As I’ve said before, my sister teaches high school in Florida—history and psychology, with a lot of writing in all her classes (she says she’s “notorious” not just for assigning writing but for teaching it and taking it very, very seriously). I love hearing about the work she is doing and about her students, and recently she wrote to share a poem one of her seniors had written, not for class but just on her own. It speaks powerfully, I think, to the experiences of many young people today, so I wanted you to read it too:
I think I’m addicted.
Like a freed prisoner that keeps getting convicted
It’s that feeling you get when the whole world is on your shoulders
And it starts off as kind gestures, then it becomes favors, then it’s my job, it’s all mine
This pressure they hand to me
And I say don’t pick it up….but if I don’t it will fall….
Fine I will pick it up, I will load it, carry it, struggle with it
While I’m at it, you pile it on, too
And it is definitely something that is self-inflicted.
It is that decision to make a commitment that you cannot keep
But still you decide to take that leap
But really what do you expect to reap
Because pretty soon all you will have is a heap of responsibilities
And in the middle of the night, when everyone is resting, you can’t fall asleep
I am addicted
It is not something that I would have predicted
Another class, another club, another party, another favor, another paper, another deadline, another contest
And just like that I’m under the gun again.
So at night when I open my eyes after my amen, I wonder if God is tired of me
Because although I know that he gave me the key
I still continue to climb the tree
And like a cat afraid to climb down
I am that frozen little girl who is afraid of a clown
And right now there is so much at stake
And when they ask me how I make it
I shrug, because right now, I am just trying not to break
And as I am drowning in this lake
Someone reaches in a hand for me to take
But I push it away,
I fight it
This is my crucifixion
This is my addiction.
That’s some poem from a young African American woman trying to work through the pressure she feels to perform—in so many ways and so many different arenas. And she is using writing on her own time and in her own ways to do some of that work and to communicate to others what she is living and feeling.
I’ve been impressed, over the years, with how much poetry writing students are doing, and almost all of it outside of class. Once again, we can look to what’s going on outside our classrooms to help us think hard about what is and should be going on IN them. While I think, though, I’m going to read this poem one more time, this time aloud, so I can hear the cadence and rhythms in it. I’ve asked my sister to thank the student writer for sharing it.