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Richard Zhu

Hightstown, NJ

Peddie School


CAS for Database

At nine, my brain short-circuited.


From a tangle of defective genes

And anxiety-inducing stresses

You emerged fully clothed in darkness and malice,

Fistfuls of my neurons clenched in each gloved hand.

A shimmering wraith of foggy ebony,

You carefully poured a flask of silvery doubt down my esophagus,

And insecurity roiled in my stomach, forcing the butterflies within into a panicked frenzy.


I started to argue with myself,

Your wicked manipulations tainting my beliefs.


My swim bag was unzipped two and twenty times each day

My fatigued eyes roaming over my belongings

Temporarily appeasing the terrible anxiety

As all was accounted for.


At eleven, I walked into a classroom on Diversity Day

The smile on my face the only roots of a carefree, drifting mind

For mental health education squatted on my tongue like

A croaking, slimy bullfrog.

Red limned my vision as cries

From the taekwondo classes a floor below

Seeped through the threadbare carpet.


A contorted wink.


Uncontrollable muscle flexes like so many undulating waves of

Billowing funeral shrouds.


Ragged prisoners staring out from beneath haggard eyelids,

Their haunted pupils flashing with thoughts chained to the bloody racing track

Of their mind.


Slaves, all slaves

Of you.


As OCD shone on the screen in all its shadowy glory,

As I finally glimpsed a snapshot of the monster coiled around

My mind.


Walking out of that classroom,

I talked with you for the first time,

You assured me that

We were brothers birthed from the same


genetic dumpster.


At fourteen, you became my best friend

When I had built barriers of cold aloofness around myself

And my very definition of friend was

A person in which you have faith

that they will betray your trust.

It was you who crept through my veins

In the black of night

Who burrowed into my heart and wrapped your claws

Around my hope

My joy


And I screamed as they were wrenched from me

Terror and pain electrocuting me awake


Thus, at school

I have been a literal robot

My empty heart unable to partake in the revelry of life,

Swallowing only the silence you feed me.


I feel the humanity slipping from my skin with every hard

Scowl and cold, clipped

Word and stiff

Movement that graces my days.


The automaton beneath my skin is restless

And your hand is on the joystick.


A unique and nicely personal take on the struggles of OCD, with a balance of agony and story description. I really loved the personification of the force in the speaker’s head, who seems to be responsible for the speaker’s behavior.

Richard Zhu is a member of the class of 2022 at the Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey. He loves to write and is influenced by many modern poets, including spoken word poet Rudy Francisco. Many of his poems grapple with themes of mental health and his Chinese heritage.


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