Denver’s Youth Poet Laureate Ayla Sullivan Puts This Week’s Tragedy Into Words

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Photo: Denver's Youth Poet Laureate Ayla Sullivan
Denver's Youth Poet Laureate Ayla Sullivan at the CPR studios on April 18, 2019.

It can be hard to find the words to describe what Colorado has just gone through.

As the Columbine anniversary neared, a single person tore open 20-year-old wounds and put a community on edge.

Denver's Youth Poet Laureate Ayla Sullivan, 21, reflected on these events and put their thoughts down in, of course, poetry for the rest of us.

Sullivan, who uses they/them pronouns, stars in a free, one-night-only play on Saturday, April 20, that they also wrote and produced. "Last Stop" at the Buntport Theater in Denver is semi-autobiographical and follows the coming out story of a nonbinary, transgender, biracial person.


lately, i am concerned with sinews

the strings of our bodies

and their own resonance


violin strings, originally made from organic animal material,

sing because of sinews

when two violins are beside each other, a note can be played by one string and the other violin hums to echo it, in sympathy


it is the same song, the same grief in children from one school district to another, in lockdowns across our state, whether they are hiding in science room corners or from increased police activity keeping them from the outside


safety, like our sinews, like strings, is as elastic as it is tightly wound, depending on the body, what is deemed worthy of protection


the first time i was ever in a lockdown, i was eleven years old

the second time i was in a lockdown, i was fifteen, in the same school district as arapahoe high school

we were a resonating note in 2013, the sound of grief and community and fear uniting us


i have never known colorado without gun violence, have grown up in education each year in the shadow of columbine

but our state flower does not have to be a symbol of tragedy, it could be our growth, our dedication to the future of our children


gun violence is not a new issue, should not only concern you because white children go to school too, it is the call to return to compassion in action

gun violence is police brutality

it is entering a movie theatre central to communities of colour

gun violence is america’s favourite past time, colorado’s inheritance, on land where you can still smell the rust of blood from the sand creek massacre


commit yourself to the sound of all of us wailing

commit your sympathy for more than just your silence

the sensationalism of guns Is a symptom of  the obsession with violence, the rebrand of white terrorism and the fragility of hypermasculinity

our children do not deserve the negligence of not tending to the wound

commit yourself to their healing or continue to commit yourself to the guilt