High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Kerri Stewart

 

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A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, these poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Creative Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

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Kerri Stewart is a 17-year-old senior poet in my Creative Writing class. She is the youngest child of six children. In her free time she likes to read scifi books, watch Netflix, and play sports. Stewart believes that playing sports keeps her busy and “helps keep students like me off the streets and out of trouble.” She spends her school breaks helping other people in service. She’s active in her school and larger community in order to encourage others to do the same. Stewart writes: “I don’t like hanging out with people that can hold me back from my dreams. I want friends that have the same aspirations as me, that fight for success.”

Stewart’s poem addresses many of the conditions of coming from a place riddled with indiscriminate violence. She describes survival in Cleveland as “you better be weaving,/
because people don’t care who they kill/ so we’re gonna be grieving.” Within this three part poem, she also imagines a different world, a “Peaceland,” where families have picnics outside and where “guns are silenced.”

I chose this poem because it is as much about thought and memory  as it it about action. Her rhyme is strong and heavy and mirrors the battle for hope: “believing that [living in Cleveland] is something to believe in.” This poem is about belonging somewhere complicated. A place that had a brighter past. As Stewart so aptly points out how initial inaction led to current circumstance and the danger of becoming “those,/ whose lives will be foreclosed,/ and the world would be froze.” I proudly present to you this brave new voice.

 

Living in Cleveland
by Kerri Stewart

Living in a place full of disgrace,
people put down for their race.
Heads down because they don’t want to show their face,
they decide to lay low, until they know it’s safe.
Living in Cleveland it’s never a safe place.

What happened to this place?
I took a vacation and came back to a fake state.
No shoes on kids’ feet, but their parents walking around in deep beef,
sitting in the backseat of the car, the kids eating something sweet
never knowing their life could be over in a heartbeat.

You see some people put their kids in daycare, but beware it’s rare.
They trust other people to watch their kids,
and then they are put on the police grid.
I have the memory of kids being able to play outside,
running and soaking up the sun,
dirtying new shoes and clothes.
Parents not caring about the material things,
because the kids are smiling and having a great time,
enjoying the nice hot summer breeze as they played tag,
then they stop to see a nice G wag ride past,
never knowing that there’s a gun and they’ll be bagged and tagged,
and it’s sad, because they weren’t even being bad,
but the society we lived in could never be fulfilled again.
The paramedics continuing to give CPR
but knowing he would never come back to life.
I could taste the salty tears of the mother
holding her son in her arms as he bleeds out and dies,
seeing the mother cry and saying bye bye,
will make you realize that living in Cleveland
you better be weavin,
because people don’t care who they kill
so we’re gonna be grieving.

I know they feel the defeat,
but they fall from their feet and repeat a prayer
as they look into the air and ask God to care,
because you’re living in Cleveland.

 

The Memory of living in Cleveland

Living in this place
running a relay with the human race.
Seeing the kids play like a paper chase,
the smile and the laughter,
everyone on the block who looks after.
The birthday parties and the gathers,
the decorations and the platters,
kids scattered.
Watching the puppet show theme
while eating cake and ice cream,
dirty faces and smiles as they gleam,
playing yard games, riding bikes and getting strikes.
The grass stains from the ballgame,
what a shame to call his name.

Seeing those who matter
everyone was so flattered.
Family and friends make amends
after hard times in the end,
they see the stems in their roots and call a truce,
then they give their kids apple juice.
The screams of joy as they play with their new toys,
even in the end with all the girls and the boys who annoyed,
they all enjoyed.

This is the past
we thought the world would grow
but it all went below.
Since some families will never let go
of the past, they end up on death row.
There will be no more puppet shows.
They will undergo the status quo,
and become those,
whose lives will be foreclosed,
and the world would be froze,
because you’re living in Cleveland.

 

The Thought of Living in the Peaceland

Living in Cleveland
the skies are blue and the grass is green.
There’s no one there to be mean
just like out of a movie scene.
There is no violence,
because guns were silenced.
Kids go to school,
there will be no fools,
making the society a stepping stool to a better life.

Husbands and wives
making sandwiches for the kids with butter knives.
At the park playing around,
listening to the sound of kids running on the ground.
The red-checkered blanket,
the brown basket,
tasting the jelly and butter,
all the things from the cabinet.
Kids screaming, dogs barking,
not thinking of bullets sparking.

Living in Cleveland
is not like living in the peaceland,
believing that this is something to believe in.
The future of Clevelanders
will be the builders, of a new familiar
because you are not living in Cleveland.

 

About Sarah Marcus

Sarah Marcus is the author of They Were Bears (2017, Sundress Publications), Nothing Good Ever Happens After Midnight (2016, GTK Press), and the chapbooks BACKCOUNTRY (2013) and Every Bird, To You (2013). Her other work can be found at NPR’s Prosody, The Huffington Post, McSweeney’s, Cimarron Review, Spork, The Establishment, Cosmopolitan.com, and Marie Claire.com SA, among others. She is an editor at Gazing Grain Press, a spirited VIDA: Women in Literary Arts volunteer, and the Series Editor for As It Ought To Be’s High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race. She holds an MFA in poetry from George Mason University and currently teaches and writes in Cleveland, OH. Find her at www.sarahannmarcus.com.
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