Jul 19

Poem: As Long As I Have a Heartbeat

By Allison Stein

To write is to etch on paper the song of my heart. I would like to share a poem that reminds me to sing the lyrics without fear:

As Long As I Have a Heartbeat

Your words wash over me
The way rivers erode lonely stones
Till they're broken.

Frozen waves of your blindness
Suppress my languid spirit,
Paralyze the music of my pulse.

Your shortsightedness is the current
Pulling me away from my dreams,
Forcing me under an icy ocean of fear.

The salty sting of your insults
Breaks down my tenacity,
Extinguishes dying flames of courage.

Have you forgotten that I am a fighter?

Jaw clenched, I refuse to drown:
As long as I have a heartbeat,
My soul has a song.

 

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May 09

Only One Heart

By Allison Stein

I scarcely believed the reverberating sound, the cascade of words crashing against each other, belonged to me. That voice—unfiltered, uninhibited—emanated straight from my heart. I had escaped my own smothering silhouette and embodied a courage too long intangible: Finally, finally, I was free. I dreamt of crystallizing time, freezing that liberating moment, forever encapsulating the adrenaline.

As the cadence of my poem fell from my tongue, I savored the buoyancy of my spirit, the sensation of swimming: For a single second, I was unhindered by weight and untouched by fear. My lithe body—my lithe soul—had molded to the undulating waves of ecstasy, and I was flying.

Letting the audience see the stark vulnerability of burning dreams concealed under my skin, I felt a veil lifted from my face, felt as if I were taking my first breath. The final line floated from my throat before I remembered to be afraid. Only then did I realize what was at stake, the chance I had taken. Only then did I shift uncomfortably into the silhouette of my old self—the way children force their feet inside the favorite shoes they outgrew last year. Again small and powerless, I lowered my head. How could anyone have grasped any meaning or faith or truth from the rudimentary work of an emerging poet? How could I have penetrated the walls of so many spirits? I was losing the battle I had invested my life in—a whole world of judgment against only one heart.

An unfamiliar voice broke through my doubt. Two words: “Don’t quit.”

This stranger etched in my mind a dream, a drive. With only the compass of my conscience for direction, I depend on those who remind me that the needle is pointing me to the right path. Opening imagination and soul, I pray for the tenacity to embrace the trail guiding me to a greater purpose, the strength to believe I am here for a reason.

Like that empathetic man, we need to be the answer to someone else’s prayer. We need to be strong for people—even if we never know their names. Over a year later, I hold his message in retrospect as a moment wrapped in the package of memory. The voice of one person has inspired me to amplify the whisper of love in this world.

“Don’t quit.” Of all the strangers we pass in a day, how many have needed to hear those words? Yes, we each have only one heart to reach into, but we can reach out to so many more.

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Mar 10

Poem: Unravel

By Allison Stein

Too often, I filter my soul. In my quest for acceptance—my fight for exterior approval—I forget that conformity is not synonymous with happiness.

Poetry is a chance to step outside of this material world, to let go of superficial labels. Writing is an escape, an oasis. Words are my liberation.

My greatest dream is to write—to etch my heart on someone else’s. I want to create work that encapsulates the white-hot elixir of adrenaline, that reminds people to feel. I want readers to listen, but even more, I want them to be heard.

Writing means reaching out for a hand I can’t see, taking a trust fall. It means opening up the crevices of my spirit and letting strangers inside. It means being vulnerable, being honest. I have to feel: I have to unravel.

Unravel

My soul is a tenuous branch braving wintertime,
Snapping under the weight of expectations.

I'm old enough now, they tell me,
To fight my own fight,

Yet I'm too young to know the chorus
Of my own heartbeat.

Each second splits into a new crossroads:
Surrender or fight,

Conceal or reveal,
Defy or believe.

I'm supposed to unearth answers—
Tie my world together—

When all I want
Is to unfold this tapestry of good intentions,

To let my heartstrings
Unravel.
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Jan 11

The Whisper in My Heart

By Allison Stein

We spend years searching for the answers encoded in our own consciences. In the whirlwind and whiplash of busy lives—in the scream of preoccupied minds and hollow heartbeats—we forget to listen to the whispers.

I used to imagine the future as a black hole swallowing shooting stars, suppressing their iridescent beauty. I used to succumb to the poignant doubt that suffocates every dreamer: Success is never a promise. What if our work doesn’t resonate with others? What if the hope we’ve tied our spirits to disintegrates as we strive to make a difference? In such a precarious world, how can we be expected to develop polished plans?

Here’s what I’ve learned: We can’t.

Our responsibility is not to invent possibilities but to trust the potential our lives already hold—to embrace the futures already engraved on our souls.

This liberating faith first washed over me years ago at a cousin’s eighth-grade graduation Mass. I can still hear the priest’s voice reverberating over the congregation: “Be what God meant for you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” His message sounded so raw, so genuine. I asked myself a question I never knew I had: Why shouldn’t I be fearless when God was on my side?

A cascade of revelations poured through my veins. Why had I wasted so much time fantasizing about earning the faraway title “writer”? Didn’t I seek to bring dimension to the silhouettes of human lives, to illuminate the darkness of fear, to rekindle the fire of love? Didn’t that quest alone make me a writer?

It certainly did. It certainly does.

I am a writer because the joy of connecting words—and lives—makes me whole. Amplifying the whispers we overlook in the blurred mosaics of our superficial selves, I extend my outreach to strangers. The compassion at the core of every dream is a gift from God—and I, therefore, owe it to the world to capture each moment through the kaleidoscope of poetry.

No, I don’t need to devise a blueprint of my future; I just need to excavate the truths buried under my own skin. The only compass I depend on is the whisper in my heart.

 

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Dec 27

Short Story: What Do I Have Left?

By Allison Stein

I hope this short story inspires you to find faith in yourself. Enjoy!

 

What Do I Have Left?

 

Moonlight flickers between cornstalks like the wispy dress of a ghost. I clench my jaw and refuse to be afraid.

Aunt Ashley always tells me I have an overactive imagination. She says so spitefully, as if she is jealous that I can see galaxies she is blind to. I hate the way she brushes off my fear and recites her personal mantra, “Live for the moment.” That’s easy for her to say. She isn’t haunted by the past; she can’t hear the reverberations that torture my memory.

I cringe as suppressed grudges resurface. I imagine the lucid waters of my father’s eyes, the way they sparkled back when he used to smile. How could he give up on me? During the most vulnerable moments of my life, only days after my mother slipped out of this world and into another, he hugged me one last time. “I can’t hold on anymore,” he whispered. Whenever his words wash over me, I have to fight not to drown.

Blinking away tears, I force myself to revel in the music of rustling corn husks. The rhythm reminds me of footsteps. “Maybe that customer’s around here,” I mutter to the numbing wind. “Maybe I’ll find that lost man Aunt Ashley sent me to find, and I can stop working at the corn maze for the day, and she can stop worrying about that muffled voicemail on the company phone.”

Before I dare listen for the wind’s response, a shooting star ignites the iridescence of nightfall. I scarcely notice: The days of turning wishes to reality are gone. In fact, I don’t so much as look up at the radiant constellations until my flashlight dims—the batteries dying at last—and I discover myself buried under suffocating darkness.

Suddenly, all that matters is the cadence of my breathing: All that matters is getting out. Propelled by legs moving faster than my mind, I round the corner and pray for an escape.

Dead end.

His arm brushes mine, and I am paralyzed with fear. A burgundy scarf shields his eyes and mouth. His face looks as hard as my heart.

“Y-You’re lost.” The words are stuck in my throat. “You’re the one who sent the voicemail asking for help.”

He manages a wry smile. “I’m no more lost than you are.”

Slowly, my heartbeat steadies. I scrutinize the cowering man in front of me. His wrinkled hands are stained with loneliness. He’s human, too.

As soon as he sees the terror drain from my face, the man steps closer. Together, we watch portals of moonbeams melt into the amber ground. No longer am I afraid. This stranger’s raspy tone gives a voice to my silenced soul.

All at once, I feel his stare bore into my mind. “How have your parents been?” he asks guiltily.

I swallow hard. “I like to think they’re happier than I am.”

He puts his hand on my shoulder. His jacket smells like the lemon-scented detergent Mom always used. As I struggle to keep my eyes from welling up, the customer’s gaze once again penetrates the boundaries of my memory. “How long’s your mom been gone now?”

I choke on my own response. How can this stranger know the secret I have so closely guarded? Instinct tells me to run, but under my angry disbelief, I am relieved that someone understands, that someone tastes the melancholy entangled in my heartstrings. Reluctantly, I let him know that it’s been 3 years—but it feels like 30.

The man nods in empathy. “And your dad? Where is he these days?”

I shrug. “He wanted to get out. He’s in Europe for all I know.”

“So far away?”

“He told me he needed to find a purpose,” I reply briskly. “I guess I wasn’t enough.”

The man looks down. “He couldn’t hold on anymore, huh?”

Goosebumps blemish my skin. I fumble with words. Fighting to grasp my old composure, I have no time to brace myself for the stranger’s confession.

His voice is crisp and callous. “I shouldn’t have asked you those questions,” he tells me. “I already knew the answers. You see, I’ve been keeping in touch with your father.”

Helplessness is replaced with hope. “Where is he?” I can’t help asking. “Does he miss me?”

“He would have to be a cold man not to miss you,” the stranger replies. The way he speaks under his breath, I wonder whether he is answering me or communicating with some invisible ghost of another world. I watch as a strange calmness spreads over his face. “Come on,” he says. “We need to get out now.”

Following his conscience like a compass, he maneuvers through the maze—left, right, right, left, right—in the effortless rhythm only a seasoned navigator could champion.

“A-Aren’t you supposed to be lost?” I barely manage to spit the fearful words out.

Ignoring me, the stranger walks with his head down and his steps measured—as if he is under a spell.

“Tell me what’s happening,” I plead. “Tell me what’s going to happen.”

The stranger shakes his head. “You don’t need to know. You just need to believe.”

He is mocking me, I decide; he must be mocking me. Never have I been so indignant. The bitter question comes crashing out: “What do I have left to believe in?”

“Yourself.” His faith echoes over the shadows of midnight. “Believe in yourself.” With that, the man turns away, looks up to the blanket of nightfall sheltering us. The minute he winks at the skyline, a second shooting star steals my breath. “What are you waiting for?” he asks. “Aren’t you going to make a wish?”

Still wrestling for words, I can only watch as the stranger unties the scarf hiding his face and reveals the crystal constellations glistening in his periwinkle eyes. I never knew how much I missed my father’s smile, the way his dimples crease, the way his breath freezes in the autumn air as he tells me he loves me.

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Oct 10

What It Takes

By Allison Stein

When a thought captivates my mind, it dominates the very cadence of my heartbeat.

Take the summer of 2012. In those pivotal moments, I promised myself that I had the stamina to publish a book. Although I ultimately championed impregnable faith, reverberations of fear reminded me that my dream was a mere delusion: I had no idea what it took to be a writer. All I knew was that nobody could hear the suppressed emotions incessantly screaming inside me—the muffled words pounding through my chest—and writing made people listen. If I was a prisoner to self-doubt, words were my liberation. Poetry gave me a voice.

But what if destiny silenced my voice? The minute I sat down with my unpolished manuscript, I realized how awkward I felt holding a red pen and telling myself that my amateur work was worth revision. Still, I persisted. Flipping through The Chicago Manual of Style in pursuit of a grammatical epiphany felt so right. I could not help believing that my life had just begun.

As I scrutinized the draft, however, insecurities became entangled in the intricate tapestry of my heartstrings. Was my poetry resonant enough to reach an audience? Suddenly, my soul felt cold. How could someone like me even imagine possessing the magical touch of an author? All I had were a borrowed three-ring binder, enough trust to take the road less traveled, and my stubborn drive to make a difference.

***

Three years later, I treasure a binder of my own. With two poetry collections and an editing position for an online magazine, I have become familiar with the road less traveled. I cherish the blessings of friends and mentors who have changed my life, and I pray that I, too, have rekindled others’ dormant hope.

This journey has been challenging but enriching: I have learned to take chances I would never trade for the security of my comfort zone. Because these risks have led to unexplored—and enriching—avenues, I have relished unforgettable memories, iridescent dreams, and newfound discoveries of what it takes to be a writer:

  • Writing takes courage. Before the release of my first book, publication petrified me. Consumed by the vulnerability inevitable in revealing secrets to strangers, I almost forgot that dreams are worth the fear; paralyzed by the prospect of turning wishes to reality, I was scared that I was going to get hurt. Luckily, my shortsighted mindset faded as I submerged myself in the immersive endeavor of sharing my work with the world. Even though I did get hurt sometimes, those experiences are gems: They have taught me how strong I am.
  • Writing takes faith. Doubt pulsed through my veins. What if my all-encompassing goal was only a silhouette of my overactive imagination? What if this breathing, palpitating dream—this vision that loomed beyond the scope of tangibility—was as fickle as a mirage? Although the battle of convincing my community that I had the passion and perseverance to become a writer was daunting, the harder-won victory was the moment I convinced myself.
  • Writing takes love. What if readers cannot connect with the poetry I know as well as my heartbeat? What if no one listens? The worries were relentless; worse, I struggled to offer myself any consolation, for I recognized the merit of my fears. After excavating the insights of two chapbooks, however, I wish I had the opportunity to empower my past self with truth. This is the promise I would make to her: “Words set souls free. Even if you never get to revel in the privilege of publication, the ecstasy of creating each draft—of watching each silhouette of your manuscript emerge in more lucid intensity—will be beautiful and breathtaking in itself. Be brave.”
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Sep 02

Poem: The Passion of Poetry

By Allison Stein

Poetry is powerful and empowering. One of my greatest joys is the gift of sharing previously intangible experiences with others and reliving beautiful moments, now alive and palpable. Through my work, I strive to offer hope and courage to strangers: I want my words to be remembered, to become people’s personal fight songs. The following poem encapsulates my dream to make a difference with my writing—to change lives through the craft I so passionately believe in.

The Passion of Poetry

Too much is hidden within us:
Dreams trapped in our imaginations,
Thoughts contained in single souls,
And invisible tears of heartbreak.

Creating poems out of passion,
Poets reveal their secrets
And turn feelings into words—
Expressions of beauty and love.

One day we read a poem
And relate to the lines;
Two minds fill with the same wonder.
Stanzas sing in both our hearts.

Rhymes echo our thoughts,
And we understand the world;
Sharing what haunts and entices
Is the purity and passion of poetry.
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Aug 20

Believe

By Allison Stein

“We’re here,” Mom announced.

I swallowed hard. This was the moment I had spent so long waiting for, worrying about, dreaming of. I already knew I’d never forget the night, one of the first times I would read my poetry aloud. Sure, my mom would give the main presentation, and I’d only chime in with a couple poems to gain experience and transition into speaking, but the five minutes I would stand at the podium were daunting in themselves. While I was still discovering the person I am today—still becoming the person I am today—how could I be expected to share that journey with others through my work?

Yet two years ago, I did just that. I barely had time to listen to my reverberating heartbeat, pulsing through my skin in fear, as Mom and I entered the Sleeper Public Library in Ubly. For a blissful moment, I was too awestruck to be scared. That evening, my dreams were coming true. My name was flashing on a sign, my picture was displayed in the library, and best of all, my mind was filled with images of making a difference.

Words crashed like waves against my daydreams. “You’ll be in this room,” the librarian told us with a smile. “Oh, do you mind if our library cat joins you? His name is Booker.”

I glanced at Mom. She wasn’t a fan of cats but reluctantly said that Booker would be fine. She had no idea what she was getting herself into.

The minute the librarian left, the sleek, black cat climbed onto the table. “Uh, Mom…”

Once we shooed him down, we went back to setting up. But as I reached into our bag to get some books, I was surprised to see Booker inside!

Sharing a room with this cat just wasn’t working. When the librarian reappeared a little while later to check on us, we sent Booker back.

The mischievous cat was soon forgotten. With the passing of each second, my heart beat faster. The event would start at 6:30, and as that suspenseful minute approached, my nerves were all I could think about.

Maybe that’s why I took so long to realize that nobody was going to show up. Before we’d left home, Mom had delicately assured me that no audience was a real possibility, but I had struggled to believe this. “Surely at least one person will come,” I had told myself.

But I was wrong. No one wanted to hear a novice like me read her rudimentary poems. No one cared what I had to say. Suddenly, my soul felt heavy. Mom was already talking about getting ice cream after this mess was over, but I was too devastated to think about dessert.

All we could do was look out the windows, look at the people passing by in happy ignorance. An elderly man strode through walking his dog; with all my heart, I willed him to come in, but he, too, moved on. At that juncture, I remembered the unruly cat. Why had we been thoughtless enough to kick out our only audience member?

How helpless I felt! And how wrong I had been! Had I truly expected my community to pay attention to someone like me? Deep in my heart, I confessed to myself, I’d been foolish enough to hope so.

Mom’s voice interrupted my doubts. “Allison, listen!”

Footsteps!

My faith returned. The steps came closer, closer…

Silence.

“They’re in the bathroom,” Mom realized with disappointment.

My optimism had nearly faded when, at the last minute (actually, five minutes after the last minute), the door opened. Relief poured over me: We only had an audience of one, but we had an audience! And I had a chance to share the poems I’d injected my soul into.

As Mom and I chatted with the woman, we heard footsteps coming from the bathroom. We exchanged a glance. Sure enough, two more ladies walked in with a couple of elementary-age kids. Mom and I looked at each other again. It was time. It was now or never.

Once again, fear rose inside me. Once again, my heart palpitated. Once again, insecurities crippled me.

But I had come too far to be defeated by the voracious self-doubt eating away at my confidence. I found the courage to believe I could do this.

Then I proved myself right.

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Aug 08

Making a Difference

By Allison Stein

“Whose life am I living?” Too often, I have wrestled with these words. The year I published my first chapbook, the question became a reverberation in my mind—as constant as a heartbeat. An introverted dreamer, I struggled with opening up to others, yet I wished I could share the part of my soul I so closely guarded. How could I show outward confidence when I was fighting an intrinsic battle? How could I embrace my true interests when they defiantly exploited the confines of “normal”? Desperate to fit in, I would sooner disown my passion than admit to my peers that I loved poetry. But compromising myself came with a cost: I felt powerless, even worthless. I became a captive to my insecurities, a prisoner to my fear.

Writing was my liberation. On the page, I could be myself and love myself. Words gave me a voice. Somewhere between the left and right margins, I had discovered a place to belong: I wanted to be a writer.

I identify with the aphorism “Don’t wish for it; work for it.” As soon as I submerged myself in the intricate process of self-publishing, I kept pushing forward. My family and friends reminded me that I could beat the odds and believed in me even as I struggled to find faith in myself. After months of writing, editing, and decisions, I realized just how enriching the experience had been and how much I had grown up. Flipping through the pages of my published poetry collection created an unmatched memory; moreover, my journey had taught me the importance of determination, tenacity, and courage. Now I had an achievement to be proud of.

Except I wasn’t proud. I became ashamed of my far-fetched dreams, the delusions I had championed. Publication wasn’t the victorious finish line I’d imagined; in fact, I had yet to overcome my greatest challenges. How would I get past the doubt that consumed me? When would I come to value myself and my talents? Why did I write?

My mom says sharing her writing is like standing naked in front of a million people; as complete strangers read my heartbreakingly personal poems, I came to have increasing respect for her simile. I had expected to feel accomplished after reaching my goal, but some days, that was hardly the truth. With each book sale, I found myself assuming people would hate my work. The feeling was sickening. Had my endeavors been a waste of time—or worse, a waste of heart?

Pushed into new experiences and out of my comfort zone, I was painfully aware that intense excitement was synonymous with poignant fear. When I was offered the opportunity to give a 20-minute presentation about my book, for example, the joy was once again muffled by my penetrating self-doubt. I remember the moment before I spoke, the defeat in looking out at the audience and telling myself, “I can’t do this!” At that crucial juncture, a friend came up to me and reminded me of all the people who supported and loved me. Even when I’d felt like quitting on myself, they hadn’t given up on me. “Everybody’s here for you. You gotta remember that.” Empowered by my friend’s guidance, I discovered the courage to share my story: the challenges, the failures, the fulfillment. I opened up in a way I never had. My words were raw and genuine: I let my soul speak.

Yet the questions persisted. Would the world think twice if I stopped writing? Was I impacting anyone? Did I matter? Six months after the publication of my book, I found answers.

My book designer had taken an out-of-state trip and met with her friend, a special education teacher. As they compared the projects they had been involved in over the past year, my book designer gave her friend a copy of my book. Suddenly, the teacher became enthusiastic: One of her students, a fourth grader, struggled with school, yet he possessed an exceptional talent for writing. Seeing my poetry collection—realizing that creating a book was within reach—just might give him the push he needed to go further with his work.

After discovering the powerful outreach of my poems, I was awestruck. I had inspired someone miles away to realize his aspirations, and for the first time, I was truly proud of myself. That insightful moment changed my life: Because of a stranger, I hold myself to higher expectations. I no longer assume that readers will find my work abysmal; rather, I hope others relate to my poetry, but if not, I still have faith that my endeavors are worthwhile. Ultimately, my interest in writing has shifted from a passion to an all-encompassing dream—a dream of crystallizing truth, extending compassion, and making a difference.

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