High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race – Anaika Falcon & Meisha White


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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.

*

Anaika Falcon is a senior in my creative writing class. She is 17 years old and will be attending Miami University in Oxford, OH in the fall. She will be majoring in AYA Integrated Language Arts Education in the hopes of teaching high school in the future. She is an avid reader and immerses herself in Asian culture, specifically Japanese and South Korean culture. Anaika’s inspiration for writing this poem was taken from the bullying that she went through when she was in elementary and middle school. She wrote this poem because she felt like many people do not fully understand the consequences of bullying. Not only that, but those who commit suicide are seen as taking the easy way out, and she wants to challenge that view because she does not believe killing yourself is easy; therefore, suicide is not an easy way out.

Meisha White is a senior at Saint Martin de Porres. She  She will be attending Spring Hill College in the fall on a full tuition scholarship. She plans to study Psychology and Early Childhood Development. Meisha has always loved writing music, poetry, and short stories. Her talent began to really blossom in her freshman English class and matured as she learned more in her creative writing class. The topic of bullying that leads to suicide was initially Anaika’s idea. When she brought it up, Meisha thought it was great but was nervous about her writings not being deep enough. She writes, “This project meant a lot to me because I included person experiences and I knew the topic was strong. I am very excited about this poem to be shared because it has the power to change people’s view and save a life or two.”

I chose to feature this deeply moving performance piece for its perseverance and persistence. It is devastating and relatable. It speaks to our collective experience of abuse and bullying. I encourage you to take the 13 minutes to witness these young women in action.

Video of Performance: https://youtu.be/MI7akkTB1c0

“We Had the Guns and You Gave Us the Ammo”
By Anaika Falcon and Meisha White

Anaika:
[Walk forward]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.
I see it in your eyes
And in the way you spout those lies.
You don’t know that every day I go home and cry.
I cry until the tears overflow into a small river.
I imagine stabbing myself in the liver,

Anaika and Meisha:
But I am not capable enough to be my own killer.

Anaika:
I use knives and cigarettes to feel fuller.
I take the blade and slowly ride it
Across my tender skin.
I watch as the blood trickles out
Leaving me in inexplicable bliss.

Anaika and Meisha:
It reminds me of the sweet kiss
My mother would plant
Across my cold cheek.

Anaika:
But now I am at my peak.
I am 5”3’ and I am not the prettiest.
I am bleak.
I am weak.
I am nothing but an empty carcass
Trying to speak.
I see it in your eyes
And in the ways you spout those lies.
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.
Your words were my ammo.
How you let them caress my every fault.
You opened up my deepest darkest vault.
You opened up my wounded scar.
You didn’t have to look too far.
To you, I was another hooker at the bar.
I wasn’t a girl I was just another one
Of your women to be judged.
You knew I wouldn’t budge.
I wouldn’t even give you the time of day,
But that just made it all okay.
Now every time I walk the halls
People laugh and watch me fall
Fall into the abyss
Waiting for someone,
Anyone to call
Call my name and make it better,

Anaika and Meisha:
But now all that is left is that letter.

Anaika:
[sigh]
My suicide letter.
Leading me to the greener side of the land.
I walk into the bath listening to my favorite band.
The water encompasses my body
And breaks my bonds.
I was never fond of the heat,
But today it is how I will beat you.
With the serrated edge of my blade
And the heat to drown my sorrows away.

Anaika and Meisha:
I WILL WIN.

[Walk backwards]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.

————————————————————

Meisha:
[Walk forward]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.

[Same time] Meisha: 1…2…3…4   Anaika: 5…6…7…8

Meisha:
How hard is it to go to school and break through expected doors?

[Same time] Meisha: 5…6…7…8   Anaika: 1…2…3…4

Meisha:
You’re supposed to be a star, first generation great

[Same time] Meisha: 1…2…3…4   Anaika: 5…6…7…8

Meisha:
Once you lose your virginity you become a whore

[Same time] Meisha: 5…6…7…8   Anaika: 1…2…3…4

Meisha:
Pill after pill I contemplate
They say life is great
Live it to the fullest
But how can I be happy
When I’m expected to stay away from “bullshit”
(When I’m expected to be the coolest)
I ask myself…
How many times have you looked back on your life
And said wow
Realized that there’s not many moments
You cracked a smile
I’m supposed to do great in school
But if I complain it’s
“All you do is go to school”
For girls having sex even for the first time
Is a mark of impurity
But I’m supposed to be “the man” right?
It’s funny how friends stay tight
Only if the timing is right
When you’re doing better they put you down
And try to pick a fight

[Same time] Meisha: 1…2…3…4   Anaika: 5…6…7…8

Meisha:
Cam! Please open the door!

[Same time] Meisha: 5…6…7…8   Anaika: 1…2…3…4

Meisha:
What’s wrong with you?
Being negative
And having self-hate

[Same time] Meisha: 1…2…3…4   Anaika: 5…6…7…8

Meisha:
After all that I’ve done for you?!
All of those sacrifices and you want more?!

[Same time] Meisha: 5…6…7…8   Anaika: 1…2…3…4

Meisha:
[Walk backwards]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo…
So now it’s too late.

———————————————————–

Meisha:
[Walk forward]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo

Anaika and Meisha:
My breath is leaving my body

Meisha:
My lungs stretching out
Their hands reaching out
For my idle breath

Anaika and Meisha:
Their words of envy strangled my neck

Meisha:
They were an assault on my lungs
They pushed out my air

Anaika:
“She thinks she’s better”

Meisha:
“You have no respect for authority”

Anaika:
“When I first saw you I thought you were stuck up”

Meisha:
“Everything’s your fault”

Anaika and Meisha:
Judgement before a word of exchange

Meisha:
I laugh and it’s

Anaika:
“What’s the problem I thought it was over”

Meisha:
If I’m friends with their enemy I’m the enemy

It’ll be quick

Just stand in the chair

Anaika and Meisha:
Hold your breath

And be free

Meisha:
I loved me as much as I could

But I was hurt by the reciprocated hate

The struggle of being like the girls in the magazines is heavy

So heavy that I decided

Anaika and Meisha:
To drop the weight

Meisha:
Create an escape to escape the hate and release the fate

A fate I couldn’t take

I made my own to correct the mistakes of the ones that hate

I hug the rope
Tied the knot
Stood on the chair
And accepted the fate

Anaika:
The fate of a girl who was too much
So much that she had to escape

Meisha:
[Walk backwards]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo

———————————————————–

Meisha:
[Walk forward]
[Anaika walk forward and stand behind Meisha]

I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.
Dear God, make me a bird
So I can fly far, far far away from here

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
I’ll make you a bird.
I’ll help you fly away.

Meisha:
His fingers hugged one of the most important parts of my body
And it was so powerful that it took my breath away
Make me a bird

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You are a bird

Meisha:
Make me a bird

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You have always been a bird

Meisha:
Is what I repeated but all that I heard was screams of passion
Vibrating my eardrums echoing in my head
It shook me… so I thought the only logical thought
And it was clear…
I’m dead

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You’re not dead,
You are a bird.
You are a flightless bird.

Meisha:
Dear God, oh dear God, how was this happening?

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
I’ll help you fly away
I’ll take away your pain

Meisha:
Alone in my home with no voice

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You do have a voice,
The voice of a flightless bird.

Meisha:
Not even the strength to give a whisper
So dry that in the midst of it all it went unnoticed but my face,
My face is where the screams of passion unfolded
Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far far away from here

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
I’ll make you remember
That you are a bird

Meisha:
The wind that I didn’t have then felt great now that I’m so high up

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
Fly

Meisha:
The winter was approaching so I figured
Heading south in that V was enough

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
Fly

Meisha:
Voiceless it cries,

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
A flightless bird

Meisha:
Wingless flutters,

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
A flightless bird

Meisha:
Toothless bites,

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
A flightless bird

Meisha:
Mouthless mutters.

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
A flightless bird

Meisha:
I’ll be free…

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You’ll be a true bird

Meisha:
It’ll be quick everyone will see how hard it hits
Where kisses go I have scars that will never heal
One wrong touch and I’m that scared little girl
Crying breaking down
Remembering this man of steel
How could this be happening?

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
I’ll help you fly

Meisha:
What was the angle?

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
The angle of flight

Meisha:
What little girl in the 7th grade
Could ever deserve to be strangled?

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
A flightless bird

Meisha:
I took the deep breath
That I couldn’t back then
Trying to pull out the little bird from within

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You’ll be a true bird

Meisha:
Toes at the edge,
Dressed in camo.
I jumped.

[Meisha falls to her knees]

Anaika:
[Lift head and smile][Walk backwards]
Welcome to my murder of crows.

Meisha:
[Walk backwards]
Because I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.

———————————————————————

Anaika:
[Walk forward]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.
Every night
I would lay in my bed soaking in my fright.
When the night fell over my room like a warm blanket
Peace was shattered by the light.
It layered my room in bright hues.
It came in the form of a fuse.
Like the sunset his touch lingered on my skin.
Yellow     warmth
Orange   aggression
Red         penetration
Red like the blood that stained my face and clothes.
With a pace as fast as a wild cat tearing away at its prey.
All I did was lay.
Lay in pain.
Lay in fear.
Wishing he would pour me a beer,
A beer to wash away the fear.
To wash away the feel.
The feel of his body crushing mine
Like a landmine.
The feel of his ring
Touching my torso.
How I wish this was a one night fling.
How I wish the light would leave my sight.
How I wish I could hide his bites.
How I wish I could fight back,
But how could I.
How could I ruin them.
Ruin him like he ruined me.

Anaika and Meisha:
But men don’t get raped
And fathers don’t rape their sons.

Anaika:
I am done.
I am alone.
My secret, his secret has been found.
For every bruise my mother pounds her head against the wall.
She falls.
Falls for him.
For his lies.
Because I am a lie.
She yells I should just die.
I… should… just… die.
I walk away.
Away from the pain and the lies.
I take the gun.
This should be fun.
Now I will make him come.
I let myself become numb
And strum my fingers against the barrel of his gun.

I put it in my mouth just like he taught me to.

The barrel chills my tongue
And leaves my mind in a fuzz.
I can hear my ears buzz.
I pull the safety back.

Anaika:                                                                             Meisha:

I can’t do this.                                                                    You better

I can’t live like this.                                                             You better

No one will care if I die.                                                     You better

No one cares that I’ve already died inside.                       You better

I am a lie.                                                                           Make me

I am worthless.                                                                 Me better

I am pathetic.                                                                     Me better

I am a worthless piece of shit.                                         You better make me better

It doesn’t even matter if I kill myself now.                        You better

No one believes me.                                                         You better

I am a lie.                                                                         You better

I tried not to give up.                                                         You better

No, I didn’t give up…                                                       Make me                                

I didn’t, but you did.                                                          Me better

You gave up on me first.                                                 Me better

You chose him over me,                                                 You better make me better

You betrayed me.                                                            X2

Anaika:
I pull the trigger.

[Walk backwards]
Because you gave me the gun and all the ammo needed.

—————————————————————-

Anaika:
[Walk forward]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.

Meisha: 3:00 AM

Anaika: I wake to the sound of my slaughtered cries.

Meisha: 3:05

Anaika: The sweat rolls off my body like all of your lies.

Meisha: 3:06

Anaika: My mind begins to crumble and die.

Meisha: 3:07

Anaika: The binds that have kept me tied down release themselves from me.

Meisha: 3:08

Anaika:
I realized there is only one way to free my mind.
Free my mind of your destructive slurs.
They echo in my mind causing a blur.

Fag

Meisha: Pussy

Anaika: Fruit

Meisha: Fairy

Anaika: Nancy

Meisha: Pansy

Anaika and Meisha: Queer

Meisha: 3:09

Anaika:
My salvation lies on my bedside.
It weighs heavy on my mind and in my hands.

Meisha: 3:10

Anaika:
As I imagine a new kind of euphoria and a new land
My mind fades into the darkness.

Meisha: 6:00 AM

Anaika:
I awake to the sound of a harmless noise
That shows me the starless sky
In the heartless morning.

Meisha: 6:01

Anaika:
But today I will not be in mourning.
I will feel the sun across my face
And I will let a smile spread across my face

Anaika and Meisha: Because today is a good day.

Anaika:
Today salvation will follow me to school.
Today salvation will free me from ridicule.

Meisha: 7:15 AM

Anaika: The doors to the school feel cool against the push of my hands.

Meisha: 7:17

Anaika:
The cafeteria is crowded with students and teachers.
They are all make believe preachers.

Meisha: 7:18

Anaika:
My salvation is nestled in my pocket.
Questioning its power,
But no flower is going to stop my salvation.

Meisha: 7:19

Anaika: I pull out my salvation.

Meisha: 7:20

Anaika and Meisha: Everyone runs

Meisha: 7:21

Anaika:
But I am having fun
And no one can out run my salvation.

Anaika and Meisha: I found salvation in a gun.

Meisha: 7:22

Anaika:
Bodies hit the floor.
Their screams hit me at my core.
Their blood begins to pour.
My heart begins to soar.

Meisha: 7:23

Anaika:
I have found euphoria
And I won’t let them take that away from me.

Meisha: 7:24

Anaika:
And with a loud bang
I let salvation take me away…

Anaika and Meisha: Away to euphoria.

Anaika:
[Walk backwards]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.

——————————————————-

Anaika:
[Walk forward]
Your words cut us like knives.
Your stares blew through us and
Nested themselves within us.
Our guns were holstered at our sides
Ready to save us from all of you,
But only if you give us the ammo.

[Walk backwards]

Meisha:
[Walk forwards]
It only takes one bullet,
It only takes one round,
It only takes one shot
To break our souls
To shatter our hearts.

[Meisha and Anaika move to stand side by side]

Meisha and Anaika:
We are not strong,
But do not believe that what we did was weak.
Have you ever tried to kill yourself?
It takes time.
It takes thought.
It takes a broken person.
It was us.
We were the broken,
The irreparable.
We had the guns and you gave us the ammo.

[Meisha and Anaika walk backward and turn around]

 

 

 

 

 

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.

*

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 — Jazmyn Alexander

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, “Be A Man/Be A Woman” 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 Resistance Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

*

Jazmyn Alexander is a senior poet in my Creative Writing class. She loves hair, hanging out with friends, shopping, and reality T.V. shows. To be perfectly honest, Jazmyn and I got off to a rough start this year, but as the year progressed, Jazmyn felt incredibly connected and engaged with the material that we were learning. She says, “Before this class, I really didn’t care about feminism or women being treated poorly in the media. I didn’t pay much attention. I just thought a woman being degraded was the norm. When we learned about it, I felt like women have so much more to offer than being objectified for men. And we’re beautiful; we don’t have to get naked to show that we’re beautiful.”

Jazmyn’s rap is incredibly powerful. She addresses the wrongful deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Mike Brown. She says: “Writing this rap came easy. I knew I wanted to tell a story about justice. I wanted to stick to one person for each verse.” I feel especially connected to this poem’s chorus. I love the way it subverts our conception of what a contemporary rap encompasses.

See Jazmyn read her poem here.

He’s Gone

Verse 1:
Now Trayvon walkin down the street, swagged out with a hood and J’s on his feet.
Ain’t doing nothing but lookin at his phone, no worries but it was gone be a long way home.
He wasn’t ready for what was comin, if he only knew that he was gone get into somethin.
Tryna fight… for his life, with Zimmerman on his back he knew that something wasn’t right.
So he kept on walking, noticed he was being followed so he started talking…
The man was cruel, knew what he wanted to do.
With all the break-ins on his street this was a justice move.
Tray’s girl on the line, she wanna know if it’s okay, is it all fine?
He let her know, he had to call back, time to fight for his life cus he under attack.

Chorus:
And he’s gone, Tray lost his precious life to a bullet hole
Not smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin on somethin’
But the color of his skin showed that his life wasn’t nothing

And he’s gone
Yeah he’s gone
And he’s gone
Trayvon is gone

And wasn’t smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin’ on something
But the color of his skin showed his life wasn’t nothing, alright.

Verse 2:
Then there was Eric too, chilled on the block listening to the humming blues.
He didn’t know how this day would go… Wasn’t knowing that he wasn’t gonna make it home.
Then a fight broke out, he tried to break it up but he got struck out.
(Make noise) he gasp for air, I can’t breathe, please let me go, please let me go
Cus I can’t breathe!
The police they choked him tight, aware of his asthma as he gasped for his life.
They didn’t care, they didn’t stop
Black man down, was the evidence that they got.
Taking this man’s life away, the public watched like dim to a brighter day.
This gotta end, where do we begin?
Rest in peace… Tray, Eric, Mike, and all black men.

Chorus:
And he’s gone, Eric lost his precious life to a choke hold
Not smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin’ on somethin’
But the color of his skin showed that his life wasn’t nothing

And he’s gone
Yeah he’s gone
And he’s gone
Eric is gone

And wasn’t smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin’ on something
But the color of his skin showed his life wasn’t nothing, alright.

High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Johnny Ward

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, “Be A Man/Be A Woman” 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 Resistance Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

*

Johnny Ward is a senior in my Resistance Writing class. His life is music. He enjoys working out and good food. He follows sports and the news, and he constantly sends me relevant and funny BuzzFeed lists and videos. He says that our class has opened his eyes to what feminism actually meant.  “I thought it meant you were feminine, or a lesbian, or pro-women to the point that you were anti-men. Now, I know it means standing up for women’s rights and being conscious to the fact that lack of equality is a problem and that anyone can be a feminist.” His advice to young writers is to practice, have confidence, practice, and perform.

I especially love this poem for its insistent and aggressive repetition. Johnny maintains a sturdy rhythm that serves to highlight the contradictory messages we send young men. He writes about the struggle to come out of the cold and embrace connection. This poem commands our respect on many levels.

See Johnny read his poem here.

Be A Man

I’m young
I’m young but
I feel so old
If I may be so bold let me say
It’s more than just cold out here
It’s more than just cold out here
You need more than just a coat out here
You need coats out here

Men!
They coming for your throats out here
But be a man
Tell me what are tears?
I’m unfamiliar
I ain’t been able to cry since… eh, can’t remember

I’m seventeen, look at me
Still manhood’s a puzzle
I carry a whole household on my back with back trouble
and still going through black struggles
But anyway be a man
Showing emotion is weak
or it’s how you show it
If so, then please explain that to me
Like what do I do whenever I see
My friend going through it?
Walk up and just give her a hug then leave?
I wasn’t taught to console nor to be consoled
By God!
It took Jesus 16 years to even reach my soul
Pardon my rude mouth he forgave it already
I’m making the change
I prayed it already

Wish I could forgive but I hold grudges
Like that one time
One time said “your father was a joke n****, you the punch line!”

Life ain’t easy it’s full of opinions
“You ain’t a man until you first had sex”
“You ain’t a man until you gotcha first check”
“You ain’t a man till you known through respect”
“You ain’t a man till you build intellect”
“You ain’t a man till you made yo first band”
“Think you a man with that gun in yo hand?”
“You ain’t a man till yo words ain’t see through”
“You ain’t a man till we believe you”
“You ain’t a man till yo actions speak for you”
“You ain’t a man till these women adore you”
“You ain’t nothing till you love yourself”
“Aye you a man, man why you need help?!”

We what we want we just got to connect
We’ll be alright we just need to respect
We what we want we just got to connect
We’ll be alright we just need to respect.

High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — DeJuan Brooks

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, “Be A Man/Be A Woman” 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 Resistance 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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DeJuan Brooks is a senior writer in my Resistance Writing Class. His work has previously appeared in As It Ought To Be as part of a collective response to the prompt “We Can’t Breathe.”  He enjoys good music, playing  sports, and writing. His favorite author is Alex Haley. DeJuan is committed to bettering his Cleveland community. He says, “A lot of people don’t  want to change anything. They get complacent with the way things are. If no one’s going to help, I might as well try.” In the following poem, I most admire his careful attention to rhyme and the natural rhythm that highlights and reinforces the idea that we are trapped in an insidious cycle of repressed emotion and stereotypes. This poem was the poem that inspired this series. I am consistently impressed by DeJuan’s persistence, poise, and maturity. I hope you enjoy this work as much as I do.

See DeJuan read his poem here.

Be A Man

The face of a young black man in the inner city. The growing pains that make him “strong.”
The fights, the bruises, the cuts, the scrapes. The tears that came and were told to go away.
We internalize pain for an image we portray. Cuz we all know if you emotional as a girl
your dad gets ashamed. People may think that’s crazy, he just a baby,
but we all know that boy in the 4th or 5th grade who at recess played patty cake
or double dutched way too much. So your dad gives you that look to stay away,
cuz he knows what you don’t, and he’s keeping you “safe.”
And we don’t try to even exercise our free right and go over there and play,
cuz we supposed to be growing to be men, and not that way. Cuz the way we raised,
boys don’t cry, boys don’t walk that way, boys stay strong, boys portray men who are
messed up themselves, cuz that’s how we was raised.
Your dad gets more proud when you fight, then when you tell em’ bout your pain.
When you fall down, you stand up. You crying, then man up. We release pain on others,
we’re supposed to be brothers, but I gotta figure out how to release this some other way.
They say fight like a man, but what people don’t understand is if you’ve never seen
my mom throw hands, you’ll never understand what a real fight is.
A whole theory deferred.
I know men, women, even children who would kill to have as much pride as her.
I lived my whole life knowing my worth, so when they tell me to man up,
like men set the precedent of the world, like this woman who brought me into the world
isn’t stronger than any man or boy. I was raised as a boy and I turned into a man,
but when they tell me I’m acting like a girl, I think of the fight my mom endured.
So, when they say I’m acting like a girl, I feel like I’m the strongest man in the world.