Children: Let Them Amaze You
“I Should Not Have Written This Poem”
“Out of the mouth of babes” is an old expression that reminds us to listen to children. If you do, you might learn something, get inspired, or find courage.
Caitlin Clark is a 14-year-old Asian-American girl who lives in Benicia, California. Because she is an award-winning poet, she was asked to perform with John Legend in Los Angeles recently to honor the legacy of Marvin Gaye. Caitlin decided to write a poem based on Marvin Gaye’s famous song, “What’s Going On”. As she set about creating her piece for the performance, she kept seeing the relevance of the old song with recent events in America. The muse took over. Caitlin wrote a poem that I will never forget. What does a 14-year-old living in a sleepy bayside village know about 'what's going on'? How could she understand the repercussions of racism, hatred, and violence? Her poem explains why as it tells a story of her father, her neighbors, and her world:
What’s Going On?
When my father returned home from Afghanistan, he told me about dust the way it swallowed a country and caked on to the windows of his B-hut
He said that it was better that way so you could imagine yourself to be somewhere else
but not all of us have this luxury some of us cannot help but witness the war outside of our bedrooms not all of us can imagine ourselves anywhere other than Fruitvale station
because dark boys are taught to make heaven out of this unholy skin and forget the way that their grandmothers hold sorrow beneath their fingernails
and he said that it was better that way that you could imagine yourself to be somewhere else
and so did Fox News and CNN and the United States Congress they imagined themselves to be somewhere else somewhere where the gunshots are less loud less disruptive during the funeral of that last dark boy
they imagined themselves to be somewhere else somewhere where the difference between them mattered
they tried to turn the sirens into lullabies and sing us into forgetting that this country allows Zimmerman and Mehserle and Elliot to sound the same
where headlines like “Is Michael Brown the next Trayvon Martin?” remind us that there will always be another black boy to be the new face of your “progress”
where the Ferguson Police Department carry more gear than my father did in Afghanistan
and I imagined myself to be somewhere else somewhere where writing about this makes a difference because guilt is a burning city underneath my skin when I write poems about experiences that I have never had and knives that have never been dragged across my own flesh when the suburb I live in is made out of the ashes of this chaos and the best I can do is tweet about it
and still, my father asked me “What’s going on?”
because he spent too much time staring at the dirt-covered windows that we are calling the law
and I ask myself “What’s going on?”
because I am tired of watching men unhinge their jaws and swallow my sisters and I am tired of pretending like there was nothing I could do to stop them
the same way Marvin asked us “What’s going on?”
because he wore a bulletproof vest on tour as if it could become skin that looks less like a target
we cannot afford to live like this any longer we cannot walk with our heads bowed like master, like we haven’t ran fast enough from the time when people of color were considered property to march on
not all of us have this luxury of creating heaven out of tear gas some of us cannot help but fall victim to war not all of us can imagine ourselves anywhere else than in our own skin
and it is important for you to know that I should not have written this poem because the boys and girls in this poem are not me and I have seen their breath taken out of them so many times I do not want to make revolution out of the sons and daughters that we lost instead, I want to make revolution out of the sons and daughters that we still have left.
Here is a link to an article in the Center for Investigative Reporting where you can see the YouTube video of Caitlin's performance in Los Angeles.