Love of Letters

Last year, in December 2017, I submitted a poem to the Scholastic Alliance for Young Artists and Writers competition. I honestly had no idea what I was doing, but in the end my poem won a Silver Key award for the Southwest Region At-Large. Yay!

I’ve always been private about what I write, and with poetry being a new and unexplored medium for me, I hesitated to share my work with anyone other than an unnamed, uncaring, faceless judge. But to put my courage to the test, I’ve decided to post my poem, Love of Letters. The author’s note was written and added recently, after the competition results came out.


Love of Letters

I have always wanted to paint my words
In sunrises and sunsets,
Glory and guilt,
Across a sky filled with long-ago ghosts—

First alphabets and English translated into magic for
My heart, which thrummed against its skeletal cage
Blooming with every shaky line I scratched
Through the canvas of time,
Filling up empty space with thoughts that looked like letters

My form of painting
Was magnetic
And electric
And intoxicating,

And my head was cautious, because we are all taught that miracles
Exist with large-eyed mice and happily-ever-afters, and
Writing seemed such a miracle

But so said my heart to my foolish head,
Still blossoming with these newfound words: You are in love.

Writing seemed such an escape,
And a young head can only bow
To a heart heady with trapped dreams and a first infatuation

So started tentative, eager words—incandescent love
Pumped from my veins,
Drawn from my soul,
Filled with wanton lust for




And so I wrote more;

I wrote until the fire in my essence
Blazed onto paper,
Blistered lungs hungrily choking on the ashes of my words

Out, in, out, in: it was a new form of breathing, and my heart relished
Every drop of magical oxygen that swelled in my veins

The words grew up with me,
Tore at my eyes when I wrote by nothing but feeble moonlight
Stained my tongue when I found that inky words could be tasted in speech
Sneered at my friends because humans are so much better when they are fictional,
Because it was

Pen pressed into paper became
Ritualistic after the snap of bones
And the bitter, ocean smell of tears,
The bruises that were the same shade as ink.

Magic erased my pain, so my head allowed
My insatiable heart to beg for




The poison in every beat of my heart begged for more.

So I became drunk on the magical beauty of letters.

When the world turned to static,
Magic shattered mind–
Inebriated, confused, exhilarated–
But how could fragile minds care when my hands could still
Scrawl in ink and bleed dreams onto paper




Until I couldn’t differentiate between the reality of my mind
And a reality that had become fiction to me.

Until I couldn’t see that I was painting
In tears,
In pain,

Until I couldn’t care that I was writing in blood
Instead of celestial light,
Because how else would I scream,
When my words, my pens, my paper failed me?

Until I couldn’t realize that pain
Was a tangible thing,
And language is eternally metaphysical
And a broken soul could hug sharp, cutting words for warmth,
But a broken body could not embrace
The abstract.

And so the fibers of my noose—
Every thought,
Every failed attempt,
Every explosive phrase—
I braided with my own two hands,
Because the stars I used as ink
Were finally exhausted, leaving behind only the remnants of

Every word had been a falling grain of sand
My heart kept pumping
And on,
And on,
Even though sweet poison cannot become blood.

I traded pain for letters,
And real friends for fictional ones,
And blood for words,
Until my body bled

So said my head to my foolish heart,
Even as it tried to scrawl in ruby-red blood:

You know nothing about love.

—Jessica Zhao


Author’s Note:

This was an uncertain venture into poetry. I’ve always loved poetry—the way that the rhythm soothes your mind, the way that emotion is so brusquely captured in powerful words—but I’d only ever written it for school. I tried to convey some vague sense of a storyline, but my lack of personal connection with the (admittedly “emo” and “angsty”) topic made it feel awkward to me.

This poem is about a teen who seeks solace in screaming silent words using pen and paper, but is ultimately led to a demise by the demons inside of her. Dark, even for me.

My attempts to mimic the use of powerful repetition that I’d read in other works weren’t as effective as I’d hoped. While writing this, I knew from early on that imagery and metaphor would be a significant part of this poem. The idea of painting using words was prevalent throughout this poem and during my writing process.

I am proud of myself for submitting this. The competition pushed me to explore my writing and my creativity–though, luckily, unlike the narrator of this poem, in a more positive and optimistic way. I look forward to further experimenting with poetry.

4 thoughts on “Love of Letters

  1. I’m so glad you did make this venture into poetry!

    The persona you have created here speaks with wonderful voice, expressing passion and pain and so much more.

    The images of ink and stain and fiber are powerfully crafted, and I was mesmerized from the first stanza.

    Thank you for sharing your talent here on your blog!

  2. This poem is beautiful and I can’t even imagine how much thought was put into it. I love how you associated writing with love. What inspired you to write this poem?

    1. My inspiration for this poem came from my dark and angsty alter-ego. That was a joke—but I did write this poem out of curiousity. I’ve always been a little fascinated at the ways positive things can be “corrupted” and portrayed as something negative or destructive. I took my love of writing/reading/words in general, turned it on its head, and wrote a narrative about a person whose love became twisted.

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