A Shout of Good Feeling

by Sierra Nelson, Seattle Children’s Hospital

My work at Seattle Children’s Hospital is a little different than some of the other WITS programs. Instead of a classroom, I primarily work one-on-one with patients who are in longer-term care at the hospital, and on any given day I might work with students as young as kindergarten up to students in their early 20s. Some students I get to work with over many weeks, while others I may see only once.

Sometimes I feel like a door-to-door salesman for poetry: “Hi, I’m Sierra, the Creative Writer who comes on Thursdays. Do you want to do some writing today?” And it’s wonderful when the answer is an excited “Yes!” from a student who can’t believe it’s their lucky day, and a real-life writer has come to their door – here, of all places – and invited them to put their words on the page.

But more often I may get a shrug and an “OK,” but that can be as good as a yes too. They might just be bored, or sometimes they tell me they’re not sure they like writing, or that they’ve never thought of themselves as a writer. But once I’ve got my foot in the door, almost every time we find a way for the enjoyment of words and the possibility of writing to take root. We might start with connecting dots on a star map to make our own constellations, reading riddles and writing our own, exploring a favorite color or a feeling through personification, or turning an interview about favorite things into a self-portrait. Sometimes they have an idea for a story or poem already and we go with that, and I provide ideas for how to get started or ways to expand it, if needed – or just the concentrated quiet needed to take this moment, right now, to write it down and share it.

And sometimes it’s simply not a good day – they’re not feeling up to it, physically or emotionally, or with all the usual hospital commotion the timing is off. In this case I’m glad if I can at least be the Johnny Appleseed of notebooks – offering them a place to write or draw whatever they want on their own, with an implicit encouragement which I hope helps too.

By necessity, the experience of being in the hospital is focused on the needs of the physical body and medical concerns. I feel very grateful to all the students who have agreed to try creative writing with me in the midst of all that they are going through – and I feel thankful for each poem or story that has emerged, providing glimpses into each student’s unique experience and imagination. And I also am amazed and uplifted to see the way writing so often can create a new or renewed sense for these students of who they are and can be, beyond their physical and medical realities, through what they write.

Here are a few excerpts of work by some of these brave young writers. Enjoy!


My middle name is by the ocean
and a lot of trees, across the street
from a beach park, at my grandma’s house…
My last name – a shout
of good feeling.
(R.,“My Name”)


Sad wears gray sweatpants, a plain gray sweatshirt over a black shirt. Sad goes to a junkyard alone – tires, papers, broken car pieces. Sad walks around, kicking everything. Sad listens to punk and rock on his headphones. Sad goes home to his room, posters of bands on the black wall, a Knock sign on the door, skateboards on the floor, clothes all over….  He has only one friend: Depressed. They go together to the comic store and then to IHOP to eat.

(A.,“The Complicated Life of Heartbreak and Sad”)


I dreamed I was standing in line with an egg in my mouth
     putting beads in Walt Whitman’s beard.
I dreamed they’d sentenced me to break
     open fortune cookies until the factory lights went dim.

(I., “Joy Ride”)


I am a unicorn
that naps
and reads my book.

(M., “Mia”)


Now here is the number 2.
Now the fox is a bear
with a big hand.
Now the sun is a wolf.



as wild as a monkey
doesn’t stop for anything
restless like a pirate
stranger than a bee

(Z., “Changes”)


She ran.
Delicate arrival, blazing alarm.
The wind blew through with ice in its arms.

 (M., “Snow Turtle”)


feelings that float in air
like notes of a symphony,
like a flower barely blooming in its season
is what these small giants are believing in.

(J., “The Voices You Never Heard)


One Response to “A Shout of Good Feeling”

  1. Ann Teplick Says:

    Sierra, lovely piece. I agree, a shrug can be as good as a yes, and yes, once in the door, there’s a lot of tender magic.

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