Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Not Much Of A Poem

For A.J.

All I can do for you now is write,
so I will.

At fourteen, you were already a smooth con.
Taller than me by several inches,
you liked to brush against my shoulders
every chance you got.
You lied as easy as breathing,
maybe easier.
Most days
(and you were in trouble most days),
all that stood between you and expulsion
was my big mouth and skinny white ass.

All I can do for you now is tell your story,
so I will.

It was a railroad school;
all you had to do is look a ways down the tracks
to see the train wrecks coming.
That's where they stick kids like you,
and they stick you with teachers like me;
first year teachers with good hearts,
but no experience with
junkies (like your dad)
whores (like your mom)
gangs (waiting for you outside the school house door)
abuse (all of your life)
poverty (the kind that only sees one way out).
I didn't have any books to give you
even if you could have read them.
I did my best,
but the whole system . . .
we were all just trying to get through each day
without getting eaten alive.

All I can do for you now is say I'm sorry,
so I will.

So, I was listening to the news yesterday,
and I heard that they found you dead in the middle of the street.
Seems you botched a home invasion, kiddo.
Damn you, you were only twenty-two years old.
Damn us all, you never had a prayer.
And, damn me for not knowing how to help you.

I'm sorry, baby.
I am so fucking sorry.

All of the above is true.  It's not much of a poem, but I needed to write it.  Thank you for reading it.

Submitted to dVerse.


ayala said...

This gave me goosebumps, I am so sorry!

jen revved said...

my heart goes out to you-- this is straightforward, honest and moving, all of which give it a head start on being a terrific poem. I wish it weren't the case that our rebellion can do us in-- any of us, when we do the things that co-opt our responsibility for ourselves. that's a toughie for me too. Sounds like you did all you could and beyond. xxxj

Claudia said...

my daughter was in bolivia for a year, working in a school in la paz and most of the pupils were from a difficult social background...parents taking drugs, mom in prison and she has some sad stories to tell..same as yours..and yours is excellently done mama zen

Anonymous said...

, I was listening to the news yesterday and I heard that they found you dead in the middle of the street. Seems you botched a home invasion, kiddo. Damn you, you were only twenty-two years old

I have chills! This is what I like to read! Awesome prose here Mama! I'm a fan for sure!

Daydreamertoo said...

Such a sad, sad story and the saddest part of all is, it isn't any story.
So many kids have such a hard time being dragged up instead of being raised. I had that childhood too so, I can speak from some experience of, foster homes, state run childrens homes and all that goes with them.
You did what you did and no-one could've changed this boys destiny, only himself. To say we were dirt poor is an understatement but, as a kid in school I was determined I wouldn't stay in slums all my life, I wanted out and the only way to do it was through education. Schools now have too many kids per class and teachers have to teach with one arm tied behind their backs through rules and regulations. So many kids are not taught proper discipline nor self control anymore.
This was in no way a fault of yours. As sad as it is, the boy still had choices, he could've thumbed his nose at the poverty and all the negative and chosen to learn. It seems he made the wrong choices.
Very sad your prose touched me, deeply.

ab said...

Turning pain into art. This one reaches through the screen, grabs the heart, and squeezes.

Jannie Funster said...

Teaching was the hardest job I ever had. Yep, waaaay harder than being a mom. Being a mom is a freaking piece of cake.

I say a prayer for the teachers.

This is so sad a poem, MZ. Glad you wrote it tho.


Susie Clevenger said...

I have lived through experiences of trying to help a youth turn around. Hunted city streets for runaways. I understand your grief. Thank you for letting us read your pain. Many of us share it with you.

R Montalban said...

I just want to say, I love your poetry, and I want to say thank you to making me enjoy reading it and for inspiring me as a result of your posts. I am not writing this as a crummy suck up, this is genuinely heartfelt appreciated thank you.

Eric 'Bubba' Alder said...

Heavy, sad story here.

Fireblossom said...

Sometimes, putting it in a poem is the only way to say it. I know it helps me stay sane. I'm sorry about your former student, honey.

Natasha said...

Whoa Mama Zen! What makes you think this is not much of a poem? This is what poetry is...truth, spilled across the page, no matter how ugly, no matter the guilt. There is nothing I can say that will make it any easier, god knows I would if I could! Time...reflection...writing it out...and to share with us here this evening, perhaps together, we can make it better? Amazing write...bottom line. Thank you for trusting us all to your words.

Pat Hatt said...

Wow that is awful indeed. But some people just never get a chance, truly does suck.

Brian Miller said...

dang MZ...this is something that haunts me as well with the kids that i work with...i try...but sometimes...and sometimes i kick myself for not knowing how to help...ugh...vivid real piece...

mrs mediocrity said...

so very sad. you did a great job with this, it was honest and real. to me, that is what poetry should be.
so sorry to hear of such a sad ending.

lizziviggi said...

This is so raw. Not much of a poem-- ha! You just slit yourself open and bled for us... I think that's enough.

hedgewitch said...

Sad indeed. No one has a handle on stuff like this. Writing it out tells the story, and it needs to be told, so you did the most productive thing you could with it. Maybe it will make a difference somewhere, somehow, for someone. You have to hope.

Fred said...

Wow. They say the most powerful writings are typically steeped in personal experience. Resonates here. On one hand it's sad how some have no situation to get out of, they're so deep in it getting out is never really an option. ANd that is unfortunate and sad. Teachers have an incredibly difficult job, juggling assignments, lesson plans, parents, superiors and of course the students. I feel the regret you feel, the "if only.." sentiment that gets us all. And you are so correct, sometimes sorry is all one can say. How could you have known, it's not your fault, etc... is probably what you've heard, will hear, so i won't do that. I'll just say I'm sorry, for it's all I can offer.

Very heartmoving piece, personal and reflective on society and sociological concerns. I'll stop now, but moved me.

Sylvia K said...

Being a former teacher, I do so relate and my heart aches for you. So very moving, so very heartbreaking, such a dreadful loss -- like so many! Hard to write anymore, too many tears.


Dulce said...

Sorry. He might have not wanted any help?
I don't know.
Great write and sad.

Charles Elliott said...

I have often wondered what happened to the boys in the fifth grade class I taught at an all-black, inner city school in Baltimore during my first -- and last -- year of teaching so long ago. Your poem certainly does a good job of embodying the pain of a teacher's dilemma in such a situation. Particularly liked:
"It was a railroad school;
all you had to do is look a ways down the tracks
to see the train wrecks coming."

Richard Cody said...

Damn us all, indeed.

Ann LeFlore said...

Very moving and straight forward. I like this very much

Anonymous said...

Break my heart, MZ. These are the poems that make poetry real, not self indulgent flowery buds... a reason to write, to right the damn wrongs of this screwed up world. Your words sang tonight for AJ, it may seem little, but it was you asking him for a word, he gave you many, and we got a glimpse of why every life has meaning. Thank you ~

Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

It's a terrific poem! Maybe you will value it more, poetically, when much more time has elapsed. Some poems need to be raw, blunt and immediate, and say it just like it is. There's not a cliche in it, and not a wasted word.

It's right that you feel so anguished for being unable to help, and right that you know it was beyond you. I know that you would have done whatever it took, if only you could. I don't know that anyone could, by the time you met him.

The poem stirs me too to impotent rage and grief. And the poem won't change the system. Nevertheless it did indeed need to be written, and we must always write these things when they are there to be written. (I used to run poetry workshops in prison, so I have seen other places such kids end up.) It must always be said, and always with that passion. Naming the situation unflinchingly is the first step.

Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

P.S. You didn’t save him but I bet you touched him, with your ‘big mouth and skinny white ass’ standing up for him. He knew, if only briefly, that someone cared. Maybe that’s all we can ever do. And maybe it’s not nothing.

Anonymous said...

Sad - raw - powerful - hugs

Anonymous said...

This one is a bullet to the heart - I spent 7+ years working with vulnerable populations and I mentor a young woman who spent years in juvenile detention and is finally at home. I am profoundly sorry for your loss and awed by your poem. The only way through life is engagement but it's also so fucking hard. You have my deepest respect for the work you're doing. Take good care of yourself while you grieve.

Brendan said...

There are things that proper poetry aren't worth shit for -- like confession and amends -- though the form is sometimes the best way to send those letters that no longer have a valid address. I loved the image of the trainwreck school, the helpless inevitability of it. Maybe you couldn't do anything to avoid fate, but you were there, and you care. Thanks for keeping AJ a poem on this side of oblivion.- Brendan

Ed Pilolla said...

i don't know what pain like this is like. i really can't imagine. but clearly you are at a very good vantage point of what the system is doing to some of the weakest in our society. of course, i'm very sorry. i have a feeling you have helped many. but the sad fact is there's a place for this kid within the system. it's called jail. since 1980, we've built prisons for much of the underclass, and that's where they have gone, especially men of color.

Arron Shilling said...

This is just a solid and awesome piece of writing. I felt empathy and sadness and mama believe me that doesnt happen easy - the way you write it allows for me to feel it - because its not sicky/gooey or over sentimental - by cutting the BS you hit it hard as all hell - brilliant

Anonymous said...

there are so many kids out there like this, girl, you did help him you cared..... kids in their late teens also know right from wrong you were the example he chose not to follow. You gave all you could at the time don't you dare blame yourself you can't fix every kid only do your best and it sounds like you did. Kudos for writing this even tho it is part of the healing process I know it had to be a hard write.

LauraX said...

Thank you for sharing this story that is as much yours as his. This line framed your experience with sad, honest beauty "It was a railroad school;
all you had to do is look a ways down the tracks
to see the train wrecks coming.

signed...bkm said...

You let everything spill out in this Mama and that is good...because when shit like this happens in life that is all you can do...one of my sons friends high school friends was shot and killed by the police last month...he never could get on the right track always short of making it...not poverty, not lack of education....lack of something...maybe love...bkm

Tara R. said...

Oh MZ... this was heartbreaking. I'm so sorry.

Anonymous said...

This is more of the type of poetry that means something because it's real, raw and there's passion and feeling behind it.

I bow to you, Mama Zen.

Glynn said...

It's an American tragedy, played out in front of all of us, in all of our towns and cities. This one tears the heart, Mama Zen.

Seasideauthor said...

22 is pretty old for his situation. I am glad you wrote something real and it is very clear and well written. Thanks...It is still a choice...

Steve Isaak said...

Gut-true and emotionally effective write - I particularly enjoyed the raw feel of it.

Anonymous said...

You put a lot of heart into this and into that boy.

Anonymous said...

the emotion in your words show the truth of how you cared ~ still care. there are so many things in this country that could be - should be - done for children but are completely neglected. you did all you could within a broken-down system.

you're very brave to have shared this and i thank you. i hope it has given you a little solace.
*hugs* dani ♥

Anonymous said...

Maybe in sharing your piece of the burden is smaller as we all carry a piece now too.

Evelyn said...

huge sob filled sighs.
You did what you could.

Buttons said...

I'm sorry I have been in similar situations that I could not help or did not know how to help and it turned out bad. You never get over that.You just try to do better next time. So sorry. I am sorry for me too. I failed and someone is not here. B