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Camden teen is a 2014 National Student Poet
Cameron at White House
Cameron Messinides (far left), a former Camden High School student now attending the S.C. Governors School of the Arts and Humanities, and his fellow 2014 National Student Poets class, are recognized by First Lady Michelle Obama (center) at the White House on Sept. 18. - photo by Courtesy of the National Student Poets Program

Emptying My Grandfather's House

By Cameron Messinides

We leave the dumpster crouching

in the street, then haul armoires

outside and crack them open like eggs.

Splinters disappear

in brown December lawns

only because snow has missed Chicago

so far: a warmer winter than my father

has known since seven years-old.

 

Still, the marigolds

are dying, and hypothermia will keep

snakes from flaking through the basement

when he halts before a shelf

 

and a workbench light flies

across his peach-peel forearm, one hand

slack around a buzzing crowbar, the other

embracing a pistol’s muzzle,

 

my grandfather’s bronze

souvenir of the Pacific Theater.

I've learned to let my father stay

dangerous because perhaps unloading

 

a revolver is like stealing the pit

from a blanched avocado. Only the rhythm

of beating basement walls can stave away

his whooping cough on a night

 

like this, when the blue panels

on the neighbor’s house rattle

like dogs drunk on scotch, and blinking

in moonlight might overshadow

 

my own alloyed breath.

 

Details of an Epilogue

By Cameron Messinides

Nana’s joke: she looks

like a duck with her hair

fallen out. Pluck my feathers,

she says, and don’t

 

leave me alone just yet. My mother

wheelchairs her across this

bridge, granite and ageless and

is it supposed to buckle?

 

The ducks live

under the bridge. Nana

carries no bread, instead throws flowers,

which will wilt in three days,

 

and laughs.

 

A Camden teenager landed one of the most prestigious poetry awards in the country on Sept. 18 and visited the White House and met First Lady Michelle Obama as part of the honor.

Cameron Messinides, 17, a former Camden High School (CHS) student now attending the S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, is a member of the 2014 class of National Student Poets. He became a national student poet after receiving the Leonard L. Milberg Poetry Prize through Princeton University.  

Cameron’s previous recognition automatically qualified him to be entered into the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Contest.

Cameron attended CHS for his freshman and sophomore years and while living in Camden, involved himself in volunteer work. He volunteered his time two days a week the summer before going to the governor’s school at the Community Medical Clinic. Supervisors at the clinic wanted to address some common issues they noticed with patients who visited, so he created a display of different drinks and how much sugar each contained as one of his projects.

“I wanted people to know what they were drinking,” he said.

Cameron learned about the South Carolina Governor’s School through an art teacher at Camden High the last semester of his sophomore year; he then applied and sent in some samples of his writing.

The school accepted him a little more than a month after an interview.

Cameron said he did not begin seriously writing poetry until after entering the governor’s school.

“I took a poetry class at the governor’s school and it opened my eyes to poetry,” Cameron said.

He said he was surprised but thrilled to win both poetry honors.

“As soon as I put my work out there, people were looking for me,” Cameron said. “It is very amazing. I feel very affirmed in my work and what I have been doing the past years in my writing.”

Cameron had the privilege of visiting the White House where he was honored in the Blue Room for his achievement along with other members of the 2014 class of National Student Poets. The event afforded him the opportunity to read his poem aloud in front of the First Lady and other spectators.

“It was a really unique experience,” Cameron said. “I had never been to D.C.”

The experience has heightened Cameron’s gratitude and appreciation for the arts and those who work in the arts field.

“It was humbling to know that people in these programs have recognized my work,” he said. “I am grateful that there are people working in the arts and wanting to see the work I am putting out there.”

Cameron is currently a senior and planning for college. He is looking at schools nearby and further north.