Take a look back with us to The Ulysses Writers Discussion with Kate DiCamillo and Brad Copeland, and read more fantastic poems and short stories.
On April 14, the top winners in The Ulysses Writing Contest Celebrating Disney’s Flora & Ulysses had a unique opportunity: The chance to listen in when author Kate DiCamillo and screenwriter Brad Copland talked about Flora & Ulysses and allowed them a peek into their writing process. For all who couldn’t be there, here’s a recap of The Ulysses Writers Discussion. We had a delightful time and would like to thank everyone who made this event such a great experience.
Without any further ado, we proudly present the next round of winners that made it to the top 10 in their respective teams. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did. Happy reading!
Forever and Wanting is My Love by Ella Woods
This poem starts with a variation on the writing prompt »Forever and wanting is my love«. Its vast vigor derives from the language used. The imagery is at the same time clear and enchanting: »She read them poetry, soft and slow, under that gem speckled net.« We were impressed by the flawless composition that reveals a highly developed consciousness for tradition and form, and we can't wait to read more poems by this author.
TSA by Nour Abuelreich
Traveling by airplane in times of global terrorism necessitates strange and odd procedures. We have become so used to these daily acts that we rarely stop to reconsider them. This poem makes us do just that. It focuses on the perspective of a young traveler being screened by TSA agents: »Fingers trail down my body / Invading my space and privacy.« The way the poem carves out the tense relation between air travel security and personal dignity is extraordinary. Simple in structure but nevertheless powerful.
Forever and Wanting is Stomach by Gwyneth Moir
In »Forever and Wanting is Stomach« the lust for food reflects the persona’s hunger for life and new experiences. She has been told to be moderate, not to bite off more than she can chew. She figures that this is a »silly way to think« and rather likes to be open and try new, exciting things. We loved the poem’s humorous tone, celebrating the joys life has to offer. Let’s all try »eggs gone green« and enjoy every last bite of life.
Tomatoes on the Wall by A Squirrel Fan
One of the topics often discussed in recent years is the role of wild animals in our cities. In this poem, we get a peek into the life of »Mr. Squirrel« which has its upsides: »the sun is high, the grass is tall«. But the poem also tells us about the hardships of a city squirrel: »His eye is bright, his tail is thin / He lost it in the garbage bin«. Although »Mr. Squirrel« »barely got out of the garbage bin« the poem leaves us hopeful. There will always be space for a squirrel – in our cities and our hearts. We found the squirrel’s perspective witty and charming.
My Nemesis: “The Finder” by Simon Friedman
This story astonishes with the beauty of the words it uses, like »sycophant« or »nemesis«. We loved the sound of the story as much as the fresh perspective it offers. It’s quite delightful to read about a superhero who’s jealous because he does not get the attention he longs for. Written in the manner of a philosophic monologue, the story is a parable on literary/art business and the mechanisms of attention. Due to the interesting meta-level, we found this story a great pleasure to read, both intellectually and linguistically.
Braining by Matthew MacKay
The idea of switching identities via »braining« is marvelous. Sometimes we were a little confused though, wondering who’s acting, Lilly or Billy? Nevertheless, we especially loved the notion of dogs propably being able to visit super-focused human brains all the time, but simply can’t because of the lack of super-focused human brains. A fun read!
Superurchin by Jayme Tanner
This story stuck out because of its unusual superhero: a thieving street urchin. Also, it is told in a dense, fast, and distinct style which offers new perspectives. Exciting as a detective story and fast as a thriller the story continues in this manner, confident in style and language: »Right around there is when that feeling of dread started slapping me in the face to make sure I had its attention.« Truly awesome!
Dad Reflexes by Jason Orrill
The premise of this story intrigued us immediately: a superhero who has no idea that he has super powers. How cool is that? The tight dialogues bring in a thrilling speed. Although this is only a short story, the hero’s »Dad Reflexes« seem to be just the first episode in a series of heroic events. We are curious what might happen next in the life of our »oblivious« superhero Del.
Forever and Wanting is My Love
by Ella Woods
“Forever and wanting is my love,
Sweet child of the moon”
Dainty and bright as a foxglove,
She sang her sparkling tune.
Lady of the lake, Siren by the sea,
with just a few flowing scales,
all creatures are drawn to thee.
From the vastest of whales-
to minnows; quick and wee.
And when the sun sank low,
And the stars emerged from the jet,
She read them poetry, soft and slow,
under that gem speckled net.
by Nour Abuelreich
They trail me with their eyes as I move
Watching closely my every step
I could feel their eyes on my back
As I slowly unlace my shoes
Unbutton my dress shirt next
They try to avert their gaze
But the intensity of their stares
Is inescapable burning through my back
I carefully unbuckle my belt next
Sliding it across the table
Lifting my hands in the air
I finally turn around to face them
Fingers trail down my body
Invading my space and privacy
She’s clear to go
Thank you for cooperation
16, the first time I got the pat down
Welcome to a brown woman’s America
They don’t have to say
Forever and Wanting is Stomach
by Gwyneth Moir
I’ve been told that my eyes are bigger than my stomach;
That I can’t possibly finish all that I’ve taken,
That I bite off more than I can chew.
What a silly way to think.
Forever and wanting is stomach
And who am I to tell her no?
There’s a reason, after all,
That pants can stretch
And belts unbuckle.
My mind and eyes and stomach are open,
And food for thought is just as nice to chew as bubble gum.
In fact I think you underestimate my belly,
She can only grow and grow.
There are a million things to taste and see.
I’ve yet to slurp spaghetti with Queen,
Or try blue cheese,
Or eggs gone green!
Tummies are for filling up, and don’t you ever forget it.
There’s always room on my plate
And at my table,
Sit, eat, gobble up life while you can!
Stuff your cheeks and pockets and purse with dinner rolls and silly conversations.
Never let your stomach rumble,
Feast on this beautiful world endlessly,
You deserve every last bite.
Tomatoes on the Wall
by A Squirrel Fan
The sun is high, the grass is tall,
Mr. Squirrel sits on the wall.
His eye is bright, his tail is thin
He lost it in the garbage bin
For the Gardener shut it tight
Once upon a moonless night
While stowing kitchen trash, the lout -
Mr. Squirrel barely got out!
But looking down, now he sees
Tomatoes bobbing in the breeze
Fresh and cool and juicy red
Ready to drink, mangle and shred...
Down he leaps from off his height
With his righteous goal in sight
And when the Gardener comes to call
There’ll be three trophies on the wall!
My Nemesis: “The Finder”
by Simon Friedman
Every super hero has a nemesis, and mine is The Finder. Frankly, the guy really bugs me. He is such a complete and absolute egotist. I admit that he does do some good in the world, by finding things that are lost, and sometimes he can even get them back to the person who lost them. But why does he have to make such a production about it? There is always a press release, and often times a press conference is organized as well. Over time, these have become more and more elaborate and well attended by the press, local and national! I find it absolutely infuriating. At the press conferences he always has his side kick (“The Announcer”) set the stage and build up the drama. I’m sorry, but even side kicks are supposed to have some kind of power that differentiates them from the average citizen, and in my book obsequious sycophantism does not qualify. But has the press actually questioned The Announcer’s credentials? No. They are too bedazzled by the ornate, (actually gaudy), introductions that he makes before The Finder is brought to the podium. My beloved English teacher, Mrs. Harrison taught me that simple, spare, direct prose that communicates truth and beauty is the aim of every true writer. But the Announcer’s aim seems to be to take a bit of egg white and whip it into the biggest pile of meringue you ever saw. He never fails to mention The Finder’s running total of finds. And the media just laps it up. They haven’t even questioned the use of a fog machine that has recently been incorporated into the presentations and is activated just before The Finder bursts on the stage. How is that professional? And then there are the items that The Finder “finds”. A lot of them are non-descript, generic items, and by my count, less than half ever make it into their owner’s hands even after these ridiculous dog and pony shows.
But if I am fully honest with myself I must admit that at least part of my issue with The Finder is that we are in the same line of work. Or at least it is easy to misconstrue that we are. You probably never heard of me, but I am “He Who Prevents Things From Being Lost”. My super power is to notice things that are in the act of being lost, and to intervene and prevent this from happening. An illustration: I was walking with my lady friend Elizabeth when I spied across the street a woman with three small children in tow. She seemed harried and distracted in that way that overworked parents can be. Even though I was engaged in an intense conversation with Elizabeth, there was a part of my brain scanning my surroundings, as there always is, for things that are in the process of being lost. And sure enough, as this woman crossed the street with her three children, one of them dropped a small stuffed elephant in the middle of the street. Neither the child nor the mother noticed, but I did! Apologizing to Elizabeth, I sprang into action, running across the street, scooping up the small stuffed elephant and depositing it into the hands of the child. I then quickly retreated, after getting a surprised perhaps befuddled smile from the mother. This is typical of such encounters. He Who Prevents Things From Being Lost appears and disappears so quickly that the beneficiaries of his super power can often not fully express their gratitude in the moment.
So you can see how what I do and what The Finder does are in the same general classification, although I would argue that my super power is far more significant. I actually prevent the loss from taking place, which prevents the mental anguish associated with the loss from occurring. Whereas, The Finder is acting as essentially the Lost and Found section of Craigslist. I also cannot overstate the psychological wear and tear it takes to be He Who Prevents Things From Being Lost. There is a part of my brain that is essentially dedicated to this task, and it is hard to turn it off. I am constantly scanning my surroundings in search of a citizen who needs my help. However it is also very rewarding work, in those fleeting seconds as I pick up the dropped item and hand it to the individual and see relief wash over their faces. That is all the reward I need, and in fact is all I will get. It is inherent in the process that I cannot hold a press conference to alert the media, as these moments develop organically and resolve rapidly. There would be no time to set up a fog machine even if I had the impulse to do so. My understanding is that fog machines have to warm up for between 7 and 9 minutes prior to use. I used to be more bitter about the attention that The Finder got, the news stories, the fan pages, the rumors of a Netflix film (!) and more, but as I have aged, I have also become more philosophical. I didn’t ask for my gift, any more than The Announcer asked to be a sycophantic toady. I stumbled on this skill or it found me really, and now for better or worse, I am the caretaker of this precious gift. It is my solemn duty and responsibility, and that surpasses any competition from such a “super hero” as The Finder. And if I am going to live up to the ideals of a super hero, I have to rise above such petty jealousies, or my mind and spirit will become as foggy as the air around the American DJ Mister Cool II Fog Machine. But whatever you do, just please don’t send me an officially branded The Finder tote bag, ok? I feel that would break me.
by Matthew MacKay
I was in the Principal’s office, balancing on a chair and working to open a filing cabinet with my teeth. I missed my thumbs; they were back in the next room, chasing squirrels. I’m Lilly, a super-focused twelve-year-old human female. Doctors say I have autism, but I prefer to call it being super-focused. Most humans are non-focusers with the attention span of a squirrel. How anything gets accomplished is beyond me. Take my Dad; he can’t concentrate on anything unless it’s football, and my brother Chet? That squirrel brain is why I’m balancing on a wobbling chair with one fuzzy pointed ear cocked towards the door while I chew on a metal handle.
I was in Billy’s brain. Billy’s my only friend; he’s a Cardigan corgi. My parents thought a dog would be good for me, bring me out of my shell, like they thought I was a turtle. I loved Billy. He was the only creature who focused like I could; pick a project and shut out everything else. Well, everything except squirrels.
Billy and I would super-focus so hard we communicated without speaking and played “braining,” digging into each other’s noggins. One day while braining, I felt a pop and found myself inside Billy's head, and Billy was inside mine. I was Lilly/Billy; he was Billy/Lilly. I know that’s complicated for you non-processors, so just try to remember brain before body. You can do that, right?
Being a corgi and peeing on fences sounded like fun, but I didn’t want to eat kibble for supper, so popped back into my head. That worked, so I popped back into Billy’s head. Billy’s brain seemed quite content in either head; dogs probably visit other super-focused brains all the time. Assuming dogs can find a super-focused brain to visit; they’re few and far between.
I brained Billy/Lilly to sit, so Billy/Lilly sat. Then I brained play dead. I was getting ready to pop back into Lilly when in came my brother Chet, a non-focuser poster boy. Scratching Lilly/Billy’s head (Ugh-I hate anyone other than Billy touching me.), he sat on the bed next to Billy/Lilly, unaware Lilly was Billy. I’m glad I didn’t have to explain that to a non-processor like Chet.
“Lilly, I'm a mess. The Principal plans to kick me off the team if I fail Math.” Billy/Lilly sat there, playing dead like a champ. Chet was okay with that because I would ignore people and be unresponsive when I was super-focused.
“I needed to talk to someone, and I know you won't tell anyone-heck, I'm guessing you don't even hear me.”
I wish. Chet, like most non-focusers, tended to be quite tedious.
“I screwed up. I took the answers to tomorrow’s Math exam. Fred caught me and is gonna turn me in so he can be Team Captain.”
I did a colossal corgi yawn and stretch. Sports were non-focuser territory.
Chet prattled on. “I tried to sneak the papers back into the Principal’s office but couldn’t get past the secretary. And Fred has a meeting with the Principal this afternoon. I'll be expelled.”
Why was this a bad thing? School was a boring place where everyone treated you like a squirrel non-focuser. The last straw was in Grade five when I read Gravity's Rainbow, and nobody believed me. Great kid’s book, by the way-quite funny. I loved Byron the light bulb.
But the idea of Chet being kicked out of school and home all day was disconcerting.
“I know you probably didn’t process a word of this, Lilly. I might as well be talking to Billy.” Chet hugged Billy/Lilly (Ugh-I'm glad I was currently Lilly/Billy.), sighed and left.
I popped back into Lilly and brained Billy to jump on the bed. Scratching Billy’s ears helped me super-focus and made Billy squint his eyes like a smug fox.
“We need to fix this and keep Chet in school and not underfoot.”
No need to super-focus, the solution was so obvious. Put the test answers back before Fred met the Principal. Duh. I entered Chet’s bedroom and found the hidden answer sheet, along with some weird magazines, under his mattress. So predictable. Grabbing the answers, I headed to the kitchen with Billy following. Peeling a banana I tossed Billy half. Stuffing the rest of the banana in my mouth and the answers into a plastic grocery bag, I scratched Billy on his ruff, popped into his head again, and brained him to heel.
Grabbing the plastic bag in Lilly/Billy’s teeth, I headed out the door and down the block to the high school, with Billy/Lilly heeling on my rump.
We headed to the Principal’s office where the secretary, Miss Smithson, smiled, “Hello Lilly. How are you today, dear?”
I brained Billy/Lilly to find the squirrel, and Billy/Lilly dashed around the office barking.
The secretary ran to calm Billy/Lilly while I trotted into the Principal’s office, pushed a chair over to the file cabinet, and tried to open the drawer with my stubby fat paws. No thumbs. Opps. I forgot about the thumbs. Biting the handle, I ripped open the cabinet, saw the folder for Math 202, dug the answers out of the plastic bag with my teeth, crammed the sheet into the folder and nosed shut the drawer. Any noise was masked by Billy/Lilly, banging around chasing imaginary squirrels. Popping back into my brain, I stopped running, smiled at the secretary, and headed to the door. Mrs. Smithson asked if I needed help. I said I was fine now, and as Billy and I exited the office, we met the Principal and Fred entering.
The Principal turned to Mrs. Smithson.
“Please get the math test answers, We might have a problem.”
She hurried into the office, returning with a sheet of paper.
“Here’s the answers, Sir.” She paused, glancing awkwardly at the Principal, adding in a puzzled voice. “Why are the sheets all chewed up and covered with drool?”
by Jayme Tanner
You know that feeling? That feeling of absolute dread? You wake up with it and it sticks with you all day? That’s the feeling I woke up with the morning everything changed. It was a normal day as far as I was concerned; wake up, run hands through hair, smudge dirt on my cheek, and emerge from the alley to start suckering people.
Oh... did I mention that I was a street urchin back then? Yeah, not something most people guess what with my current superheroing. But hey, when your parents die and the orphanage you’re dumped into turns out to be run by psychopaths? Yeah, the streets turn out to be way better than the crazy lady who’s so in love with mirrors she hangs at least five in every room.
But enough about her, let’s get back to the existential dread that started haunting me that day. After I got myself all messed up, I’d decided to take the long walk down 7th Street. There isn’t much foot traffic there now, what with last month’s bombing, but back when I was a kid? There was every kind of store you could imagine, and then some. And all along the sidewalks there were suckers loaded with cash, just waiting to be hustled.
My first targets that day were some rich lady and her boyfriend. I don’t think either of them looked at me once, just another boy on the streets. But when they got to the next store, I’m sure they realized that a chunk of cash from their wallet was gone.
I only ever took cash, and if I ended up with a whole wallet, then I found a way to get it back to its owner. I might have been a thief, but I wasn’t a jerk. Anyways, after I scored fifty bucks from her, I’d gone and done the worst thing any urchin could do.
I got cocky.
There was a gas station, right on the corner of 7th and Oak, just across the road from where I was standing. I think it’s a smoothie shop now, so you won’t be able to go find it, if any of you were thinking about it. But back to the gas station. Like most gas stations, it had one of those little “everything you’ll ever need on the road” shops. You know, maps, candy bars, a bathroom, pop, those keychains with a mini-Missouri hanging on it, they had everything.
Any urchin on the streets can tell you, never let your guard down. And even that feeling of impending doom couldn’t stop me. I went into that store, and I grabbed a basket, and I started grabbing whatever I could think of.
I was a little smart at least, no chocolate or gummies because those would melt, no pop since it makes me super hyper, and no chips cause there’s never enough in a bag to fill you up. Mostly I got a lot of nuts, some jerky, water, and some sports drinks. And then, as if I wasn’t being stupid enough, I decided to pocket just one candy bar, slipping it into my pants in what I had thought to be an extremely inconspicuous manner.
Yeahhhh... I think you can see where this is going.
I took the basket to the counter, and I hefted it up in front of the guy in charge of the store. I then smiled at him, making sure I showed off the missing tooth on the left side. It usually worked on ladies, and most urchins will tell you to find something that makes people think you’re innocent.
The guy, somewhere between a young adult and an old one, leaned forward and he said right in my face, “How stupid you think I am boy?”
Right around there is when that feeling of dread started slapping me in the face to make sure I had its attention. I started to grab the basket back, but the guy slapped his hands on the counter, making me flinch. “I already called the cops kid, I saw your little stunt outside, they’ll be here any minute, and then they’ll find that poor woman you robbed.”
It was at this point, that I realized how incredibly stupid I was, and the dread completely agreed.
But it was what happened next, that changed my life forever. The man turned to look out the window, and I knew that this would be my once chance. Something inside of me... it sort of flipped. There’s really no good way to describe it, it just sort of happened.
Faster than I’d ever moved before, I grabbed that basket and I booked it out of there. I didn’t stop running, especially when I heard the sirens up the street flare to life. I just ran.
About five minutes later, though at the time it felt more like an hour of hard running, I turned and ran into the closest alley. And about two seconds after that, I slammed into the wall on the far end of it.
I’ve still got the scar, here, just above my jaw, pretty cool looking right? Yeah, well back then getting bloodied was practically a death sentence. No adult’s gonna leave a kid looking like that without some serious questions being asked, as I learned a few days later, before I ended up back in the system.
But at the time, I didn’t really care. Because as I was peeling myself off the wall, and picking up my scattered supplies, that was the first time I started to check and see where I was.
Remember how I said that the gas station was on 7th and Oak? When I stumbled out of the alley to check on the street signs, to try and get my bearings, I found myself looking out on a part of the city a good thirty miles from where I’d started.
And that my friends, is how I discovered my speed.
by Jason Orrill
Del was limping towards his locker to change when a group of people in lab coats blocked his way. They filed out of the locker room, each carrying a small cardboard box full of junk. A woman in a dark suit trailed them.
“This way,” she said.
The woman and a man with a clipboard took Del to a small conference room. She held out her hand for the clipboard. After reviewing it, she handed it back.
She said, “Mr. Robinson, it’s important that you be completely honest with us. Do you understand?”
Del radiated confusion. “Can I...that is, can I ask what this is about?”
“I expect that will become clear in time.” She nodded to Clipboard Guy.
“We searched your locker and found the following items taken from facilities around the MegaTechCorp campus: pocket reactors, viral detectors, hydro-acidic agitators, electro-spanners, quantum elastomer fabricators, acoustic accelerants, static insulators, fungal growth media, proprietary plasma samples, and a sandwich bag labeled, ‘Mark — Do Not Touch’.” He flipped the page and continued. “We also found trace evidence of the following: patent-pending bacteria, three kinds of sentient spores, hypoallergenic pollen, drop bear venom and anti-venom, beta, gamma, alpha, and zeta particles, and saliva from an as-yet unidentified creature, most likely amphibious, possibly Cretaceous.” He put the clipboard down.
Del started to explain. “I can explain—“
The woman held up a hand for silence. “We’re not finished, Mr. Robinson.” She pulled a small device from inside her blazer and set it on the table. A video began playing on the wall. It showed a young girl, blindfolded, spinning around in a yard. As she grew dizzy, she stumbled and began to fall into the street, straight into the path of an oncoming truck. From left of frame, a blur appeared and snatched her away. The camera whirled right, showing a man holding the girl close against him. He fell to one knee and held her at arm’s length. The video froze just as Del’s face
appeared, staring at the young girl.
“Mr. Robinson, do you have anything to say?”
Del had turned away, his eyes squeezed shut. “I don’t want to see that. Make it go away.” He turned just enough to see if the video was still playing. The woman shut down the projector, and Del let out a shuddering sigh. Blinking back tears, he took several deep breaths to try and calm himself. She forged ahead mercilessly.
“Let tell you what I think this means. For the last seven years, you have been masquerading as a janitor, all the while committing corporate espionage, stealing material and equipment from MegaTechCorp. Using this, you have conferred upon yourself some number of powers, beginning with super speed, as evidenced in that
video. Do I have that right?“
Del sputtered like a misfiring go-cart until he could blurt out, “What? I don’t have— wait, did you say, ‘espionage’? I don’t... hang on.” He put both hands flat on the
table and took several deep breaths, trying to stop hyperventilating.
The woman watched impassively, not entirely buying Del’s performance. When it came, Del’s explanation was a flurry of words.
“Look, I’m really just a janitor. Seriously, just a janitor. I didn’t even finish college, okay? I don’t know what any of that stuff was, I just thought— well, okay so I knew about the sandwich. I was just hungry that day and forgot my lunch. Anyway, that other stuff— I didn’t know what that was, I just thought it was kind of cool. People around here throw away the most amazing stuff, you wouldn’t believe it. And what you saw in that video, that was my crazy kid. She thought I had super powers, too, but I don’t. I really don’t. It was just, you know, dad reflexes. And I jacked up my knee again, which is why I was late this morning...and...and anyway, I’m not a spy,
The woman’s left eyebrow arched. “‘Dad reflexes’?”
“Yeah, you know. Your kid’s in danger, you save them. It’s just part of the job. Dad reflexes. She tripped in the bedroom the day before that and I caught her, but couldn’t catch my wife’s perfume, so she wanted to test me again. I still can’t believe she did that, and her friends went along with it. Stupid kid, I’ve never been so scared in my whole life. I mean, she’s not stupid, you shouldn’t say they’re
stupid. I know that. She’s a good kid, but jeez...” He trailed off, helpless.
“Mr. Robinson, we analyzed that footage. You had to have been moving in excess of a hundred kilometers an hour. That’s—”
Del’s eyes went wide. “That’s really fast.”
“Yes, it is.” She leaned forward, her tone softening.
“Tell me, why were you out last week?”
“Well, I got sick.” He looked away again, suddenly taken by one of the motivational posters on the wall. Safety is Job Seven! “I thought it was just the flu at first, but then my arm turned all kinds of funny colors. Now I think maybe it was that needle I got poked with. My wife says it looked like a tie-dyed shirt stomped by hippies.”
Clipboard Guy looked up sharply. “Needle? Where did this happen?”
Del spoke quickly, apologetically. “Here at work. I know, I know, I shouldn’t be taking stuff, and I swear I won’t do it again. It’s no big deal. It was just a scratch. I
just saw a—”
“Forget about that. Was this in a lab? Which lab?”
“Yes, sir. Building H, the Lundqvist lab, I think.”
Clipboard Guy looked back down at his notes, while the woman watched him with curiosity.
“Is that important?” she asked.
“Oh, you have no idea.” Clipboard Guy was now beaming with excitement. “By itself it wouldn’t have meant anything. But combined with everything else he’s been exposed to? I’m pretty sure ‘dad reflexes’ is just the start.”