When 12-year-old Raya Kenney first asked her mother about Relisha Rudd’s disappearance, she received brief answers. Her mother didn’t want to tell her too much, too soon.
It wasn’t until Raya sat down one evening to write a poem about the missing 8-year-old that her family realized just how much she had picked up about the case.
That poem, titled “Missing Smile,” recently won in the youth poetry category of the 31st Annual Larry Neal Writers’ Competition, which is sponsored by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. You can read it in its entirety below.
The writing is insightful and detailed. It is also proof that in the more than two months since Relisha has been gone, her story has not only stirred many adults, it has also been felt by children, some of whose lives are far removed from the one the second-grader knew at the District homeless shelter where she lived.
Raya lives in Georgetown with her father and mother, a college professor and designer. She is not sure how much her friends know about the case, but she said they now know the name of a girl they never met.
“If I mention Relisha, most of them say, ‘Oh, the missing girl,’” she said.
Raya said the disappearance has left her “sad” and “scared—just a little” and that she wrote the poem to express those emotions. “I don’t like the idea of everybody not knowing where somebody is,” she said.
The poem, she said, took her 10 minutes to write and a day to edit.
Here it is:
The Amber Alert materialized on the screen of my mother’s iPad.
I was doing research for a paper due the next day.
The siren blared, sending all the words in my head scattering around the room.
I lost my place; I haven’t found it yet.
Every day, I search the newspaper for good news of Relisha Rudd. But, it hasn’t come yet.
It hasn’t come yet.
The newspaper only brings bad news. The wife of the girl’s suspected taker, gone. Never again to be seen by flesh and blood.
The girl, not seen.
The man, Tatum, dead,
In a shed, near a park.
A self-inflicted gunshot to his head. Not to see Relisha or the world again.
I keep seeing posters around the town that say, “Missing” across the top, like a dog that ran away.
But instead, there’s a picture of a chocolate-colored, eight-year-old girl, lost to the hands of a janitor.
Police are baffled, families weep, I weep, waiting for her safe return.
But she hasn’t, not yet.
Only the waiting remains.
When I see Relisha’s photograph, in the newspaper, or a “Missing” poster, I imagine that she is waiting, waiting, like us, to be found.
Maybe in a nice family’s apartment,
Maybe hiding in a warm bed,
Maybe in front of a fire reading a book,
Maybe playing in a beautiful garden with some of her many new friends.
That’s what I like to think, anyway.
I like to believe she is flying.