In solidarity with our allies in the CTU, we are sharing the text of this poem by slam poet and teacher Molly Meacham. She was kind enough to perform it for us at an Occupy Rogers Park strike solidarity event on Friday.
THE POLITICAL POEM THAT WAS BULLIED OUT OF ME
By Molly Meacham
I had never been small
until I heard how evil I am
for being a teacher. With the lie levels
rising in newspapers, emails,
the steady flood of anti-
until I am in-
the frightening muse of room 202
is this incredible
I’ve often told students to absorb
environment and squeeze it
into writing, but I, hypocrite, cannot
check my mail without earplugs
and blinders now. There is always a top
story that burns my cheeks ashen,
and I am scattered by breath.
But there’s no headline for me
or for colleagues who’ve sold houses,
who’ve taken on loans and grey-streaked temples
to brace for the fight.
These headlines are about these politicians,
their pockets, and their pride. Articles
full of double speak and forked tongue
hissing. The mayor and the board deal students
as playing cards in stacked decks.
They know nothing of the kids themselves:
Her grammar jokes, his zombie impression. That he’s afraid his father
is never getting out of jail and his mom has breast cancer.
That she is the first in her family to go to college
and got a full ride. That he came out of the closet, and his mother is praying
for evil to cease its possession. That she reinvents the world
on the page and then stages it. These kids swirl
in cutbacks, media overload, starved affections, and poetry.
They swear and swagger and smile metal.
The fact these kids are alive and breathing knowledge
in deadly communities is more miracle
than Lazarus rising. And they do—they baptize
their papers in ink and wash drafts clean
with red. They highlight, spotlight, moonwalk. I mean,
they are teenagers…there are mad dashes through
the halls, too many tardies and dress code violations.
But they are green and sprouting: dandelions
and dahlias, ivy, wisteria, and willows.
I am a simple gardener, tilling
with words, preparing the ground—
loam, sand, silt, clay. The clay models itself
into familiarity. Into the expression
of understanding that’s unique to each child.
The board wants me to see only numbers,
to measure the kids with percentages,
to see them as payment and value-added.
But I am an English teacher.
Numbers have never been my thing.
I see that their learning is the shape of a yellow raft
on a green river. We are the river dwellers.
There is no salt in our water.
It feels wrong to hate politicians who have never met me,
but they made us feel miniscule—buzzing winged
things like gnats or mosquitoes—for being teachers.
It makes me hunger for Biblical
retribution. So I will be an insect…
in a plague of cicadas. We will be dressed as
a river of blood, a torrent of chant and noise.
There is no poem for this fight, for watching
the mild mannered lose their voices
from screaming chants, feet raw with marching.
Hands, callused for chalk, will be rubbed with new blisters
from holding signs.
If we are faceless, let us be the drought, the blight,
the salt in this freshwater city
so our students will not be nameless, faceless scores
in a city that hunts them for statistics.
We will be living the politics.
Not writing a poem.
I invite you (and ask you) to stand with me,