The Telling Room Young Writers Contest

POETRY-May 2013

The Telling Room, a nonprofit writing center in Portland, received hundreds of submissions for its writing contest this year. Middle and high school students from all over the state wrote poems and stories on the theme “Objects of Wonder.” They wrote in depth about the material objects that hold the most meaning in their lives: keepsakes, mementos, relics, and items of value. Congratulations to Mary McColley of South Berwick and Meghan Lane of Rockport, winners of this year’s writing contest. For more information, visit

by Mary McColley

My mother has told me
the story

of the three pairs of shoes, lapti,
that hang on our wall.
Little things, woven from tree bark

and deft hands,
brought to a cold market square

in Russia. Light, firm,
meant to protect a child’s felt boots and numb toes,
yet made almost achingly delicate

by the years that lay between,
when the poor old man peddled his shoes
on the winter streets of Moscow.

Thin and amber, strips of bark.
My mother has told me
how he beamed, lined face happy,

when she
bought them,
life and streets and half a world away,

when she bought them then
and made an old man smile.


Prelude in A Minor
by Meghan Lane

This four-foot-nine box of mahogany and wire has been getting to know me since I was nine and tapping out single-note melodies. There is a humble magic steeping in its bones, a resonance fueled by the music we’ve created over the years. I am not the first to own this instrument; no, there have been 80 years of owners and lovers, countless fingers caressing the keys just as I do. It bears the marks of time: the painted letters “Cable-Nelson” are yellowing, a chip of polished mahogany is missing, one leg that had snapped clean off was glued back on, the dark seam like an honorable battle scar. I respect my piano as I would a teacher; it is a seasoned performer. I am just beginning to learn how to lean and breathe with it. There is a difference between pressing the keys that correspond with the little black notes on the page, and turning those notes into an audible emotion. This change from melody to emotion happens to me unexpectedly, but when it does it is the most validating moment in my existence. In that moment, I am no longer myself, but an extension of my instrument, as though it has welcomed me home.

When I’m asked who my favorite composer is I must admit a passion for Chopin, a lust supported by the soft demeanor of my Cable-Nelson. Chopin is not to be played on an unloved instrument; it would be too harsh, too cold and clinical. Chopin should be played on a piano that you greet as an old friend, one that sits comfortably and reminisces with you. It should be as welcoming as wrapping your hands around a hot mug of tea after coming in from the cold.

I’ve often heard music described in the abstract, but music is the most physical thing I have. There is nothing more grounding than the feeling of the keys beneath my fingers, nothing more relaxing than a softly pulsed chord, again, again, again, meeting the tempo of my heartbeat like a gentle buffer between myself and the bustling outside world. My bench is no safe haven, though. I must always push myself to be better—for myself, for my instrument, and for my instructor. Although my practice is intense—indeed, at times brutal—my piano is forgiving; sometimes a wrong note is forgotten, or a tricky measure is smoothed by the grandness of its tone. As co-conspirators my piano and I use rubato (borrowed time) to make it sound like I know the notes, slowing the tempo dramatically while I scramble to rearrange my fingers. Its easy compatibility helps me grasp the nuance in the notes, the communication between musician and instrument.

I aspire to be the kind of person who reflects my instrument’s tone: versatile, comfortable, and strong. At times this feels like an unreasonable expectation. Certainly, some days it is. My piano teacher’s energy keeps me going when I think I’ve hit a dead end; my piano’s previous owner, Shelley, is an invaluable mentor and inspiration; my family deals with my odd and constant hours of practice; my music has built a trusted community that I treasure dearly. I hope that when I am its age, nearly 80 years, I will wear my past as gracefully as it does, and perhaps be able to inspire someone as much as it inspires me.

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