Second Place – 2022 Beverly Hopkins Contest for High School Students
“Street life and the world of myth are inseparable in this writer’s urgent yet timeless imagination. ‘Men put their faith in guns’ in this world, and yet we also watch an epic battle of ‘Devas v. Asuras in the Thunderdome.’ It’s as if the poet has everyday reality, and every virtual reality (from contemporary film to ancient religions), at their imaginative disposal. It’s all united and remixed in a dizzying musicality of language where ‘keriah makes pariahs while messiahs get stoned.'”Srikanth Reddy, 2022 Hopkins Contest Judge
This Is The Life We Have
by JELANI PENNY-JOHNSON
Metro Academic & Classical High School
King Arthur of the red and blue lights
totes his legendary caliber towards
the red and blue Saxons.
In seconds, it magnifies minute glances.
Hourglass sands pass in silence.
Each year is more decadent than last.
In this Land of Erebus,
a Cerberus creeps every corner.
Heras bear steel-born children.
A Heracles dies everyday.
The twelve labors to proscribe our escape.
Looking at the sun doesn’t pay,
so boys turn to the shadows.
They take a crack at slipping between the cracks,
at the crack of dawn, folding crack in palms,
holding back the arms of the law with their own.
Pitting Devas v. Asuras in the Thunderdome.
Sitting shiva every time another steward leaves from home.
To grieve, some tear away from the others and go alone.
Keriah makes pariahs while messiahs get stoned.
Desires go up in fire while ire becomes prone.
Brothers become bones.
Thrones turn to tombs.
Tiaras are replaced for
erotic eventides and violent vices.
Eyes glow green
and dreams become shards
of dropped wine glasses.
Bars become prisons
and passion turns to the fire
that lights the stick.
Smoke and black mirrors
distract us from the truth
that we can’t escape.
How do we have faith when the preachers are fake?
Every choir sings the song of sirens.
Songs of sorrow are sung in church
more than songs of faith.
There’s no God in the ghetto.
It’s just limbo in the Valley of Ashes.
Crackheads’ lighters hold eternal fire.
Children pray that their father comes home,
then the next day they cry.
Lamenting screams become lethargic sighs.
In a land where everyone dies,
the one who holds the wrath of God
Men put their faith in guns.
They dress bullets in the attire of angels:
Give them wings and let them make halos.
Edens are laced with weed.
Forbidden apples of the eye are stolen.
Nobody can escape.
People view our life through
screens and lyrics.
The decay is glorified
until it seems thrilling.
They think the music is cool,
and repeat in real life
what they’ve seen in shows.
This is the life they want.
This is the life we have.