And He Came Down From High

and he came down from high

and surveyed his lands

wiping a bit of sand out of his eye

from his ten-thousand–year nap


things had changed

since he had last seen this world,

he noted sadly.

the beat of wardrums grew ever stronger

as he watched

the women covering the eyes of their children

but not their trigger fingers

and heard the incessant refrain of

god will protect us

god is on our side

and we will be victorious


as bombs rained from the skies

like wish-seeds from a dandelion

he wondered where he had gone wrong


he climbed back on high

sighing heavily

and once again, closed his eyes

and weighted them down with sandbags

in preparation for ten thousand years more.

with a crystal tear tracing down his wizened face

Peace wondered how he’d been so forsaken.

Dried Flower

He becomes fierce

under the constant glare

of his enemy.

He has been given

a bad name

and no advantages.

Highlighted is his bloodstream.

It sticks.

Everywhere he goes, it rapidly follows.

His misconstrued thoughts

make much sense.

His words make no sense at all.

He becomes a dried flower,

pressed between my yearbook pages.


A blank sheet is placed in front of me. I stare at it.

Somewhere through the fog of exhaustion I hear a voice say over the sound system, “Here’s a blank sheet of paper. Write yourself a letter. Write about your summer: what you learned or maybe a favorite memory. Fold the letter and put it in an envelope addressed to you, but don’t seal it. We will put a group picture in the envelope with the letter and send it to you later in the year.”

There is a rustling all around me. The others sit hunched over the festively decorated tables and begin writing.

My hand reverently traces the edges of the blank sheet of paper.


Blank paper. Not photocopied pieces of paper filled with lists of names of campers, counselors, and cabins. Not crumpled pieces of paper covered with scrawl reminding me to order ice-cream for the snack shop. It’s a piece of paper as empty as my gaze, and as fresh as I was at the beginning of the summer. I tentatively pick up the pen emblazoned with the camp logo. It has been so long since I was allowed the time to fill a piece of paper with myself. I’ve forgotten how. If I had the energy, I would cry. Cry for myself. Cry for the words which used to come so easily and are now so elusive. Cry for the despair I feel because I have to be here when I don’t want to be. But I’m too tired to cry or feel sad, so I let the pen’s point rest at the top of the glaring white sheet.

There was the voice. Not the one over the sound system, but the one inside me. Hello? She says, Hello? Can you hear me?

“Time’s up, guys. Finish your letters and meanwhile, I’ll open the floor for any of you that would like to publicly thank another staff member.” So loud. The voice over the loudspeaker is so loud and the shadowy voice in my head disappears.

“I think Jessie deserves a big round of applause.” My name. Why was someone saying my name? Who is that behind the microphone now? I can’t remember her name. I’ve spent the last seven weeks with her, seeing her every day, but I am too tired to remember her name. “Whenever I turned around, Jessie was running somewhere; running to the office, to organize the campers’ activities, running to the snack shop to dip ice-cream, running to a counselor to encourage her. She made her job look so easy, didn’t she?” People clap. They clap for me, but actually, not for me. They applaud a person that is a façade; that gives them what they want to see. I smile mechanically and the person behind the microphone continues, “I’ve spent a few summers here and I’ve seen Jessie go from kitchen worker to program coordinator. She’s great at every job she does, and is such a support to all of us.” More clapping for someone they think I am.

If I had the energy, I would laugh. Laugh at the irony. Laugh at them because they think I enjoyed the summer. Laugh at the way everyone thinks I am just like them. But I am too tired to laugh, so I let my hand fall numbly onto the tabletop. The pen rolls from my fingers.

Hello? Hello, are you there? The tremulous voice again. Without thinking, I grab the pen as it rolls along the table.

Yeah, what do you want? I write.

The buried voice surfaces again and I transcribe the words she whispers. Nothing much. I guess I just want to know what you’ve been up to…

Like you care. Why should you care?

I care about how your summer went. I want to know what you learned. The kind of growth you had, the kind of discoveries you made…

None. It was a boring summer. I hated every moment of it and I wanted nothing more that to leave. I want to leave NOW, OK?!

No, wait, please don’t go. I know you must have learned something…


…All right then, what was one of your highlights?

I don’t have one. I don’t even remember anything.


No, I can’t remember anything. I remember a few things…

Like what?

…Like things I was involved in. But I don’t know why I was involved or what my motivation was.

So, what things do you remember?

It doesn’t matter.

It does.

No, it doesn’t.

Why not?

Because I don’t care. 

You don’t?


Are you angry?

Are you angry?

I… What’s it to you?

Are you angry?




Yes, it does. Why are you angry?

Because I am, OK?

Are you hurt?

Would you stop asking these questions?

Are you hurt?


Are you confused?


I don’t want to talk about his anymore.

I know you don’t.

Then why are you making me?

I’m not making you. You spoke of your own will. You know you need to talk.

I hate you.

No, you don’t. You hate yourself for not doing the right thing.

All the voices around me fade. I don’t hear them anymore. I can’t hear them babbling about their religion and talking to me as if I agree with them. I can’t hear my parents’ voices pressing me to fit in, to put my own preferences aside for the summer and build up the faith of others. I can’t hear my own voice saying amen to statements I know in my heart aren’t true. All I can hear is the voice inside, my true voice that I locked away so it wouldn’t say anything that would offend others. It says over and over: You hate yourself for not doing the right thing. You didn’t do the right thing.

I… Oh God, you’re right.

Stop fighting it.

I’m scared.

I’ll bet.

I’m gonna tell you something, OK?


I’ve never felt so dead in my whole life. I feel like my nerves are totally dead. I thought at first that I was just tired, but I think it’s more than that. I sacrificed myself for the sake of group conformity. Everyone thinks that I’m someone I’m not, and I haven’t resisted it. I’ve just drifted along. I have no idea who I am. No one really cares about who I really am. Actually, they don’t know. They haven’t had the chance because I’ve been too afraid to let them see. But, I guess it doesn’t matter.

It does.

I’m not going to whine about how I have to hide who I am so that it won’t challenge anyone else, or about how I have to live at camp whether I like it or not. I’m not a baby; I’m a big girl, I can take it. But it’s gone much deeper this summer. Before, I was one of them. But this past year, I’ve changed; I have a faith of my own. It’s not like their faith, but still I have to pretend that I hold their beliefs. I can’t just hide the truth I know, I have to suffocate it. I have to forget about it… otherwise it might slip out. Now I hardly know what truth is.

It won’t be hard to start fresh; it already feels like this summer never happened. It’s all a dream—a freaky, ghoulish nightmare that is over. I’m wide awake, and I’m moving on with my life.

“Jessie?” I blink and look up as she stands above me.


“You look like you’re ready to fall asleep. Tired?”

“No, I’m fine. Nice banquet, huh?”

“Yes, very nice. But I’m so sad that the summer’s over. I was just starting to enjoy it.” I laugh along with her. She thinks mine is a real laugh. “If I come back next year, will you be here?” she asks.

My hand covers the scribbling that fills the paper in front of me. “Oh, sure. I’ll be here. My dad is the camp director; I’m not going anywhere.”

Six months later, a letter peeks up at me from the mailbox. Tearing the seal, I find the piece of paper, covered with my angry writing. Tucked inside is a picture: there is the camp staff, and I’m seated in the front row, smiling my happiest smile. I’m just beginning to recover from the summer and the photo brings it all back. I’m not doing that again.

You lost too much.

I did, and I’ll never give it up again.

You have to be there again. Next summer…

Yes, but I will be there. I. I and no one else. No imposters. No pretenders. I will be there, and I will not lie.

I tuck the picture back into the envelope and bury it all in a deep drawer.

Lágrimas en Sangre

Ustedes que me condenaron

robándome mis sueños

y entregándome temor

convirtiendo mi musa en un vacío.

Me quitaron mis alas

y soy ave sin libertad.

Ahora lloro con lágrimas en sangre

por culpa de sus rotos corazones.

Pero mi furia verán,

mostrándose en un huracán vengativo.

Yo regresaré en la luz de un relámpago

y en la música de un trueno.

Mis ojos estarán entre las sombras

vigilando su maldad,

sintiendo sus risas venenosas

y por siempre pagarán mis lágrimas en sangre.



Translation into English by the author

Tears of Blood

You who have condemned me

by robbing me of my dreams

and gifting me with fear,

turning my muse into an emptiness…

They took away my wings,

and I’m a bird without freedom.

Now I cry with tears of blood,

their broken hearts are the culprits.

But they will see my fury

shown in a vengeful hurricane.

I will come back in the light of the lightning;

in a chorus of thunder I will return.

My eyes will lurk in the shadows

watching their wickedness,

feeling their poisonous laughter

and forever they will pay for my tears of blood.

Midnight Waltzes

She arched her back and

swept her arms,

dancing like the shadows did.

She watched them prance upon the walls,

straying, stretching, bending free

She envied them in all their glory,

all their freedom set before her

Twisting by and twirling, swirling,

Waltzing to a midnight tune,

moved and swayed by subtle winds,

swept to where the light has fled

From the midnight moon they stemmed,

And cast the walls in darkened grace,

Elegance with every glide,

Silent darkness undisturbed,

’til signs of dawn begin to etch

their mark upon the midnight balls,

light bursting in upon the room,

mystery gone and all exposed,

glaring white—the empty walls,

midnight dancers banished now

her arms fall limply to her sides,

Freedom, beauty gone with night


This work received a Gold Award in The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards of 2002.

Mi Hermana

Para Alexandra

Los portones de mi alma

se abrirán para tí, pequeña

que con corazón salvaje

y llena de coraje entra al mundo.

Rendirte jamás, corre viento

que con prisa llega

y ven a mí para extender mis brazos,

para que llegue mi luz através de tí.

Naces para crear vida en mí,

para descansar en mi pecho,

para jugar inocentemente,

naces para que mi fe pueda crecer.

Que ocurra el milagro

y vive hasta más no poder.

Vive el mundo de fantasía donde yo anduve

y ámalo eternamente.



Translation into English by the author

My Sister

For Alexandra

The gates of my soul

will open for you, my pequeña

who enters the world with a heart

wild and filled with courage.

Surrender never, run as the wind

that arrives with haste

and comes to me so that I can extend my arms,

so that my light can come through you.

You are born to create life in me,

to rest on my chest,

to play innocently,

you are born so that my faith may grow.

Let the miracle be

and live until you live no more.

Live the world of imagination where I was

and love it eternally.

In the Palm of Remembrance

Outside my window of old

wood, and wayward cobwebs

down in deep crevasses, where the poet dwindles

inscriptions of his fading passages

found on white chalk walls


I can almost see my childhood slip away

like fragments of a mirror broken

by reflection changed

with time


Countless moments become memories

the fantasies, fading into shadows

dancing in tune with sunlight,



So now I find myself standing alone; the eye of the storm

my roots reaching deep, and holding this land

in the palm of remembrance


You whisper to me across

the divide

The words, forever lost to the distance

Never reach me

A look of pain crosses your face as I fail to understand

So frustrated, so angry, so desperate for connection


But you move not close

You raise not your voice

Just continuing in an endless whisper

The indecipherable tones softly strangling our last chance

Each syllable a note to the requiem


“Her hands are like icicles on the horizon,” he said and took a drag of coffee. She nodded blankly at him, barely registering the observations that swayed his tongue and flavored his mouth.

“Do you see how she’s shaking?” he asked, not taking his eyes off the porcelain doll ordering dinner across the room. He fumbled down distractedly to the table, found his plate, and devoured a fry in the half-reflective way that dressed all his actions.

To this, she murmured a vague, “Mmhmm…” It was enough of a reply to fill the empty space he controlled over the table, but still enough to be noncommittal and inattentive. She reached through the maze of their cups and plates to spear a French-fry from his plate. She shifted her weight. The chair rocked under her, threatening her already uncertain balance and attempted grace in one blow. She shifted the feet of the chair, hoping to find some sort of equilibrium, but again the seat rocked under her, still precarious.

“Look at the angles to her face,” he went on, working his words around mouthfuls. His eyes never wavered in their stiff critical stare of wonderment and interest. “There’s just something about her that screams vulnerability.”

“Hmm.” She swallowed the hot, gritty remains of her tea. Her cup clunked as it hit the table, jolting the settled objects, but his attention never strayed from the Raphael-wonder. She picked up her croissant, then lowered it back to her plate seeing the tanned lines of her knuckles holding her fingers in place. She turned her palm up and followed the trained lines that traced her destiny.

“You really have to wonder about people like that,” he continued in the silence. “How they think, how they feel, how they see the world. Don’t you ever just wish you could go up and introduce yourself to a stranger and learn their entire life story?”

She repossessed her croissant and took a voice-saving mouthful, nodding her head disjointedly in case he possessed the consciousness to glance at her tongue-trapped tangle on the other side of the table. She sneakily slid her feet out of her shoes and flexed her toes in their freedom under the tablecloth-tiered table. The ache wrenched in her bones and her thoughts drowned in the haze of mid-stride wonderment, but not before the emptiness and pain of dismissal.

“I guess it’s time to go,” he said finally, still not moving his unblinking eyes or shifting his stranger-struck body.

She mumbled affirmative and followed through with her purse. The crowded bag jostled against her hand in the fruitful search for cash. Dumping the entire contents out for the finding and usage of a pen, she scrunched up her eyebrows, figuring the total into halves.

“Mind getting this one for me?” he asked, raising himself up to gather his belongings before heading out the door. Still his attention wandered over to the daisy, blooming at the opposite table. “This was fun. Let’s get together again sometime soon, OK?”

She fell back in her seat, drowning in the whirlpool of inattention. Establishing their funds, she turned to see herself in the shadowy glass window reflection, and saw herself slipping away.

Letter from Argentina

The first semester of my senior year of high school was spent as an exchange student in Viedma, Argentina. Living with a host family in a far away land was an experience which has humbled, matured, and enlightened me in many ways I could never have imagined. It was an experience from which I learned not only about a foreign culture and another language, but also equally, if not more, about my own culture and about myself. About once a month I composed an e-mail to send out to friends and relatives to inform everyone how my new life was going down in the Southern hemisphere. This is the first of six letters that I wrote. As a postscript, it should be known that letters I wrote after a couple months experiences conveyed a much more positive, enthusiastic tone and dealt more with insightful observations and epic adventures. Letter number one, however, deals with the confusion, headaches, and homesickness that any successful exchange student experiences and overcomes.



September 15, 2002


Hola a todos—

Every time I tilt my head up toward the sky there is a neatly shaped V of birds tugging in the summer; they’re going South to Patagonia. I am jealous of these birds as they migrate down to the end of the world, to where I very much wanted to stay for my time here as an exchange student. Perhaps they are Arctic Terns, which migrate eleven thousand miles each year from Patagonia to Alaska. Perhaps these same birds have flown over my home back in Wasilla. I wish I knew more about ornithology.

I chose Argentina for my host country because it was a Spanish-speaking country with a wide swath of mountains running up and down its Western edge that I had always dreamed of seeing, but apparently AFS (American Field Service, the exchange oraganization I’m with) has done their best to send me as far as possible from those dramatic horizons, here to Viedma, across the continent from the nearest hill.

So I confess for the first week or so after I arrived I could not have invented a single comment about this place that was remotely positive. In my plans I had envisioned something like a six-month vacation somewhere further South, someplace where everything would be distinct beyond recognition from back home, and ideally I wouldn’t have to go school because it would be my job to stay home and tend the family’s herd of llamas.

However, do not let me give you the impression that I am totally distraught. Although I am not exactly in the exotic picture of South America I imagined, I am learning how to make the best of it, aprovecho (I make best use of it). There is beauty everywhere, in anything. There is art waiting to be realized in the piles of trash and heaps of pruned branches that people dump at the edge of town. There is a romance to the wheat fields freshly ploughed for spring and the ranches that fold forever into the flat and featureless horizon. There is an aura of timelessness that hangs above the river winding lazily through town like fog on a cool morning. Additionally, there are many convenient aspects of living closer to a city that I am learning to make use of. I enjoy riding a bike to school, a badass “Beach Commander 2000” that looks like a 1970s concept of a mountain bike. And if I had hoped for a more spectacular landscape here, perhaps my host family had hoped for a more exciting person than myself. I swear I’m doing my best to be a lot more social than I am normally. It sounds like my friends from school here are even going to make me go to El Boliche, the dance club. Though you know I would rather spend the evening sealed inside a cardboard box with a heap of glass shards and fish entrails than in a dance club, I am going to try it. Another thing I am looking forward to is trying out a kayak. Kayaking is a popular sport here since no one is ever more than a five- or ten-minute walk from the riverside. Apparently Viedma, in all Argentina, has the most kayaks per capita.

Try to imagine this, my first impression of where I shall live for the next half-year. I arrived in a zombie trance after a twelve-hour bus ride in the dark from Buenos Aires to Viedma. I awoke just as the bus was pulling in to the station. Through blurry eyes, I spotted waiting at the platform outside my window two very hopeful looking people whom I had seen before in a picture that my host family had sent to me—they were my new parents. The striking, trim woman with high leather thin-heeled boots and a smart dress was Bella, my host mother, and the tall man with dark hair in khaki slacks and a T-shirt and thick glasses was Tony, my host father. They took me to my new home where I immediately fell asleep.

When I awoke, I didn’t know whether I had slept for an hour or three days. I had no idea where I was, why, how, &c. After lying in bed racking my brain for the next minute or so, I remembered all the traveling I had done during the last few days. With a sickening wrench of my stomach, I for the first time truly wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into and how I had ended up here.

Downstairs my six new family members were all having lunch. My new family members include my parents Bella and Tony, my two younger sisters Pilar and Belen, and two younger brothers Jose and Roberto. Two days later, though, we took the eldest son, Jose, to the airport to leave for the U.S. to be an exchange student as well. I guess I’m his replacement.

After a lot of confused, albeit amicable, conversation with my new family over lunch, what appeared to be an unhappy marriage between an ancient Volkswagen bug and a small truck, full of excited people, pulled up to the house, the horn honking emphatically and the ill-sounding engine gunning. I followed Jose as he shuffled out of the house and we piled into this little creature with five other friends of his to go cruise town. We went to go dar vueltas—literally, to go in circles. Everyone except myself had dark hair, dark skin, and dark eyes and was dressed head to toe in distressed denim. They wore jeans with pre-faded material and pre-ripped holes from years of use they never had; cigarettes hung casually out of their mouths and they spoke rapidly in a tongue that to me was muddled and incomprehensible.

The main road here runs adjacent to the Rio Negro through the middle of town. It’s a half-mile strip of pavement which we drove up and down no fewer than twenty times, accelerating over speed bumps as if they were jumps and slowing down occasionally to whistle and yell at girls. Everyone kept chanting something about Chupe. (The verb chupar means “to suck.” Later I learned that Chupe was Jose’s nickname that had evolved from Jose to Giseuppe to Chupe; that changed my idea about what I had imagined them to be talking about in the car.) The little city sped by over and over as they all asked me if I like to drink, do I have a girlfriend, do I like to party—and if not they told me we’d get busy with all that right this weekend.

We live in a big brick house in the city. Here the houses are constructed so that usually two houses share the a central wall. If I walk outside and look down the street I can see about fifteen neighboring homes. Quite a change from the seven acres of woods surrounding my home back in Alaska. The Rio Negro is maybe four hundred meters from our house. It is an enormous body of water, maybe four hundred meters from shore to shore. I greatly enjoy its presence. Just to have a large body of water near the house is a thrill if you’re not accustomed to it. They tell me in the summer everyone goes to the shoreline to spend the day—to swim, nap in the shade, have a picnic.

If I were to sum up my first three weeks here so far in a word I would choose confusion. It feels as if I’m never completely sure what’s going on or what I’m supposed to do. From what I have seen so far it is pretty much the exact opposite of Alaska, but all the people here have been incredibly kind to me. My family here are all wonderful people, I have a lot less responsibility, and school only goes until noon. As far as the language, it still feels like everyone has collaborated to play a clever trick on me. It is as if every time someone speaks, their words pass through some devious, invisible filter that scrambles them in to a string of incomprehensible gibberish. I had imagined that the four years of Spanish I studied in high school would help out a lot with my efforts in mastering the language, but I have found that I still have miles to go before I sleep and can actually understand what in the world all these people are talking about all the time. I have found that the easiest people to talk with are my youngest siblings, who have smaller vocabularies and usually speak more slowly. It is already hard for me to write this in English so I suppose I am going to learn the language whether I want to or not.

I have been spending a great deal of time running, though it is tough to be so self-motivated. I miss cross-country. Some days it feels like everything sneaks up on me all at once and all I want to do is go home. There are days when I would give anything just to see one pathetic little mountain, to have some thick woods where I could go for a quiet walk, to have all my hammers and saws back in my callused hands and to have some dirt back under my my fingernails, so these are the times when I go for a run. I search for someplace I have not been yet, usually as far away from the city as I can go. Running clears my head; it makes everything seem more tolerable. I’m ready to give anything another chance after I have run far enough. I run down lonesome dirt roads out in the country and the cows look at me funny across the barbed wire as I run by, their gazes follow me as I pass as if I were holding a string attached to each of their snouts. I stir up flocks of prismatic parrots nesting in the scrub brush and they swarm above me by the hundreds, screeching angrily at my presence. The animals are all surprised to see something that passes on foot rather than wheels. Some days when the clouds look just right I can pretend they are mountains, the tall white pillars in the distance something solid and tangible rather than just suspended ice particles. The sky grows pink then red and finally purple like a swelling bruise, like a fistfull of melted Crayola, then ultimately healing into blackness. The stars appear and fill the sky in a completely different pattern from back in Alaska. Everything is better.

I don’t want to hog the computer anymore. I think Pilar (fourteen-year-old sister) has friends to chat with. Hope to hear from