Creative Writing Awards 2023 Winner: “Sandstone” by Michelle D.*

The 20th Annual Creative Writing Awards (CWA) were held at the New Haven Lawn Club on April 20, a celebration of the liberal arts deeply embedded in the science and clinical practice of the Yale School of Nursing (YSN) community. After a keynote speech by Tanzanian businessman, author, and philanthropist Michael Shirima, each of the three student winners read their piece aloud.

*To protect her family member’s privacy, YSN will identify this winner with her first name and last initial throughout this piece and in related articles.

YSN FNP student reading her poem "Sandstone"


They call it the “long goodbye,”

I could feel us both sinking slowly,
As if we were standing on the sand dunes that border our house,
You pretended we were standing on firmer ground,
I kept hoping that under the pressure of it all,
Sand would turn to sandstone.
Instead, in December there was a steady torrential downpour.
I laid next to you, counting your respirations as you slept.
As the California ground became saturated, you finally went for your first MRI.
The scans showed no brain cancer or stroke.
The next day you wanted to cover me with a blanket but could not remember what it was called.
As the ground we stood on continued to erode, you thought of my cold feet.
Whether it was talking people through their worst crises at work,
Or talking yourself out of a speeding ticket,
Choosing the right words to say had always been your superpower.
How else could you have handled my teenage melodrama with such grace?
So I understand why you tried to hide it for so long,
With cancer there had been an external foe, but when there is degeneration in your brain, how do you fight it?
Aging in the United States often feels like a shameful march,
With headlines about the healthcare burden of the baby boomers and an aging population. Understaffing crises. More physicians, nurse practitioners and nurses needed.
But the bleak statistics in these articles do not capture the comfort I feel as I hear you humming while you reheat your cup of coffee, your brown and gray hair tied back with a velvet scrunchie, glowing in the soft morning sunlight.
I wanted to become a family nurse practitioner,
Because taking care of a patient well often means also caring for their family.
When I see a family in crisis,
I think about how redwood trees intertwine with the roots of other redwoods, which increases their stability during strong winds and floods.
Families, genetic or chosen, can have a similar effect.
Family members are often skilled and fierce advocates,
But in turn, often have trouble keeping track of what they need to take care of themselves.
Drinking burnt hospital coffee out of flimsy paper cups,
When one tree falls, the entire unit becomes more unsteady.
I will try to shield from the wind, you are allowed to feel the impact too.
When this all began, I thought back to my hospice patient, who could not remember her diagnosis or her own name.
She wanted to feel beautiful, so I sat there delicately untangling her hair with a plastic comb,
She pointed at her angel doll, and then pointed back at me.
She passed during the night shift, her hair braided, her faith intact.
While I wish I had that level of faith in a god, I do have faith that other nurses will make you feel confident and safe, in the gaps where I cannot be there.
There are days, where I feel as though sand is stinging in my eyes,
As I watch waves of this disease crash and change the landscape of your mind.
This was not the view we had expected,
But you still find ways to make me laugh and take care of me.
I am 25 years old, and still am figuring out who I am, but I know you will always be one of the largest parts of me.

I will always be proud to be your daughter.   

Read More CWA 2023 Winners 

Read the award-winning entries of the other 2023 honorees:  the poem “Just a Little Hope,” by Anita Onuoha ’25 MSN and the short story “EDD:12/25” by Kailu Shannon-Frolich ’25 MSN

For a complete list of previous CWA winners, please visit Past Creative Writing Awards.