International High School and Teachers & Writers Collaborative

An anthology of student poetry.

a moon over the ocean

The students in the Creative Writing Club at International High School at Union Square are from all over the world. Of the club’s twelve regular members, at least seven different countries of origin are represented (according to my unofficial tally). Some students arrived to the United States as recently as six months ago, and some more than a decade ago. Naturally, English is none of their first language. With a generous grant from the Kassel-Backer Foundation, Teachers & Writers Collaborative was gifted the opportunity to guide students in telling their stories; exploring their imaginations; and writing down their concerns, their secrets, their oddball thoughts, and their dreams. After making journals to keep, students were introduced each week to a new poem that they discussed as a group and then wrote in response. I cried more than once in class and I was consistently surprised and entertained by their ingenious ideas and heartfelt honesty. I watched their confidence levels in themselves and in their written English improve greatly by writing creatively. They took creative risks and became less afraid of their own vulnerability, which helped to expand and develop their ideas. It has been my honor and joy to work with them and to get know them this spring.

Thanks to Principal Vadewatie Ramsuchit for her support of the program. Deep thanks to Assistant Principal Evelyn Idoko and Amy Roberts, the 11th grade ELA teacher, for their constant help and guidance. This program would not have been nearly as successful without their engagement. Thanks to Shadrack Mbogho for his technical wizardry, to Erica Weingast for her participation and oversight, and to Rachel Balsam and Thomas Hasler for giving up their classrooms so our club could meet. Finally, thanks to Steve Kerner, a school volunteer, for helping to usher the program in and for his belief in personal writing as a conduit to intellectual expansion. As ever, I am grateful to Jordan Dann, the T&W education director, for her ideas, her genuine excitement, and her professional support, as well as to T&W Director Amy Swauger and Director of Operations Jade Triton for their tireless work behind the scenes.

To lead this Creative Writing Club was pure joy!

Sarah Dohrmann
Teaching Artist

Nurcan Akca, Grade 11


Out of nowhere
Running through
To nowhere
Maybe finding
A quiet place
I took a train
the N train
Hoping that
I could find that place
I grabbed my phone
As I left the train
I called somebody
I trust, love
It was my mom
When I woke up
I was in a classroom
Facing reality
That I need to live
The truth


I believe in friendship
I believe in the sadness of leaving friends
I believe in the space that a friend can leave
I believe in aspiration of the destination
Unfortunately, I gotta believe in new journeys too

I’ve been in a country
that I’m unfamiliar with
Full of strangers
Being strange to everything
Makes me feel more strange
Until I acknowledged new people
Where I started to believe in the mind
I believe in the mind
To have the power to change the mood

I believe in the mind
To have the power to change you
I’ve been in many feelings
While exploring my new world

Alex Criollo, Grade 11

A lot of faces in the world

A lot of faces close to you

Looking at you with bravery

Looking at you with love

Millions of opinions that describe you

Millions of words that hurt you

Beautiful parts all around the world

Time can be changed

So we should not be wasting it
Nobody acts like you

Maria Gil, Grade 11

I Believe

I believe in time, which puts our past confusion clear in the present.
Time puts everything and everyone where they belong.

I believe in the pain of thorns.
The rose could be any color and you will fall in love with it,
but if you don’t love the thorns when you hold the flower,
it will hurt you and it is going to transform into a red liquid that runs in your body.

But you need the rose to stay living.

I believe in horizons and interest.
I believe in blindness and regret. Love makes you blind.

But when you get your eyes blinded, you start regretting everything you did,
because you built in a land that wasn’t of your interest.

I believe in resistance and in hope.
I believe in my perfect imperfections. I’m confident with my body and mind.

But for others, I’m not perfect, but that doesn’t add or detract from my life.
I believe in the fire of the truth. It is better to stay in peace than to sleep and wake up
when everything is burning down.


Sun rays heating my face.
Water touching me with waves.
Fishes swimming around me.

Tanning my dark skin shade.
Sea sounds equal joy.
Pain is a cause of a broken bone.

Writing Relieves My Stress

Writing is a magenta river that takes your words to a bright light of joy and relief.
It’s feeling pride and a refreshing air hitting your face, making your hair crazy as your soul
Becomes charismatic.

Maria Gil, Grade 11

Diana Hernandez, Grade 12

The Paradise Inside Your Eyes

We were walking around without looking for each other
Although we both knew that we walked to find each other.
And even though I don’t believe in love at first sight
I believe in loving in the first night.

I fell asleep and I couldn’t believe what I was feeling.
While sleeping, magical things started to happen.
I used clouds as trampolines, there was a rainbow slide where
I let myself fall until I landed in a river of peace

I felt a fire that caressed my soul,
I started to grow smiles all over my body
My smell was so satisfying
That even the flowers wanted to have my perfume.

I grew so much that I grabbed planets on my hands
But of course that seconds later I shrugged
So that I could fly on a hummingbird
I walked over the sea, I could stop time
I could speed up or repeat a scene that I liked

I diminished and was born a million times
And every time I died I could go to a different paradise.
It was perfect, as if it was written in a story
I could even create a mistake just in case that perfection would scare me.

The fact that in an instant I came to reason;
I wasn’t dreaming I was just staring into your eyes.

Beauty in the Struggle

I believe in the distance,
I believe that it hurts.
Walking through the thorny stem of the rose,
is not an easy path.

I believe in temporary happiness.
That happiness you feel
when you’re in the soft petals of the rose,
when you’re home.

I have felt the daggers in my back
from this strange man.
I have seen how inferior I allow him
to make me feel.

I believe in the moon,
the same moon that my loved ones
stare at on the other side of the ocean.
I believe in the immense amount of space
there is between my peace of mind and me.

I believe there is beauty in the struggle,
and that once you find your happy place in your head,
you’ll be okay to keep going
for what you think is worth in your life.

I believe in the energy that I steal from the sun
when I know I’m going home.

I believe in the nervousness that runs through my veins
when I walk back through the rose’ stem
forgetting about the thorns
that are hurting my feet.

Writing Is…

Writing is the most helpful therapist
I could ever need.
It’s where I drop all the feelings I’ve got.

Writing is the paradise where I can be,
Whoever I want,
See whatever I want,
And create whatever my inspiration desires.

Writing is that world full of mountains,
And rivers, and beautiful landscapes
That brings peace to my soul.

It is the moon,
It is the stars,
It is the day and the night.
It is the ocean and the sea
It is the waves, the sand
And the colors that you see.

Writing is the most powerful weapon
You can use it to kill depression.
It is also the deepest place
That you can go to be
With your imagination.

The Beach

I wish I could visit you more.
You are my favorite escape
When things are going wrong, perfect, or normal.

My love for you is unconditional,
I love the way you kiss my feet,
I love the soft way the wind touches me
When I’m with you.

Your colors,
your colors make my heart jump from joy
And my body trembles with pleasure.
You are the most beautiful thing
My eyes have ever observed.

You are peaceful as heaven,
warm as hell,
And the best problem solver.

I Can Make You Fall in Love

I am the sea, a calm and beautiful blue sea.
Although when there are storms
My waves look nothing like the ones you’re used to seeing.

I am the sea,
I could love you from the deepest, darkest
Side of my waters,
But if you try to hurt me
I could drown you in the same place
my love for you came from.

I like it when you come and swim
In the waves of my body,
It makes me feel loved and I forget the loneliness
that I’m always in.

I know that you like me,
I mean everyone does.
Look at me, look at my blue eyes
Don’t I make you fall in love?

Adja Mbodj, Grade 12

I believe in pain,
pain at first sight
I’ve seen people hurt without a touch
I’ve walked with you in the rain
to not see your pain again
I believe in loneliness,
one of the paths of happiness,
painful and crowded
strewn with ambush

Blood, tears, and pain
overrun the path, but
the light at the end of the tunnel
will always guide you.

Griselys Peña, Grade 12

My First Love

One day I thought I went crazy.
I grew up. Life went complicated.
But my shiny armor arrived:
Ink, paper, and inspiration
came and saved me from drowning in desperation.

Writing saved me with one soft kiss on the lips.
It felt like the fresh wind in spring,
tasted like mint and I don’t like mint but that was quite delicious.

Writing was my first love, it helped me cope with the hard times.
Cleaned the tears on my cheeks.
Made a smile on my face.
It didn’t hurt my heart or burn my soul.
Instead, it watched me grow and bloom into petals of a rose.
I love writing.
It makes me whole.


If I could have a superpower it would be fire.
I want fire, fire to be my soul.
I want fire to come out of me.
One of the most powerful and dangerous elements.
I want it for me, in me.
Fire, fuego, feu.
I want to be able to see something destroyed, then born again.
I want to see the beautiful flame.
See the light.
Feel the heat.
Be the burn.
Don’t be scared,
I’ll be your path of spark to your future,
I’ll be the scar from your past.
I would be life and death.
I would be new and old.
I’ll be the universe.
I’ll be a star.


I feel I’m missing something.
I feel something, yet empty.
Maybe it’s stress or maybe I’m overreacting.
Being dramatic, yet I feel how heavy the world is.
Yet I feel like crying.
Yet I want to feel peace.
Robbed, without oxygen.
Stuck with a quiet scream.
Filled with loneliness even though I’m not alone.
Gone mentally unstable.
Everything is in my head.
Insanity has taken over.
I’m surrounded by people who hope the best for me.
Want me to become someone.
Why do I have these thoughts at night?
Maybe the night is when we can be free,
we don’t have the world biased against us.
Is it the way I think, too clear for a world that isn’t supposed to be transparent?
Everything seems so complicated and the world is overpopulated.

Christopher Renna, Grade 10

Ode to My Hair

You hair,
A soft and beautiful thing,
Lay on my head,
Keeping me warm,
Sharing all the great moments,
Being in sadness and happiness.
Comfortable is the way you are,
You look lost at times.
When you start falling,
You gain force,
And start growing again.
Lonely were you,
When I first was born,
Lots of friends you have made and lots of girls
You made me meet.


I believe in trust,
That people can rely upon,
And count on you.

I believe in fate,
That all the decisions
You have to make or will make are made
For your own welfare.

I believe that conditions in your life
May affect or alter your decisions.
I believe that you are the one,
The only one, responsible for the decisions you make.

I believe that trust can
Mislead to harm,
But I do believe that this harm can be repaired no matter how big
The damage is.

I believe in the probability that
People’s trust can break
And spread anger inside of us.

I believe that trust
Can just vanish for a while,
But it will become stronger later on.

I believe that a relationship
Without trust will not
Work and that it can give us
The expectations desired by us.

I believe that reflection
Will allow trust to reconcile,
To stabilize and our souls to pacify.

Freedom Has Come

Writing is a way to free the
Demons inside of me.

Writing is the paradise
Where my thoughts belong.

Writing allows me to calm my soul.
Writing is the way I put the
Pieces of my life together.

Writing helps me to define,
Reflect, and at times solve
My problems.

Writing is a way to realize
Who I am and who are
The people I am surrounded by.

Writing is the knowledge of
What I am capable of.

Writing helps me to succeed in life.

Orly Santana, Grade 12

Depths of My Being

Come and immerse yourself in the depths of my being.
I could be shy but I’m risky, I could be clueless but I’m authentic.
Creative, persuasive, reflexive are my waves—do not get too close, you can get wet.
My seas give off passion and compassion.
I invite you to immerse yourself in the depths of my being.
I warn you it can be lethal and you can end up sinking in my soul, like the Titanic in the Atlantic

“Creo en mí y creo en tí”
I Believe in You and I Believe in Me (Spanish Version)

Creo que el amor y Dios,
Es lo único que debe alimentar tu corazón,
He visto como la inocencia se va de viaje,
Como las hojas van cambiando su color durante los vientos de otoño.

He caminado de la mano de la soledad por senderos de indiferencia,
He visto como la tormenta de lo malo ha borrado las huellas de lo que antes era bueno.

Creo en la belleza de la vida y los misterios de la muerte,
Como la ignorancia profetiza con orgullo su verdad ante la gente,
Creo que hay palabras que marcan, que sanan y otras que matan,
Creo en la felicidad momentánea.

He visto el invierno convertirse en primavera,
Y he visto los minutos convertirse en tiempo perdido.
He presenciado el poder de la verdad,
Y le he temido ver al karma llegar.

Creo en el mantra del amor propio,
Y en lo radical que puede ser dos almas conectarse al compás de sus miradas,
He visto que doloroso ha sido tropezar y cual grandioso es ver las heridas sanar.

Creo en la luz del mundo y la oscuridad que a veces te puede saludar,
Y aun asi, creo en la esperanza que trae consigo una sonrisa,
En las sorpresas que trae el amor, que me abraza, me eleva y me atrapa.

Creo que todavía hay bondad en la gente.
Creo en las almas, creo en mí y creo en tí.

I Believe in You and I Believe in Me

I believe that love and God must feed your heart,
I have seen how innocence goes on a trip,
How the leaves change their colors during autumn winds.

I have walked holding the hand of loneliness on paths of indifference,
I have seen how the storm of evil erases the traces of what used to be good.

I believe in the beauty of life and the mysteries of death,
How the ignorant prophesize their truth to the people.

I believe there are words that mark you, that heal you or kill you,
I believe in momentary happiness,
I have seen winter become spring,
And I’ve seen minutes turn into lost time.

I have witnessed the power of the truth,
And I’ve been afraid of seeing the Karma arrive.

I believe in the mantra of self-love,
And how radical it can be when two souls blend into each other,
To the rhythm of their gaze.

I have seen how painful it has been to stumble,
And how great it is to see the wounds heal,
I believe in the light of the world,
And the darkness that can sometimes greet you.

And still I believe in the hope that brings a smile,
in the surprises that love brings that usually embrace me, elevate me and catch me.
I believe there’s still goodness in people.

I believe in souls,
I believe in you,
I believe in me.

Ikbolhon Shukhratova, Grade 10

Mother-land and Belonging

Mountains were everywhere
Behind me, above,
Left and right side on me
I looked around                               
Smell was  similar
I looked up to the sky
Sky looked familiar
Then, I saw my mama’s face
Her tears and sweats touched my
Brown skin, it burned
I knew where I was
My mama took me
Placed me on her hand
Lift me up to the sky
And introduced me to the giants
They belonged to this marvelous land
Giants were working hard everyday.
Their sour sweats turn into
Sweet rain feeding earth
Mountains suddenly trembled
They stood up on two feet
Mama hid me
Giants stopped.
War was coming.
Poverty and hunger were powerful enemies
Mountains and giants
With unity and strength defeated evilness of hunger.
My mama lift me up
High to the sky.
Showed me the face of the land once more
I could remember forever
However, deep down
I knew I would never belong.

Ode to My Books

My love is hidden in pages of  books
Books are hidden inside me
My mind surrenders by your leaves
Your leaves surrender to me

O, my friend
O, you are the wisest
O, you are the strongest
O, you are the most honest

Each word spoke to me
My words spoke to you
We are blind lovers
Like four-leaved clovers
My thirst for your tales
Stronger than my desire for males
You are getting inside my soul
Without certainty, you are taking control

Uriel Solis, Grade 10

I Wish I Hadn’t Woken Up

I went all the way back to El Salvador
Jumping and jumping over the border patrol
Walking in la linea as fast as I could
Saying “Dios los bendiga” to the people
That were in the way

I saw all the dreams of this people
And it broke my heart. I could see the coyotes without knowing

To where.

I remember the beauty of Mexico
Because many tacos I ate.
Walking through Guatemala
Many people I met,
They shared the few that they had
With big smiles on their faces.

Across the river in mi tierra I went
My grandma was waiting with tears on her cheeks
That is all I remember because I was just a child.

Mr. Fearful

Mr. Fearful, son of Failure and Loneliness,
Was born when desire was created
And died the day of your success.

Ladies and gentleman:
This is Mr. Fearful.
He is an old man who everybody knows
In some way.

Sometimes he can mess your day,
But sometimes he can also save your life.
Mr. Fearful is always there, close to you.
He always tries to find a chance to kick you out.
Do not trust him.
Some people might say,
“But Mr. Fearful just wants to teach you the best.”
Do not listen to what your friends say.
But if you really pay attention, he will help you to grow.
Mr. Fearful does not have any friends.
He is always alone.
Since I met Mr. Fearful, I know what I want.
He taught me what is good what is bad.
He told me that he wants to meet you and teach you how to survive,
In this world full of war.
From him I learned that being scared is not bad,
Because we always learn from the times that we fall.


I believe there is something better
I believe there is something worse
I don’t believe in the future
I believe in the change

I have been fighting for nothing
But always waiting for all
Living in the present
Without looking behind

I don’t know what is wrong
I don’t know what is right
I just make it worth it

I believe in the hope
That I can make everything possible
Starting from zero and ending in ZARA

I believe in my family
Because they are all that I have
I love what I do
And I will die for the love

I trust my legs and believe in my strength
That I will never fall because they are making me

I don’t know what is to cry
But I believe in the movies
Because they make me feel
What in real life I always avoid

I believe in the stories
That my grandma has told
I believe in the death
Because it makes me feel alive

I don’t trust in my feelings
But I believe I’ll be fine
I don’t trust in nobody
But I believe in myself

And that’s all that matters

Dear Writing

Writing, you have made me a superhero.
Writing, you have made me fly.
Writing, you have made me strong.
Writing, you have made me immune to anything.

Writing, Writing, I have never said thanks
Since I met you in school.

Writing, I’ve been using you to share all my thoughts.
Writing, I’ve been using you to see if I can find the love.
Writing, I’ve been using you as a way to cry.

You have been always there in times of depression
And happiness.
You have healing for others
But I don’t know if you feel the same way

Writing, has anybody said thanks to you?
That is something I don’t know
I just think it’s my turn to say thanks
That is why I draw some letters
To show you my love

Nothing But Words

A simple “thank you” will not be enough
Just saying “I love you” will not make you happier.

Love makes you feel good
It makes you part of this

I cannot give you more than a few letters
I cannot give you more than a few words

I cannot teach more than what my momma told me
I cannot give you more than what I can’t ever have

I love when I give
But I don’t like to receive

I don’t want to finish this letter because I don’t want to say


Hao Wang, Grade 9

Ode to Wolves

All wolves are just like stone
Flashing, fast, strong, and quiet
Only three words in a wolf’s dictionary:
win, fight, and honor.

The animal in the meadow
Howling through the night’s silence
Sheep are bleating and running
But after a while
The sheep go back to peace and bone.

On Wall Street
The wolves are working together
The lines go up and the numbers turn red
The massacre goes into the time and money
Look at these guys’ eyes
They are red.

In the Second World War
On the Atlantic
Soldiers on board Allied ships laugh
While German soldiers under the sea prepare
Silence is like a curtain
Hiding the dangers
A white line goes through the blue sea
Fire appears
More lines go through the blue
More fire appears
The wolves have exposed their teeth
Soldiers on the sea are dying
Soldiers under the sea are celebrating.

Win simply
Fight in teams
Honor is in a wolf’s heart.


               For all autistic people

You work alone
Always with your jacket
The world treats you so cold
No real friends
Not any laughter
You feel lonely


Do not forget
You are always thinking and talking
You talk with the moon
Talk with Sixpence
You work alone
Because nobody stops you from thinking
You are wired to strangers
But you know yourself
If you look down
You can see the sixpence
If you look up
You can see the moon
Both are shining
Shining in peace and silence
Like your spirit
It’s full and colorful
Alone not lonely
People don’t understand


He is danger
Wears too many clothes that cover his face
Nobody knows what he looks like
Nobody wants to know
He’s always angry
He lives alone
No children but as old as Earth
His house is small and dark
Nothing and nobody can enter
No fun, no play no sunshine
Because he disagrees
He cannot smile and be happy
Wait, what is happy?
He doesn’t want to know

As he gets older
He cannot show his anger
But cries
He is angry until he cries
Nobody can comfort him
Because nobody can enter his house and yard
And nothing is fun

Statue of Apple

This is the Statue of Beginning
The Statue of Apple
Why an apple?
Let me show you my stories

When I was a few months old
I saw a man take me away from three women
He tasted me and broke the old rule
And threw me away
After a year
I knew the man was Adam
One of the three women was named Eve

After that, like thousands of years,
I was reincarnated and fell from a tree
Hit a boy
The boy was angry
He threw me to another apple tree
That tree was angry

It shook an apple down
Hit a man
I still remember the man
The man was Newton

After five hundred years
I murdered Snow White
And was sold by a young man

I became interested in the internet
This day
My owner bought me before he bit me
An unlucky thing happened
He was fired
His boss bit me
After his boss bit me,
A lucky thing happened
“iPod, phone, Internet… iPhone!”

Now I’m tired and famous
People built a statue for me
I’m Apple
I’m the beginning of the world


Writing is the Black Friday
Takes all of my ideas away
Writing is the rocket
Brings us to the highest level
Writing is the Facebook
We need to use every day
Writing is gold
Even more than gold
Writing is LeBron
Nothing stops its flight
Writing is everything together
Imagination, Air Jordans
Culture, humans
Wifi, ice cream
Writing is the connection from this world
Till the end

Xiaoqing (Ruby) Zhao, Grade 11


Hatred is an old grumpy man
Who knows how to influence, convince people’s weaknesses
He is powerful and smarter than humans
His daily life task is to take revenge
He is vengeful, closed-minded, stingy, and hateful
He believes that
People owe him
He looks like a nice little kitty but is as scary as a hungry cobra

Hatred follows you everywhere
Lives inside your heart forever
Gives humans the energy to not give up

Hatred hates seeing peace between people
Finds way to destroy it
Are his favorite dramas
His enemy in life is love


I went all the way to Venezuela
In a dream one night
I woke up on an airplane
Landing in Maracaibo, Venezuela
My state, my country
I went out of the airplane,
Went to find my suitcase
Slowly approached it
And walked out relaxed,
Smelling the fresh air
Tanning under the sunlight.

I saw my old friends,
In that moment there were hugs and tears.
They helped me with my suitcase
And brought me home
When I first went inside the house,
I saw my old family,
Welcoming me home
All of the surprises and happiness
Words can’t express my feeling
I finally felt connected.

I ran to my room,
Everything was the same
Nothing had changed
It felt like I’d never left.

Statue of Equity

I am standing at the highest mountain
I am holding a scale
I see people with their daily busy lives
I see anger
Hopeless people,
Some are even kneeling with hope in their eyes while looking at me.
I smell sweat,
All of their hard work from not being treated equal.
I hear screams and cries
I feel anger toward me
But also trust and belief in me.

I love how they believe in me,
Even though I sometimes fail at doing my job.

Sarah Dohrmann is a Brooklyn-based writer of literary nonfiction whose work has appeared in Harper’s MagazineTin House MagazineThe Iowa Review, and New York, among others. She began teaching in the schools with T&W in 2001 and currently teaches at New York University; she also independently leads a personal nonfiction writing workshop called Diving Into the Wreck. After earning her MSW in June 2023, Sarah serves as a clinical social worker in the Domestic Violence Aftercare Program at University Settlement in New York City's Lower East Side.

a moon over the ocean