As part of the Appalachian Youth Creators Project, we’re committed not just to young people telling their own stories, but doing so through the mediums that feel most honest and relevant to them. So much of this powerful storytelling comes not just through the voices of young people, but the forms they take.

To that end, this is the second poem by RaJon Staunton, a West Virginia-born poet, student at Marshall University and recipient of the 2020 Wallace E. Knight Excellence in Writing Award for Poetry.

Read their first poem, umbilical theory, here.



I am a collector
of things.
flypaper clinging
to a heat-bloated window.
bring it in.

I am never too busy
being wrung 
dry to feed off
something fleshy and new.

I can’t talk
about the trees here, 
or how dogwoods used to bloom
outside my window
every spring
or how they always smelled
like piss and dried rose
petals or like what
I’ve been owed.

I am a collector
of things.


I can never tell if I am paying
my dues or painting my face. sometimes
I face the sun.
I bathe myself in it.

I wonder if I will ever
master regrowth
like my grandma. I wonder if I will
come back
and when the earth will soften.

I am thinking about how bulbs work
and how flowers can grow in concrete boxes.
following the indentions of veins down my arms, I start to see
how something breaks through the dark.


cold steel guides the vines
of the freshly bloomed rhododendrons
writhing up my grandma’s fence.

I am drawn in by its freedom.
its petals are pointed up
grabbing for the sun like lost children
reaching for something familiar.

my grandma tells me that the bush will gain
new roots and its petals will keep
stretching to devour the sun.

the bricks of her foundation let paint go
in the wind. the rhododendrons shake
and move in subtle sweeps. we all need
to be free of this strange air.

RaJon Staunton (he/they) is a West Virginia-born poet from Beckley, West Virginia. They are a student at Marshall University, where they were the recipient of the 2020 Wallace E. Knight Excellence in Writing Award for Poetry. Their poems can be found or are forthcoming in Parentheses Journal, Teen Vogue, Hobart, and elsewhere. In their free-time, RaJon enjoys reading sci-fi novels and baking.

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