sterile doors
you’ll find that I
have kept all our cherished memories
hanging from the dull walls

it’s like watching a young gazelle
dance through the dry savannah

or walking into a room
full of vivid photographs
freezing the smiles on our faces
preserving the imagination of our
young, wild minds

we were like two little kids
pretending to rule over our plastic towers
made of shiny yellow Legos.

Teresa Luo
Middle School Workshop, The Khabele School

Spring Break Writers Contain Multitudes

Each year, for three days during Spring Break, we invite young writers to join us and work with our inspiring teaching artists, to discover the experience of creating poetry and fiction. This year, we were delighted to meet so many eager, talented, and innovative young people, and we’re very happy to share with you some of the work they created during their time with us.

pianokeys

White Noise

The house was loud. It was filled with the sound of children laughing and crying, of people joking and shouting, of obnoxious music blasted through the stereo, of the loud thumping of a dog’s tail against the table, cats scratching at the door, of faltering classical music, the banging on black and white keys and horse hairs on string, of the volume cranked too high, of people shouting, “Mine!” when the ball is in the air, fighting to be heard because the house is loud.

When the baby sleeps, the people are silent. The house walls still hum with the cool air forcing its way through the still heat of the afternoon, but now the family is quiet inside it. The volume is just loud enough to be heard, the instruments have been packed away, the pets are calmed and fed. Ear buds are inserted so that maybe, the girl thinks, the yelling is gone – never existed. Maybe, she hopes, the noise only ever happened inside her head.

Savannah Jackson
The Girls’ School of Austin, 8th grade

Broken heart

Heartbroken

The heart is ripped
The heart is dead
The love is gone
It’s been erased
It won’t come back
It’s swept away
Heartbroken
I don’t know what else to say

Mira Devgan
St. Francis School, 4th grade

Birthday Party Balloons

To Surprise

It washes over me,
quicker than quick.
It would have been easier
had you thrown a stick.

SURPRISE!

At a child’s birthday party,
when the birthday child arrives,
they hide behind a desk, a table, a chair,
and shout:

SURPRISE!

School has let out for the year.
A child is grinning ear to ear.
He goes home yelling,
“Summer’s here!”
When he gets his grades, well, they’re pretty bad.
His smile is gone, and now he’s sad.

SURPRISE!

Summer school awaits.
Oh, and you’ll have to get A’s straight.

A man jumps at you on the street.
His clothes aren’t all that neat.

SURPRISE!

Disheveled and messy, holding a knife,
he pleads, “Give me something to live this life!”

Surprise can be good or bad.
It can drown you, make you feel sad.
Or it can make you feel
gladder than glad!

Listen and hear what I surmise.
I surmise that we will all be surprised!

Amogh Dambal
Canyon Vista Middle School, 7th grade

Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival

To Joy

Joy,
a pitcher full,
a beauty in the
little things.

Sometimes seen
but always felt.

A twinkle in the eye,
a twinkle in the sky.
The Sun exuding rays
of unseen light.

A twist of fate,
anything great,
roses bloom with the promise
of tomorrow.

Children laughing,
filling the air with a song more beautiful
than the dusky breeze,
unstoppable.

The lanterns will light.
We’ll come and go in delight
with nothing but hate
to stop it.

Ishani Pandya
Canyon Vista Middle School, 8th grade

BertieBug1

Being a Bug Germ

From the moment I woke up, I realized something: I was very tiny. I thought the only thing that changed was my size, but I was wrong. I looked in a human mirror and saw that I was a very tiny bug germ. I saw that a bug germ is way tinier than the tinest bug. I was going all around the place shouting, “Mom!” and my mom was shouting my name. My mom was so worried about me. My mom also knew this meant I couldn’t go to school. I was so worried I would stay like this forever and ever. I was super scared, until I realized something: that I could go to my science lab and get the potion I needed for myself. I ran to the science lab and went searching for the right potion. At last, I found the right potion. I scampered up the table and put the potion on me. It’s way better being a human than a bug germ.

Sakthivel Vijayakumar
Laurel Mountain Elementary, 2nd grade

A Tall "Tail"

A relationship between an owner and pet is already a wealth of stories waiting to be told. From Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows to Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses to Rudyard Kipling’s Rikki Tikki Tavi, our own role as “protagonist” proves to be somewhat unsteady. After all, without the actions of our faithful companions and their constant presence in such stories, events would have turned out quite differently. Upon retelling, we make the words, but the animals that were close to us become no less real, no less important, through their marked silence. This week, in her two part poem, Badgerdog writer Rose expresses the simple yet beautiful interactions she shares with her parrot. And the parrot answers with his own ode to Rose, reminding us of our pets’ unique personalities (and their participation in such relationships)! This poem captures those small tender moments that sustain us, drawing us continually toward our animal friends.

Oliver and Rose:
A Poem in Two Parts

I. Oliver

My evil pet, your eyes are mean and mischievous.
My beautiful bird, your wings shimmer
the colors of the rainbow.

You fly ever so gracefully, batting your shimmering wings.
Your vicious bites show your annoying stubbornness.

Although you do bring me pain when you peck me,
you bring me joy when you cuddle against my finger.

From the pin feathers on your head
to the cute little toes on your feet,
I love you!

II. Rose

My annoying owner, I absolutely hate it
when you don’t let me come out!

My wonderful Rose, you’re so nice
when you let me stubbornly eat your food.

You talk to me so sweetly,
looking at me through the shiny bars of my cage.

You get really angry
when I playfully peck your finger!

Although you do bug me when you pay attention
to something else instead of me,
I know at some point in every day you will come
and open the metal doors of my cage.

From your nice personality
to your big, brown eyes,
I love you.

Rose, sixth grade, Badgerdog Creative Writing Summer Camp at the Girls’ School of Austin

Bringing Art to Life

This month, Badgerdog summer camp writers visited the Blanton Museum of Art, where they found inspiration in the artwork on display. The writing they generated in the museum’s galleries capitalizes on both written and visual art forms–deepening the experience of the viewer and reader through an exchange of words and images, thereby creating a long-distance conversation between artist and writer. This week’s featured writer, Nicole, was moved by Cildo Meireles’s installation, How to Build Cathedrals, which is constructed from cattle bones, communion wafers, and 600,000 pennies. In her beautiful poem, Nicole channels the devastating power of Miereles’s cathedral into bodies and tongues. She has written on behalf of ghosts, populating her piece with raw, human feeling. She reminds us that history may be a story of traps and cages, but sometimes voices can reach out from the past and speak.

The Ghosts Speak

—inspired by Cildo Meireles’s How to Build Cathedrals

to take a soul
and grind it up
to take these bones
and build a church
this church is human
we’re all human

to take your money
piece by piece
to embed every shiny penny
into the floor of this church
this church is wealthy
we’re all wealthy

we’ve devoted our souls
to a place that steals them
we’ve given our checkbooks
to a place that takes them
we are no longer human
we are no longer wealthy

we are the penniless ghosts
trapped in the back of this cathedral

Nicole, seventh grade, Badgerdog Creative Writing Summer Camp

A Steely Constitution

As summer arrives, Texans collectively begin the annual rituals: backyard barbecues, trips to Barton Springs, lively complaints about the heat. And another event takes place. After their winter hibernation, amusement parks are back open for business, and crowds swarm through the gates; an army of adventurers, ready for thrills! This same montage of sights and sounds lives in the minds of us all; we can’t help but equate “amusement park” with “summer” and “sun” and “heat.” In this week’s Unbound feature, seventh-grade writer Saskia  eloquently states the allure of the roller coaster and all its horrifying delight. Her careful exploration of our almost fatalistic fascination with these steel dangers evokes our deepest fears. But then we come back to earth. At the end of the reader’s journey, we find the life-affirming power of her final sentence. Just enjoy the ride!

Roller Coaster

The air is cool and light, but it won’t last long. We board the stuffy bus, with its scratchy fabric seats and windows that creak loudly when you open them. No one is quite awake, and if they seem like they are, they are running on adrenaline. There is the anticipation of excitement, and it hangs in the air through the light conversations on the bus.

Two hours of half-sleeping on the ride, and finally we are there. One by one, we are off the bus and into a new area of excitement; screams and bright colors fill the atmosphere.

A roller coaster delivers a group over a tall hill in the distance; you can hear them scream bloody murder as they go down, lightning fast.

You get to your first roller coaster. You sit on your cold metal and plastic seat, and you feel scared. You get that weird feeling in your stomach, and you grip the metal bar in front of you so hard your hands are pale. Then you are off, slowly climbing to the top of an incredibly tall hill, and then you’re at the top. You think you’re going to die. You smell metal and plastic, and you find yourself screaming louder than you ever thought you could. The car is rattling loudly, and you can see for a mile. Then suddenly you are at the bottom. The relief rushes over you. You survived, you’re alive.

Saskia, seventh grade, Badgerdog Creative Writing Summer Camp at the Girls’ School of Austin