Poetry Festival will be held:

Saturday, April 27, 2024

2023 Winner

A Circus Peanut Factory

Inspired by “Muse Inquietanti,” “Poet and Artist,” and “L’Incertitude du poète” by Giorgio de Chirico


This is not the Vatican.

This is not the Pope watching long,

black shadows push firmly their parallel lines

into the hardwood, squeezing until black.

Until orange juices spill and oversaturate the world.


This weeping woman,

seated atop a blue work bench is not, in fact, sad.

Her shoulders shrug and stretch with slow, rounding turns

as her arm twists and scrunches on her head

with a gaping mouth.


This weeping woman

curled over, wafting in the damp orange wood,

has placed her paper-thin shovel beside her plump knee

waiting for night, peering behind her back,

to crest the soft mounds of her shoulder

and climb into the sky so that


this day will end and the shadows

will creep back into their columns and recollect their bodies

un-squeezing the damp planks, their orange sponges

sucking in the excess left unshoveled at day.

And the not-Pope will call out into the darkness

towards the smokestacks of the not-Vatican and say:



“Listen over, through the window

where the night sweeps the yellow out of the sky.

Listen, cloaked man, the day has ended

smack the table and crack the peanut in your hand


“And, naked man, pull the lever stitched into the cube

to activate the array of wooden rulers caught up in a naught,

bolted into the floor, crunching and cracking, clicking like a cricket.

Pull the lever down enough that the constellation of rulers

goes still, silent (save the eek of snapping wood),

and stretched until bending.


“Cloaked man, await the flutter of a peanut

jumping through the web of rulers, tapping its way to your hand.

Catch it under your palm. Do not crush it.

Funnel the other, crushed peanut into the lips

of the woman’s head on the floor.


“Naked man, imagine the peanut under the palm.

Is it not crushed? What does it smell like?

Taste it in your mouth, let it stab a splinter in your tongue.

Do you taste blood? Good.


“Listen, cloaked man, take the peanut from beneath your palm.

Do not look at the naked man.

What color is his skin? Is it rough or soft?

Is his face questioning like yours?

Is his skin orange? Good.


“Naked man, look at the peanut.

Is the peanut orange? Good.”



“Both of you, look through the other window:

The one with the arches filled with black

bursting out, spilling into shadows

But the night is closing in, dusk is sopping up the shadows.


“The train will chug across the rest of the horizon

zipping up the daylight, trapping in the night.

The woman digests the crushed peanut in her grumbling

and folding stomach. An owl waits for her to finish.


“The magnitude of the bananas shocks the night,

the yellow and green pile, ripe with life and taste.

The bananas slice shadows like the crescent shaped blade of a knife.


“Let the peanut take shape in your mouth, float

in the blood on your tongue. The sweet shadows

cast by the bananas fold over the insides of your cheeks

diluting your mouth with orange.

Cloak yourself in this. Become naked in it.”


Night pours into the not-Vatican glazing

the weeping woman and the not-Pope in shining silence.

Orange smoke begins to roll from the towers, the plumes

like a million peanuts, jumbling in the sky.

And just before the sweeping silhouette

of the weeping woman’s shoulder fades into the night,

through her gaping nose flows the fresh, sweet scent

of the bananas.


Theo Johnson

St. Albans School

Grade: 12


Chevy Chase, MD


Washington, DC

Favorite Author or Book:

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Dream for the Future:

I dream for a world where people from all backgrounds have the freedom to tell their stories to others without fear. Creativity is an act of vulnerability. A world open to hearing new — and sometimes strange — voices is one that will be more colorful and rich with soul and history.

Inspirational Figure:

Both of my parents. They work so hard so I can enjoy the privileges that I have. They’re both lawyers, so they don’t spend much time on creative writing, but they have still shown me how vital it is to the human experience to be able to harness the power of language.