Mission 2017 Day 4, Part 1: The Poetry of Community

Let’s wrap up Day 4 with a few poems and a walk – and bike ride – around the National Mall.
Justice with Enjambment
Our seminar concluded with a poetry workshop led by R. Kayeen Thomas. Yes, you read that right, Dear Reader, a poetry workshop. To wrap up our time together, this Washington, D.C. poet (who spent time in Northfield, Minnesota for college!) asked us each to take our experience of the seminars and summarize how we’re feeling in the shape of a poem. No rules (except no haikus), and if it’s a slam-style poem, all the better. Kayeen offered us one of his slam poems, “We the People,” to get us in the mood:

Each of us took a private moment to craft our poem. Then, we came back together and everyone took her or his turn reciting it to the group. Meanwhile, Kayeen jotted notes based on our poem to construct an amalgamation poem altogether. When we finished, he read his and we each heard a piece of what we had written, a sort of condensed community response to the week. Later, I would hear from many teens that this was a tremendous highlight for them, not only especially for those who enjoy writing but also for some who have never really done poetry before. Special shout out to Kemi for going first!
A few brave souls said “Yes” to my request to post their poems here for your enjoyment. Please hold their vulnerability dear, Dear Reader, and let’s see what we’ve got here…
How can a ten-year-old be a terrorist?
Prison cells filled with children whose
short legs carried them across
countries and continents.
How can a ten-year-old be a terrorist?
Young eyes that have seen their mothers
beaten, brothers
murdered, homes
How can a ten-year-old be a terrorist?
America the brave, we call ourself;
but we are too afraid that the poor,
dirty refugees will track mud
on our marbles floor or
put recycling in our golden trash cans.
How can a ten-year-old be a terrorist?
They aren’t.
We’re just too afraid,
too stuck in our ways,
to let them in.
– Ellie

Justice has a meaning.
But as of recent it’s rather leaning.
It’s like it doesn’t matter what
the Constitution was about.
The government can make a safe bet
that they walk starving, scared people
away without someone finding out.
You’re supposed to have life, liberty, and
The pursuit of happiness.
But now people are being forced to
Settle for less.
You’ve got a system that doesn’t fit
And a lot of inequality to go along with it.
We claim to be better than those across the sea,
as if the truth is only what people believe it to be.
Justice has a meaning.
It’s time for it to stop leaning.
– Sean
I’m sitting here at 72
looking back at all that I’ve been thru
Times so bad they made me cry,
and happiness that made me fly.
It made me weak, and yet so strong,
only God could write my song.
I humbly bow before my King
Who’s given me a song to sing.
How great thou art.

– Mike

The stained bricks, cracked and broken
By hardship maintain structure
So that it may house aliens and non-aliens.
They leave and return, withered
By the surrounding universe.
Cracks in the bricks expand to every corner
As the piercing comments of the members strike.
Every week, every day, every hour, every second
Is capable of an infinite number
Of syllables, each pronunciation
Piercing the stained bricks.
Tick… tick… tick…
A crumbled building lies,
Surrounded by people asking,
“How did this happen?”
– Julia

Is it just me…
Or is it hard, to be a bard, and
Sing a song of your long, long walk
Through your very own personal awakening,
My Own Private Whattaya Know.
The song of self-awareness,
A song of privilege abused less,
The song of “I’ll be your ally, I promise,”
(at least, I’ll try to be, that is, unless…)
It’s hard, to be a bard, and
Sing the song that keeps changing
Every verse keeps on rearranging
Because what you know becomes what you knew
‘cause you went through your old pairs of shoes
that walked on the already, rocksteady
rocked-and-rolled, black-and-bruised
And is it just me…
Or are the shoes I wear now truly squeaky clean,
Or am I still unruly, freaky mean?
Not getting’ it, not protectin’ it,
Talk the talk, but walk the convenient.
This road of who I was and
Here I am where I stand and
There it is where I’ll dance
If I’m lucky enough to
Check myself, reflect on myself,
Shut my mouth and listen so as to
project to all my best self.
Even when it’s hard, hard,
Hard, to be a bard who
Knows the cringing thoughts of brothers thunk
Gulps the words spoke of sisters sunk
Remember when I thought better you than me
As I watched your very different life than mine
Go ker-plunk.

 And is it just me…
Or does this road seem to turn,
Understanding in my heart seem to churn.
God sent, grace tent,
Billboard says exit here, turn, REPENT.
And if it’s just me….
And it really is that hard,
Will the song STOP…?
Will the road STOP…?
Will the hate GO ON…?
Better to stumble in front of everyone
Than pretend the road won’t be long
And hard, hard, hard.
And it’s not just me,
Thank God.
– Nate

            My eyes are different than yours.
no home of the brave, no land of the free.

Slavery, oppression, and micro-aggression
No, “It’s just a joke,” through the eyes of me.
Black baby dolls being hung on a noose.
You can fight and resist but why try
When all you do is lose?

            My eyes are different than yours.
When my brother isn’t allowed
To wear a hoodie at night.
My hair is too big, I need lotion, and
All us black folk ever do is fight.
Hands up, don’t shoot,
Who’s the real threat?
It’s me, the black girl,
Or the system we live in
Unfortunately, society already has its mind set.

            My eyes are different than yours.
That’s just how it is.
But don’t tell me you get it
If your hair doesn’t frizz.
Do I stop what I say because of this white fragility,
Taking away my ability to tell who’s really me,
Trying to say something but I’m running out of breath
For you, it’s “an issue,”
But for me
It’s life or death.

 – Charlotte

That line about frizzy hair is phenomenal, just phenomenal. Thank you, poets.
National Mall Night Out
After spending so much time together, we took advantage of the open evening to travel in small groups and relax. A few of our adult married couples spent some time together, one of us visited with family, one group took a bike ride down to the Washington Monument, and another group went on foot to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. I don’t have all the details on each group, though I know the bike riders said they had a blast, but I was with around half of the whole team so I can at least relay that.
Nearly all of the Smithsonian museums close at 5:30 p.m. However, like our lucky Smithsonian American Art Museum being open late until 7:00 p.m. last night, they have one additional museum open late most summer nights. This month, that’s pretty much the Air & Space Museum, so that’s where we went. We hot footed it quickly to get the most amount of time out of it and it was a great experience. There’s also an indoor food court that we literally squeaked through the doors of as it closed for the night.
After the museum closed, we walked along the mall, a few of us hitting up food trucks or parting ways to restaurants and other attractions. The core of the group ended up on the steps of the US Capitol for a concert care of a jazz ensemble of the US Air Force Band. The music was great and the young officer who the band leader said could channel Ella Fitzgerald truly channeled Ella Fitzgerald! We were tired, however, and it was time to head back to the WPH before too long.
While we were taking in the excellent music outside, both flags were up on either side of the Capitol, indicating our legislators were in session. In occurs to me now it’s possible this is also the time when John McCain made his dramatic entrance on the vote to open debate on repealing the Affordable Care Act. We did, in fact, see a police motorcade, heavily-laden with police motorcycles in particular. Perhaps this was Vice President Pence returning to his residence after casting the tie-breaking vote that night.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition.
The light, listless meandering of classic jazz from 100 years ago, smoothly played by competent enlisted personnel, to the delight of tourists and locals alike.
The pressure of the policymakers, along the lines of aisles and parties and loyalties and the staccato voting, to the wonder of all who watch and wonder, and for some, wail.
The prestigious outside, the messy inside.
The idea of coming together and the idea of falling apart.
The poetry of community.

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