The Telling Room Young Writers Contest

POETRY – May 2015


The Telling Room, a nonprofit writing center in Portland, asked young writers to submit poems and prose pieces that fit the theme “Bodies of Water.” Out of the many carefully crafted entries, jurors chose one poem: “The Presumpscot Baptism of a Jewish Girl — After Hanel Baveja” by Lizzy Lemieux. For more information, visit


“The Presumpscot Baptism of a Jewish Girl — After Hanel Baveja” BY LIZZY LEMIEUX OF GORHAM HIGH SCHOOL

We stood on the Mars-red railway pass
Toes curling over the edge, fifteen feet above
The river bottom stewing in August—
Rusting leather-seated wheelchairs,
Slatted red-handled, silver-wired shopping carts, Old-fashioned, newly made, ten-speed racing bikes, And children’s tennis shoes with tongues like dogs.

The Presumpscot boiled like tomato soup, Frothing with all these things we swam with, Friendly with them as the fat, female ducks, And their puddles of sopping bread.

We no longer bragged that we could swim, But they knew—saw us wet and skinny, Tan lines buckled around our hips.
We still screamed like children—

We still were children, I think, at twelve. We hit the water with the sound
Of flesh on flesh, hand to skin.
We fought with the placid river— Sometimes we won and we drew

The Presumpscot into our mouths,
Above Razor scooters and squelching mud.


In September it cooled and we sat
On the sloping banks with twenty-five cent gum In our mouths, heads tilted toward the v’s
Of hollering Canada geese,
To which we hollered back
Call and repeat campfire songs.


We liked being heard, liked everything
Until our big sisters came home,
Each of their ankles wrenched, skin puckered, one Hanging off a boy like a playground tire swing. Then we listened to the water
Hitting flesh on flesh, hand to skin,
Listened to who we would be
When we resurfaced.

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