“I Am”, an evolving poem

I Am Poem Draft One, Poetry Class 1/21/14 

I am from Flint, Michigan, the automobile town, grey and cold.

School was warmth, neighborhood friends at home were pain.

Family was steady; home smelled of books.  The shelves

in our house were candy stores to me. I learned, maybe

too much at times.  Even then, sometimes lonely and misunderstood.

Fantasy worlds, both in movies and books.  A Wrinkle in Time,

Neverending Story, The Last Unicorn.  I wanted to go to Narnia,

To enchanted forests, back in time to Rome and Greece.

Lucky for me, I could.  Even then, I cried too much.

I learned to dry the tears, “you’re too sensitive,” they’d say.

I cried, but then I got tough, strong.  I made good grades,

and I knew life would one day be better, mostly better. 

 

Atlanta, Georgia.  Braces. Jaw surgery.  Sweltering heat.

Middle school track star, high school drama and chorus nerd.

Mostly A student, had both preppy friends and misfit friends.

Learned to adapt, to connect. Like a pot of water that’s slow to

Heat, yet bubbly once you get it warm.  Summer writing camps

And life long friends.  Felt less misunderstood, more normal.

 

College at UGA: parties, started drinking, started praying. 

Best friends in the musty old dorm called Rutherford. 

Read many books and wrote many essays and poems.

At 21, taught high school students.  Had to grow up fast.

Too fast, perhaps.  Started master’s classes at 22.

What do you want to do with your life, they’d ask.

I want to write and travel.  That’s not the responsible

Choice, they’d say.  Had to grow up fast.  Too fast.

 

Early to mid twenties: South Atlanta: taught kids,

Drank to excess with young friends, traveled, dated,

Loved.  Love failed, but friendship remained. 

Graded paper after paper.  Grew tired, worked in

Texas in 2006, where I came to my own once again.

Then moved back to the north side, taught middle school.

Kids who would change me forever, mostly for the better.  

 

Early 30s: Needed a change, moved to Athens,

Started a Ph.D. program, friends and professors

Made me think, made me question everything.

Felt disconnected from some friends in Atlanta,

But tried to keep them in my life,

At times almost to a fault. 

Reading, thinking, theorizing, feeling, wanting connection.

Thinking, Writing, being truly challenged for the first time.  

Good restaurants, great friends, understanding bosses

For the first time, professors who want what’s best for me.

One is like my dad, one is like my mom.  The others

My aunts or big sisters.  Push me, but still love me.

I’m allowed to be great but not perfect.

I don’t have to be perfect.  I learn for the first time.

I’m still exceptional.  I will be my own me,

Not the shadow of my mom and dad, already published.

Pressure is dissipating.  I’m my own me, my own writer,

My own creative thinker, my own future professor.  

Wanting to marry another academic, another writer.

Not sure what that side of my future holds.

Curious, but no longer afraid.  I can stand alone

And not be lonely because people here care.  

 

Cousins love me, their house in Atlanta

Is home for me.  Love my parents,

But Texas is not home.  Atlanta and Athens

Are my two homes, and I love both for different reasons.

Atlanta my past, Athens the ticket to my future.  

I invite my friends and family to my home in Athens.

We drink wine, talk, play silly but fun card games

Until late at night.  One Atlanta friend who I could have

Loved not longer cares.  But I have to move forward.

Dating new boys, trying to find love, yet I already have

Love, just not the kind you find in storybooks.

I love Friere, children’s books, deep discussions with

People who actually seem to know where I am from

Mentally and emotionally, and I don’t have to be perfect.

I can just be me.  

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Building a Garden

            Tonight, my family and I ate a salad from vegetables in my garden.

            Okay, I can’t lie: it’s not just my garden.  It’s the class’s garden, and we’re growing it in the back of our school.  On Wednesday afternoon cluster days, our job is to take care of it.  We’re growing tomatoes, lettuce, beans, and all kinds of spices.  We’re the Healthy Hearts cluster, and we had to come up with a project related to our cluster.   Mrs. Smith, my classmates, and I decided together that one of the best things we could do to encourage other people to eat healthy is to grow delicious vegetables to share.  My friends sometimes think healthy food is gross, but it’s actually pretty good if you grow it and prepare it right.  I used to only like candy and junk food.  Now, I enjoy eating salads.  I was hoping that if I brought home a salad to share with my family, they might like it and have it more at the house.  I want my parents to be healthy too because I want them to be around for a long time.  They seem to like the salad, so maybe that’s a step in the right direction.

            My favorite part of making the garden was planting the seeds.  There’s something magic about planting something in the soil for the first time.  It’s like starting a new life, at least as much as a fifth grader can.  When a seed is first planted, it’s the start of a new beginning.  For me, it was the beginning not only of a plant, but also on a journey toward being healthy and helping people around me to do the same.  My parents and teachers take care of me. I take care of the vegetables in the garden.  It’s my way of giving back, since I’m too young to get a job that makes money or to drive my little sisters around in a car.  My dad works two jobs so that he can make enough money to support our family.  My mom puts in long hours during the day, and then she has to come home and cook and clean for us.  Both of my parents look tired all of the time.  There are four of us kids, and our house isn’t really that big.  I wish I could help them more, but I’m only ten years old.  Now that I know how to make a garden, I’ve told them that I want to make my own here at the house.  Then, I can grow vegetables here at the house and help my mom make dinner every night.  I know it’s not much, but I am hoping that the good food and the help making it will make my mom look less tired.  I’m too young to be the man of the house, but I can still help my mom.

            I haven’t always liked school.  Right now, I can speak English much better than I can read and write it.  So reading and writing is sometimes hard for me.  But for some reason, working in the garden comes naturally to me, and on Wednesday afternoons, I always like school.   Now that I see how happy my Mom and my little sisters are when they eat my salad, I like my cluster class even more. 

A Village on the Amazon (based on a real life experience on my South America trip and inspired by Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech)

A Village on the Amazon 

The little ones poked my ribs, begged for a pen,

Begged for my attention.  They lived in a

Lonely little city of poverty in the middle of the 

Amazon River, which flows into a vast ocean.

Their eyes begged while their hands poked.

The pens were like gold to them.  How strange,

Pens that I drop, pens my middle school students

Used to leave in their desks so carelessly. 

I handed out as many pens as I could, yet

There weren’t enough.  I had to stop giving.

 

At home, my heart loves those

Who don’t love me back.

These children need love much more.

 It’s about possessions,

Yet it’s also about necessity. 

They don’t have what they need.

But now, more children in that little village have pens.

They’ll have more words to write in their small schoolhouse.

One wears my sister’s UNC visor,

Another wears my brother-in-law’s sunglasses.

Everyday items, to them, are treasures. 

I traded two dollars for a lovely hand-made doll.

I think I got the better deal.  Never again

Will I avoid guilt when I complain about my life. 

I have my problems, and I get lonely at times.

But I have family members and friends who care,

Enough food to eat, and I get paid to do what I love. 

 

The heart that I drew in poetry class tonight has scars.

My heart is big, yet it’s fragile.  I wish it was truly as

Tough as it seems at first glance.  Yet I’m also glad it is

Soft.  My sister and I both were told,

“Don’t give everything away right away.

You have to barter.” But the eyes of the children

Spoke to me, told stories that words cannot.

I am haunted by those unspoken words, and I will

Never be the same because of them.  

 

In the early 60s, Dr. King talked about the

“Lonely Island of Poverty” that the African-American

People lived in, that he wanted them to overcome.

He had a dream that one day, we would rise above it,

Rise above the lines of poverty that divided us. 

Islands of poverty, villages of hungry eyes still

Exist at home too, yet sometimes,

We’re content to look the other way. 

We helped the people in Brazil, but maybe,

Those of us with big fragile hearts can help at

Home.