Student poet

UPDATE (June 8): Click here for the story.



Fremont student Sarah Li, a junior at Mission San Jose High, will be picking up an American Voices Award at Carnegie Hall in NYC on Wednesday.  This award is considered the “gold medal” of writing by the national Scholastic Art & Writing Awards program and puts her in the company of writers Truman Capote, Bernard Malumud, Joyce Carol Oates and Sylvia Plath; actors John Lithgow and Robert Redford; and artist Andy Warhol, who all have received Scholastic Art & Writing Awards in the past.

Li is one of 17 students nationwide to receive this honor — one American Voices Award is given out per region. Li is the only one in California to receive this award. A more in-depth story will be in tomorrow’s paper. Meanwhile, here’s her winning poem, which she wrote after learning about children who went into hiding during the Holocaust. (I apologize for the formatting. I’ve tried everything to get the spacing right, but for some reason, WordPress is being difficult. I hope I have not bungled the integrity of the poem.)


you can’t cure this in a day

by Sarah Li

Part I

you do not remember ever having been a child.
you remember knowing the feeling of childhood:
sticky, caramelled fingers that were not yours,
smooth-as-silk ridges of beautiful-blonde- Helen’s braid                                                                                                                  

as it was being pulled,
afternoon-long games of
perhaps you never were.
one thing you do remember:
you were always lost.
because when you were in that cellar,
suffocated by the silence and
drowned in the darkness and
unable to escape from it all,
there was only one place for you to go:
and it was sickeningly easy
to lose your way
inside your mind.
you are lost still-lost always-lost.
makeitstop. makeitstop.
god, please. anyone,






you wonder if he can hear you,
if you’re pleading loud enough,
if you’re important enough,
if you even matter anymore.
because you still wake up,
at a quarter to four in the morning
and afraid.


people tell you you’re lucky;
you didn’t have to see the bombs drop,
the cousins shot,
the friends and schoolyard enemies
dragged away to somewhere you
do not want to, cannot, will not imagine,
the mothers’ hollowed eyes, seeing
their baby daughters
burnt alive.









it just hurts.
some nights it makes you feel like a coward.
some nights you really do feel alive.
but most nights you just feel


you know you didn’t know what it was really like.
you know you weren’t beaten half-to-death,
weren’t forced to Work To Make Yourself Free,
weren’t experimented on, laughed at, stepped upon.
but you remember imagining it every night.
what you did know:
1. being some kind of alive
    in a dark, damp cellar
    with eighteen other two-to-thirteen-year-olds
    silently screaming for release.
2. someone out there, everyone
    out there
    wanted you and “your people”
what you did not know:
1. when you’d be able to see what
    was out there again
    or whether you’d even see it again
    at all.
2. being able to sleep
    because you were always afraid
    and always hungry.
you hate it when people tell you
you’re not the same,
you don’t really know,
you weren’t really there,
you weren’t real.
you aren’t real.
because if you aren’t real,
what is?
are the nightmares real?
is the fact that you’re still hiding,
still not ready for that knock on your door,
still lost





is the fact that you’re seventy-three years too old
to be afraid of the dark real?

you used to play hide-and-go-seek in the shadows
and pretend that your hiding place was just
too good
for the blond-haired blue-eyed to find you.
but the afternoon would always come to an end,
and they would always go home.

and you would still be hiding
in the dark.
and never found. 



Part II

you are sixty-four years
and an ocean away
from what you were.









Maybe when you read this,
we will all be well-worn
Maybe when you read this,
I will be there, too,
and maybe we will all learn how to forgive
but not forget,
Never Forget.

But if I am not there,
if I am not there to forgive nor forget,
not there to say:










I want to know that because of my story,
because of our story,
because we will no longer be here to tell these stories,
the world has changed.
It might take
two, ten, fifty years
for it to happen.

But please, if you still remember me,
tell me it has.



these are the things you see today:
bombs still being dropped,
cousins still being shot,
friends and schoolyard enemies still being dragged
to places where they will never be seen again,
mothers still having to watch their
baby daughters die.
but you know it hasn’t.



and you aren’t entirely sure
if it even wants to. 



Reprinted with permission from the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers.

Linh Tat


  1. Read the article about Sarah in the paper, and wanted to read her poem. Wow.


  2. This made me cry and think of my mother-in law. She’s 73 and a Holocaust survivor. I sent it to her for her to read.

    Thank You

  3. Sarah, please continue to write and publish your work. What a gift you have to use words and expose feelings. Thank you and congratulations!

  4. Sarah Li, thank you for this poem. It’s a poem to be studied. It’s a lesson in morality, a history of human suffering but also a promise of hope. I will read it many times, and I’ll read more of your writings in the future.

  5. Just read that most moving and beautiful poem in its truthfullness about the horrors of war that continue to haunt us as I write. Sarah, you are surely very gifted. I’m much older than you. I’ve always been a lover of poetry. Poetry can say so much with very few words. Keep writing, keep feeling, keep expressing. Thank you for being you.

  6. How young is Sarah Li? Was this her experience?…. so beautiful, so moving.

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