Crooked Smiles

by on Jul 28, 2015

(For Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Jada Justice, and Shaniya Davis)

They wore crooked smiles—
Aiyana, Jada, and Shaniya.

Aiyana was shot in the skull
during a police raid; Jada

was killed by a cousin high on
drugs, and Shaniya was raped

and left for dead. If they had
looked like JonBenet Ramsey

their faces would’ve been on
placards and shirts and spilling

out the mouth of crusaders for
justice. Instead their pictures, like

bones—got buried six feet under
minds and forgotten. Aiyana’s

heart will never flutter holding a
boy’s hand nor will her eyes sparkle

being handed the keys to a new car.
Jada will never leave footprints on

a sandy beach or laughs in the wind
as her feet clap the shoulders of the

horse she’d begged to ride. Shaniya
will never again hear the sounds of

rain hitting her window or thunder
of a crowd when she slides into

home plate. Few tears were shed
when three white caskets were

lowered into the ground, but the
world still stops on its axis to dig

up Caylee Anthony. Let justice ring
from the rivers of Detroit. Let justice

ring from the banks of Lake George,
Indiana. Let justice ring from the

Sandhills of North Carolina. Let
justice and peace ring for the

unspoken tawny girls and all
their crooked smiles.


Arika Elizenberry is a native of Las Vegas, Nevada. She is currently an editor at Helen: A Literary Magazine and the President of UNLV’s Writing Rebels. Some of her favorite writers include James Baldwin, Dorothy Parker, Nikki Giovanni, and Lucille Clifton. Her work has appeared in journals such as 300 Days of Sun, Burningword Literary Journal, and Toasted Cheese. She is working on her bachelors in English.

4 thoughts on “Crooked Smiles

  1. June Huwa Whiting says:

    As I write this, my eyes are burning with tears for these girls and for the thousands like them. Thank you for this poignant reminder that all children, regardless of skin tone, are precious beings who deserve life and love.

    I can see why your work was nominated for such a prestigious prize.

  2. Jacob S. Foust says:

    I guess when it comes to adult literature, the older the audience, the darker and deeper you have to go. The subconscious themes of misery and suffering have been present in poetry and short stories since even before the time of Edgar Allen Poe (who was considered to be the father of short stories). That subconscious theme is still even if not more common in today’s world of modern literature. To me the poem of Crooked Smiles by Arika Elizenberry is about three girls who were killed in three different ways. All three of them had hopes and dreams. The crooked smiles are like a metaphor stating that their dreams of reaching achievements and milestones in life will forever remain unfulfilled due to their untimely demise. Society also tends to deny that things like this actually happen. Society also tries its hardest to forget that events like this happen almost everyday. I was moved by this poem. An ordinary smile is the facial expression that people use to express happiness (in western culture). A crooked smile is actually a faked, or forced smile that people use when they want to hide their internal frown, which is the facial expression for sadness (in western culture). This poem makes me feel upset on the inside, and yet a lot of people like reading stuff like this. This opens everyone’s eyes to the themes of misery and suffering in this world of life that we call…reality.

    This is what I got out of the poem

    Arika Elizenberry is a very well respected student author. She has her own style.

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