To the Girl in Gym Class (2002)

by Amber Walker

I’m sorry I stole your $5
But I was hungry
Those days were long
The ones with no food
But I made it through
Thanks to you
To the girl in gym class
I truly am sorry I stole your $5
But something in me tells me you knew

 


 

“An inside look at childhood hunger / poverty and survival. High schoolers are looked at as more independent and self-sufficient, and some schools don’t pay attention to their low-income students. That was my experience. When my mother was on drugs, we never had money for lunch. We’d be so hungry, my brother and I. So I stole money from a classmate to pay for our lunch that day. It wasn’t something I wanted to do. I felt I needed to do it. This is an apology and a thank you. Even though I believe she knew.”

A Mother’s Love

by Andrea Hamlin

Among the bluebells and buttercups
beneath the chickadee call
along the stream marked by birch
Mother and her babies wander above all

Plucking up trout
and skillfully eating berries
Mother teaches them
always keeping one eye wary

On nice days, when the weather grows warm
Mother takes babies to the big lake
where the shore they are standing on is the only one seen
and someday the water will be a distant land’s namesake

One morning is different, something has changed
Mother calls babies close and stands up to sniff
her black eyes grow fearful and reflect bits of orange
something smoking and sharp is what she whiffs

To the mighty lake
Mother and babies are bound
come my children, we must swim across
Mother prays that they will not drown

Be strong my children, though the waves are cold and harsh
I love you so, with all my heart
we must swim hard throughout the night
do you promise you will never part 

As lake and sky became one
and Mother could see no more
she pushed her weary body to continue swimming
and had to trust her babies would find the shore

When daybreak arrived
Mother could see that she was alone
after she crawled onto the sand
heartbroken, Mother emitted a piercing moan

Mother wandered the strange land
day after day
can you hear me my children, are you coming 
here is where Mother will forever stay

On the highest hill on the highest dune
Mother sits to rest
still calling her children
where she can see the water best

Mother waits while the roses bloom
while the chickadees learn to fly
she waits while the dune grass grows brittle
and colored leaves fall through the sky

Mother waits while the days grow short
while the air turns cold
her black coat turns white from snow
Mother waits, as she grows old

On her dune above the shore
Mother succumbs to sleep
the land keeps her safe and tucks her in with a blanket of sand
in Mother’s heart forever, babies keep

The land felt Mother’s sorrow
and brought the babies home
where they shall remain forever
close at reach and free to roam

Years later, Mother’s love can still be seen
on the shores of Lake Michigan across the crystal waters serene
and if you are quiet you will hear the call
of a Mother’s heartbreak with a love to heal all

 


 

Andrea Hamlin graduated from Aquinas College with a degree in nursing. In addition to having a passion for the sciences, she also puts high value in the arts and plays violin in the school’s chamber strings group. She writes poetry to give literary life to the beauty she sees and experiences each day. This poem is very special to her because she gets to retell an important legend in Michigan’s history and she loves looking out over the Great Lake at the Manitou Islands and imagining the story.

Respectability

by Kat Tan

My bones are shivering out an old song
The melody is respectability
The chorus is bowed head
The hook is silence
Yet niceness did not save me
did not erase my stateless ethnicity
disarmed my ability to fight
kept me decent, like model minority

The news anchors conduct the choir
they teach the words to this song
In this song, the rebellion is a riot
the corporations are the victims
And I recognize the tune
that tames the tongue and raised fist
turns a march into last week’s traffic jam
judges “Black Lives Matter” for the audacity of a declarative sentence
This is a song that demands lives lived as question marks
like someone’s curled up son
like the arch of a grieving mother’s spine 

There’s no rest when the verse is of generational mourning
and funerals we expect to one day attend
Save the date instead for a different kind of melody

We are no longer asking but taking
No longer begging but burning
Forget respectability
We sing a song of resistance

Historically

by Jessica M. Barnard

…here in my village which masks as a city
in times when a building is taken by flames
nothing but plantlike will sprout in its place.

The hotel, the house, the hardware store,
each lives below ground as stratigraphy does,
compressed to a layer of old history.

Crops make money, so they may live,
spreading their limbs on deforested plots
as a checkerboard seen from the sky far above.

But buildings make breadth, not bread. They are
created in clamorous crowds of construction,
and can’t be chopped down and replaced

in the way that lackadaisical landowners burn
ten thousands rows of orchard one night,
and turn their roots to history.

Profit is planted in the hollowed-out space,
but buildings live longer than a harvest moon,
so if they die, we keep them that way.

My town knows no change but crops
out infrastructure to make room for money.
It grows on trees, here in my city. But

we make plans, nowadays, of transformative schemes.
These changes, their roots draw their energy deep
from the aquifer betwixt those layers of ash,

which fertilize the roots of the money trees.
This pattern of preference, of profit, of pride,
it feeds us and fuels us, historically.

 


 

Jessica M. Barnard attends Grand Valley State University and is majoring in writing and minoring in anthropology. She writes poetry as a way to reflect on her surrounding world and to practice with the music of language.

Upon Finding Dead Birds

by Melissa Wray

Poised beak
smooth throat
no song.
Forever
mid-grasp—
celebrate
wholeness
within
our slow decay.

 


 

Melissa Wray‘s work has been published in Big Scream, Big Hammer, Napalm Health Spa, Display, and Voices. She is grateful to her mentor and dear friend, former Grand Rapids Poet Laureate David Cope for guiding and encouraging her poetic efforts throughout the last decade. This poem also appeared in Big Scream.

Black Lives Don’t Matter

by Yasmin Alemayehu

We beg to learn the history that shaped our ancestry, but “enslaved” and “runaways” are the only words that run through our textbooks

We try to find the leaders that shaped our past but the only name to ever come up is Dr. King, with a hint of Rosa Parks and a dash of Malcolm X

the outcome of untaught, unspoken, and the unknown past lurks within the minds of our young ones

As if slavery was our only history
As if segregation was our only past
As if prions and ghettos were our only home

As if we represented nothing more than captured property that the white man brought home

We scream “Black Lives Matters” and watch people ignore, insisting that we are simply using the “race card” and nothing more

Begging to be acknowledged, begging to be seen, begging to be heard

We scream “Black Lives Matters,” as we see Emmett Till, Trevon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, as we see ourselves

Where our history shaped the future
Where our stereotypes from the past created our present
Where our melanin creates a story that follows the idea of danger
Where our melanin is associated with words of “thug” and “drug dealer”
Where our melanin gives justification as to why

Our thoughts
Our voice
Our lives

Don’t matter

 


 

Yasmin Alemayehu is a first-generation American Somali. She currently attending GRCC but will be transferring to Grand Valley in the fall to continue pursuing Elementary Education. She writes poetry to be able to examine social problems.

Stillborn in a High School Restroom

by Jessica Blandford

Drip, Drip—water slips from the sink
spout, splashing the mirror
she cries from the end stall
A fringed shawl balled up in her mouth

Tap, Tap—a willow pressing inward
between fissures of smoky glass
through the glimmering light of dawn
A mother labors on

She cries out, the baby crowns, a toilet—
for a nursery, in her guts the pressure builds
too silent, she wipes her tears
and thinks, daddy can’t find out

she holds him against her breast
a purple cord around his neck,
swaddled in yesterday’s apple blossom dress
Johnny I’ll name him, and the night gives nothing back

 


 

Jessica Blandford graduated from Queen’s University of Charlotte with an MFA in Creative Writing. She worked on the editorial committee of the QU Magazine and is a testing proctor at Grand Rapids Community College. All of the time she doesn’t spend writing is spent with her daughter.

Canopy View

by Natalie Mouw

High in the maple tree
swaying with the leaves
above the ground.
In the crisp air of winter
there are no leaves blocking my view;
I can see for miles in countless directions.
I cherish the quiet evenings, mornings, moments,
gazing down on the hushed world
from my silent perch.
Spring comes in on tiptoe,
slowly, it approaches.
Arms overflowing with warmth to melt the ice.
Silent sprouts are sent up from the ground
to brave the cool, crisp, air.
The summer brings leaves
to enclose me in their vibrant green light.
They build me a fortress of solitude.
Autumn is a whirlpool of a thousand shades,
of purple, red, orange, and yellow.
The piles of leaves laying
at the roots of the tree,
pull me from my tree top perch
to play with them.

 


 

Natalie Mouw loves to write everything from poetry to novels, and she hopes to be a writer when she grows up. She is a tenth grader at Forest Hills Eastern and can be found playing outside with her siblings, curled up with a good book, or climbing trees in her back yard— one of the many places she finds inspiration for her poetry.

Hands

by Brenna Nickel

When I look at my hands, I see rigid edges,
Skin overlapped, ugly deformities.
I wish I could be normal, my eyes holding grudges,
Nails shortened, revealing my insecurities.

When I look at my hands, I recognize permanent fears,
Skin discoloration, veins bulge throughout.
I wish it wasn’t so painful, my eyes swell with tears,
Fingers damaged, filling my head with doubt.

When I look at my hands, I uncover disappointment,
Self-esteem shattered, childhood nightmare.
I wish I could stop this, sign up for another appointment,
Sharing stories, wanting more to be aware.

When I look at my hands, I hold many burdens,
Sharp pain, blood drips darker.
I wish I was in control, but the addiction worsens,
Seeking pleasure, salvation gets harder.

When I look at my hands, I feel very foolish,
Every day, anxiety sets in, tightening these chains,
I wish to conquer this, without standing fruitless,
Wanting freedom, hopeful for change.

 


 

Brenna Nickel lives in Caledonia, Michigan and attends Grand Rapids Community College. She writes poetry mainly to share her own experiences and to express the lessons she’s learned with others.