High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Genesis Gonzalez

16403407_10103555321683718_111071533205757261_oA note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, many of these poems are an analysis of gendered, racial personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are all current students whose work I found to be brave and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

I chose this poem for its relatability. This work so clearly encapsulates the pressure of respectability and its insidious impact on young women. I am especially drawn to the complicated relationship the speaker has with wanting to please her father and her eventual self-realization and freedom.

 

The Apology


I am sorry

I say it too often.

Walking around with so much precaution.

What I want to say is

fuck tradition.

As a soldier, I was on a mission.

Make sure I am never too sexy;

only trained to be a Virgin Mary.

Or at least, that’s what I made myself believe.

I am sorry

I never realized

that God didn’t create me to be holy.

He made me to rewrite a story.

To cut down trees

rooted in the belief that I am not worthy.

I am worthy.

I am sorry

I kept myself so quiet.

Wore only long-sleeve shirts,

kept to a strict diet.

No mistakes, no drinking, no sex.

All to keep my father’s respect.

Followed the rules for eighteen years

and never realized I could come first.

I am sorry

I had to keep my head down,

And even on solid ground

the wet dreams embedded in men’s brains

made me feel like I might drown.

I fought the currents of the ocean,  

swimming and pleasing everyone but myself.

I am sorry

I always tried to be kind

even though I lost my peace of mind.   

Even though it made me feel out of place.

I did it all

to keep a smile on my father’s face.

 

 

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Genesis Gonzalez is a high school senior from Cleveland. She enjoys photography, volunteering, and softball.

High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race – Bianca Capeles


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A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, these poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Creative Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

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Bianca Capeles is a 17-year-old senior poet in my Creative Writing class. Her future aspirations include a United States Presidency and many, many book publications. She is a member of the Poetry Club and the Drama Club. She enjoys writing and engaging in heated political debates on Facebook. She continues her fight for equality because she “doesn’t understand how someone could advocate for one life over another.”

Capeles’s poem is a re-imagination of biblical lore. Her second person point of view and her steady and engaging rhythm reveals and insists on a historical pattern on repeat.

I chose this poem because of its clear message: a woman’s value is incalculable and should not be determined by men. The moment I heard this poem performed, I knew it needed a larger audience. Please join me in enjoying this untamed, bold new voice!

Elysha

Jezebel,
Explain the glances in your direction.
I guess it doesn’t help to stand beside Elijah,
newly turned prophet,
felt called to bring you to church.

Jezebel,
It must be the skirt you chose to wear,
just tight enough to curve around your legs,
evoking lust, causing Christian men to sin:
Mesmerizing beyond faith to break a commandment,
to devalue the worth of wedding rings…

Jezebel,
It must be the leather you chose to wear,
zipped up to your neckline,
covering what you thought would label you temptation.
Instead, you become rebellious in the eyes of the priest:
He sees your eyeliner and deems you troubled,
criminalizes your modesty,
sends women to patronize:

They say, “God changed me,”
and shows you a picture of a happier woman.

Jezebel,
Explain the whispers in your direction:
Pastor mentions his lovely wife –
You only notice the shrinkage of a woman under constant scrutinization.
You notice her limbs are completely covered in the same church Jezebel is shamed.
She looks as if making up for Eve.

Jezebel,
You remain unconvinced.
Elijah looks over for affirmation,
mentions later that his congregation asked about you:
But you hear the intentions behind every invitation to go out.
They want to discern your spirituality through the clothes that you wear,
if your inherent reflex is to smile if a man is caught staring.
They want to compare your faith to your fashion sense,
despite never having sex, Jezebel.

Elijah,
You are committed to God first, and then wife 1, 2, and 3.
She stands beside you with her child,
the offspring of another man,
and you bask in the reverence that is your position right now:
What a respectable man of God you are
for taking over the responsibilities
of used goods.

Elijah,
You feel above reproach.
You will raise your daughter to shun women like her mother,
wear clothes that attract men like you,
and associate her worth with her virginity,
even while having sex with drunk women,
conceiving a child out of wedlock,
and denying her.

Elijah,
You enjoy the air that Jezebel gives you:
Men glare and envy you,
all unhappy in marriages you have been able to avoid up until now,
with children not claimed to be yours as of yet.

Elijah,
You convince yourself that your interest is her salvation:
That the conversations you have could never find themselves materializing into something more than seeking God,
positioned beside the riskiest threat introduced to church since implemented dress code,
because you’ve brought her to church.

Elijah,
Explain the thought process that makes you innocent beside her:
Your tightened tie and shaved face would not exclude you from rebellious titles,
the tattoo on your arm is similar to the criminalization of eyeliner in Pentecostal churches,
And yet you remain a higher stature than assumed Jezebel,
Because you are assumed to be Elijah, Elysha.

High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Naudia Loftis

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A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, these poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Creative Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

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Naudia Loftis is a senior poet in my Creative Writing class and the Vice President of our high school’s Poetry Club. Her passions include writing, high stepping, and helping others. She recently organized a local anti-violence Cleveland youth rally.

Loftis’s poem addresses the inescapable topic of gun violence. Cleveland has had a deadly year. In recent months, we have seen indiscriminate shootings take the lives of at least three children. Loftis explains: “It is important for me to be an anti-violence activist in my community because I am a part of the next generation that will soon run the world, and I feel it is my responsibility to help move my community on a better path. I believe in change, which is not common in my neighborhood. So if it takes me saying something, I will.”

I chose this poem for its beautiful awareness of breaking. Loftis’s careful consideration of line breaks, her masterful rhyme, and her ability to capture Cleveland’s grief is surely worthy of much more than our attention and reflection. In this midst of this holiday season, I am reminded of how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with such talented young poets. 

 

A Dead City

On September 23, 2009, my cousin, Reginald Fain, was shot a week before his 26th birthday by a boy he grew up with (and on the street they grew up on). It’s hard to imagine such tragedies happening so close to you, but this is our reality in Cleveland.

I’ve seen baby boys in gangs, sagging, cussing in slang
Following role models who show them which way to bang
Mommas crying in shame, media ripping their names
And after they get locked up, the hood is taking the blame
Nobody wants to speak up, but everybody wants change
I’ve watched my city die
Cause of street signs that we claim
The knife is in our heart
While the blood is leaving stains
And we’re witnessing bodies drop like we’re stuck in a Hellraid
My summer filled with gang shootings
Police sirens in the breeze
Holding hands like precious pearls
Not knowing who’s next to leave
‘Cause shooters just want the praise
And I’m stuck out in the rain
Contemplating the beast the city needs me to tame
Shards ripping our fabric smiles
And looping us on a chain
Holding us tied together and leaving our bodies slain
It’s hard for me to be sane
In a land that’s acting strange
Moving beyond murders and savages playing games
I’m pushing in hope to gain people who are brave
To help reclaim our city
‘Cause we’re the ones who remain.