These poems were all written by seventh and eighth grade students in a writing program at Brighton Park Elementary School, a neighborhood school on the Southwest Side. They were compiled for publication by Xian Franzinger Barrett, a teacher at BPES who led his students in non-traditional writing classes that focused on expressions of trauma, identity, and community. This portfolio is arranged in alphabetical order by author and will be updated throughout the summer.
My name is Xian Franzinger Barrett and I teach the discipline of beautiful troublemaking and healing through student writing and voice to seventh and eighth graders at Brighton Park Elementary school on the Southwest side of the city. It’s the best job in the world. Middle schoolers can be some of the angriest human beings in the universe, but when they are a rmed and supported to turn that power toward justice, what results is earth-shattering.
It’s been a hard summer. We are expecting a beautiful tiny activist to join our family in October. Thanks to our city and state leadership’s corruption and oppressive governance, it appears that my position will be cut and this program that the students and I have built together will be dismantled (for the third time in six years).
I often tell my students,“Read everything you can and cultivate your voice as if our lives depend on it.”
Our lives do depend on it.
They will keep killing folks in our communities until we take the power away from them, forever.
So these students write. And I believe their writing, our love, our struggle will save the world.
As you lovingly read their work, I suspect that you will come to believe the same.
Dayana Cetneno, 8th Grade
Poem 1: (no title)
Curfews call for the youth at brink of extinction—
Streets vacant, a drunk man howls a song or desire, sorrow and regret,
filling the sober streets with echoes of melancholy jibberish.
Lights flashing and blinking, damaging my eyesight as no one turns their heads.
Fragile things we are,
prone to what night terrors could produce
so we look away without second thought.
The stench of wood offends my nostrils, strikes at my brain.
I head out after the signal is omitted
I exit out the door and leave behind a day’s worth of tedium—
at the restaurant.
A clock makes a swift notion,
11 at night and I still do worry, what entities lurk at night.
11 o’clock and I keep silent because god forbid I get jumped.
God forbid I run into fate and tragedy, holding hands at the corner
So I fear
A dry spring morning,
And bad humor
I walk to school,
Tardy slips I turn to shreds,
And mourn over a restless night
Full of worry
Guilt overcomes my confidence
A victor in my constant battle
So I fear
Time is a treadmill,
I stumble upon it
Last night’s homework
Last week’s homework
Graphite marks go untouched and
I live with a burden that will hold me down
Like a psychic before their own demise
Before the loss of a soul
I fear the end of the street I walk on.
So I fear.
Cynthia Gomez, 7th Grade
- Testing Perspective
As words travel the classroom,
filling the minds of students,
Their thoughts step beyond the boundaries,
Hands raising as an opportunity welcomes them.
“I’m going to opt out of PARCC.” I hear one say.
We’re introduced to a new perspective that same day,
as another voice is shot towards us.
Suddenly, it’s not difficult to see that some of us feel a pang of regret.
I hear that same person say,
“I’m not sure if I’m going to opt out of PARCC.”
Voices of disagreement are forced on each other,
Opinions demolishing others.
I then knew that there had been lots of commotion –
Maybe even too much, when I finally hear:
“I am not going to opt out of PARCC.”
2. The Pressures of Art
It gradually became more difficult throughout the years,
To express myself through art.
It becomes overwhelming because of my peers,
As judgments tend to make me fall apart.
The pencil breaks and hesitation starts,
As pens make an unwanted mark.
Eyes hover that lingering mistake,
And I feel my eyebrows arc.
It seems impossible to like my own art,
Because I always want perfection.
Though everyone knows that will never exist,
And I have to face life’s rejection.
Today we are here for a very important reason.
We need to save our schools. Our neighborhood schools give us the chance to be someone who can contribute to our community.
This school year, schools on the Southwest side are losing millions of dollars!
Last February, CPS reduced per pupil spending from 4 4,390 to 4,176.
This year, CPS is only giving schools 4,086 per student.
This is not enough!
Claypool and Emanuel say that their cuts “are not hurting students or classrooms”
But thanks to our Local LSC members, we know the true impact of the cuts.
We know that Burroughs Elementary is losing $400,000 dollars
We know that Davis is losing several teachers.
We know that Columbia Explorers is losing 1 million
And my school, Brighton Park Elementary is losing 500,000 dollars
Think of your favorite teacher, your favorite class – why is it important, what effect have they had on your life?
If we allow these cuts to happen, that teacher will be taken away. That class will be gone. Is that Right?
Students may not be taught at grade level because the school can’t afford enough teachers.
Sports will be cut. Music will be cut. Arts will be cut. Is that Right?
But Staying united gains our power.
Solidarity is the key to hope.
We aren’t here just to talk about what we don’t have. We are here to talk about what we can have if we are willing to fight for what we deserve.
We deserve teachers who don’t have to worry about losing their job. We deserve to love to come to school to learn and be supported as individuals.
We need to speak up. We need to write. We need to know our rights.
We need to demand respect. We need to fight. We shouldn’t have to be white to get human rights.
We need to start with $5,000 for every student next year!
This would mean 400 million dollars in new funding for our schools.
I believe that this is possible.
I want to finish with a chant. Please Repeat after me
I Believe that we
I Believe that we will win!
Aaliyah Medina, 8th Grade
I remember when I was small…
I loved life man, thought I had it all.
Mom was happy, dad was great,
Wish I valued those days more but
Now it’s too late.
I turnt 6 maybe, when everything fell apart
Parents got divorced,
And it breaks my heart.
“You’re just like your dad” …
That itself didn’t offend me but,
The comparison made me mad
I mean, he would help me when I was down, and he was always pretty happy.
But everybody has their downsides and his was a bit crappy.
An abusive alcoholic
Less mentally and more physically
So we went our separate ways
I got more depressed, but I thought it was just a phase
hormones, you know.
That it would only last a couple days.
I’ll get over it, I don’t need him
But everything was going wrong
As usual but worse
And all my mom could have said was
Didn’t help me much
But one year later and I’m still here
I needed something to help me,
brother said the high wont let me shed a tear
So, why not
it worked, I won’t even deny
Can’t even remember the last time I would have needed to cry.
It numbed the pain
To leave the house, go to sets and drink champagne
Vodka, weed, acid and pills
bloodstains, broken hearts that pours and spills.
To Fight for Family
I grew up without a father, meaning my mother raised me and my siblings,
we all went to Brighton Park considering that I live literally right in front of
Some of the teachers that taught my brother who is now twenty-one are still at Brighton to this day.
I consider Brighton Park my second home, and everyone there is my family, even if we do disagree with things.
I am who I am today because of the people there,
Mr. Dollear, my pre-K teacher taught me that sometimes the best medicine for a bad day with a horrible joke and a smile.
Ms. Zupansic, my fifth grade teacher taught me to keep trying no matter how many times you fail.
Mr. Vazquez, my sixth, seventh, and one of my eighth grade teachers now, showed me that the corruption in this world can be fought against if we join together.
And Mr. Barrett, my seventh and now eighth grade teacher gave me the chance to fight for what I believe in.
All of these amazing and brilliant people have changed my life in so many ways and I’m sure that statement can be said for all of you here about your teachers.And now, our schools, our second home, will lose some of it’s family members because of the greed in this world.
It’s up to us to fight for what we deserve and believe in. I stand here to ask you, as a fellow student and human being, to stand together and fight back,
to keep all these amazing people in our family.
Not only for ourselves, but for everyone that will be affected by this cut. Remember, no obstacle is too big to overcome.
Peter Rokowski, 8th Grade
A Day Too
Going back outside,
Getting my bike
Making sure everything is intact
Going for a cruise
Hearing the clicks on my bike chain
After a while
I made it to the park
As I arrive
People stare at me
They look into my soul
But then, I hear screaming
Gangbangers come running around the corner
Yelling and screaming
Throwing up signs
I am going as fast as I can go
The yelling stops
I want to turn around
But I don’t want to stop
After the crazy chase
I made it home
I hurry to my bedroom
Close the door
And lie on my bed
Thinking of what would have happened
All these questions
I stand up
Open my door
Look out the window
I see nothing
I went back to check on my bike
I pick it up
I noticed a scratch
I go to spray paint over it
But I doublethink about it
So I grab some sand papers
I sand down my bike to chrome
I respray it
Trying to forget my day.
Karina Ruiz, 8th Grade
1. Past Tense
I used to live in a house on a corner
And look outside the windows
I used to ride my bike in the spring
And scrape my knees
I used to like the holidays
And build snowmen in the winter
I used to laugh and play
And like the things that stayed
I used to like the yellow hummer down the street
And look amazed at the way the engine growled
I used to like pink and wear a daffodil dress
And look twice at the boys who wore ties
But now that everything’s changed
I no longer think nor function that way
I no longer live in the house on the corner of that street
So I can’t look out the windows
It’s no longer safe to ride my bike in the spring
But at least now I can’t scrape my knees
And it seems like the holidays have lost their meanings
So it no longer feels right to build snowmen in the winter
I don’t laugh and play
And no longer like things that stay
That yellow hummer no longer passes by
And the engine now collects dust
I don’t wear pink and that daffodil dress is a mere memory
Nor do I look twice at the boys who wear ties
Now I live in the middle of a not so nice street
In a house that’s not mine and a street that does not matter
There are no windows and the smoke outside clogs my lungs
Bikes no longer interest me neither does the spring or scraping my knees
As the years go on the things I get for the holidays don’t come close to the feeling
Of the cold on my cheeks and the laughter that accompanied the three large balls of snow
It’s been long since I’ve felt happy which makes it impossible to laugh or play
Nothing seems to stay so I’ve come to terms with things that go away
I don’t know what has become of that yellow hummer
But I hope some day to see that engine roar to life again
I wear the color of sorrow and pain and regret and everything unhappy
And boys who wear ties always seem to be the type to play with me
So I’ll stay away from them and everyone
So hopefully someday I can be that little girl with the daffodil dress again
The windows are chiseled
Our fog is blue
The house is set in a state of gloom
An eerie silence creeps in the room
We’re sat in a small group
But after the wave of nausea
Comes the rainbows and the clouds of oblivion
To stay relevant in a world of mischief is all I really wanted
“Things can’t always be the way you want them”,they shriek
I say “fine”
That’s when fog turns to smoke
And blue turns to grey
For a moment I can accept the sin
Accept what I’ve done
Instead of admitting that I have issues
Admit that I like the feeling of nothing
That I’m not okay at all
But nobody seems too hear
The people around me fade away
I take a final blow and toss it
Getting out of the chair I begin walking through the empty halls
I stumble to the door and outside
Onto the lawn
On the ground I feel the dry blades of green between my fingers
Laying on my back staring at the stars
I Replay everything in my head and don’t know how to feel
There’s nobody to hold me
Nobody to chase after me
Nobody to worry about me
I’d do it all over again
Just to feel nothing
3. K i s s
Your punch felt like a kiss
I can leave but have yet to come to wit
A stab in the back
A kick in the rib
“I can fix you”, she says
I can help
No matter the pain I will be here
But darling can’t you see
He doesn’t care about you
Not as much as you do at least
You can’t keep believing these lies
It’s manipulation I cry
You don’t need him
He’ll put you in a casket next time
How many sorry’s will you hear this time
Not one is true
Not one ‘I forgive you’ will heal this beast
A kick to the teeth
You hurt too much
Get too little
Soon I’ll be on pills to keep me looney
The world will be full of smileys and I’ll fall down a rabbit hole to wonderland
I’ll meet the Cheshire Cat and I’ll paint the queen of hearts’ roses black
Soon I’ll jump off a window sill
I’ll meet Wendy and Peter and away we’ll fly to Neverland
I’ll disappear and keep my stolen kiss
I’ll adventure out with the lost boys and Tinker will accompany me
Soon I’ll run into the woods and meet Snow White
I’ll bite a poisoned apple and the dwarfs won’t find a prince to wake me
The mirror on the wall will shatter and I will be the fairest of them all
Soon I’ll have my finger pricked by a blade which will lead down to my vein
I’ll be in a deep sleep
And when they finally find a prince brave enough to fight the dragon it’ll be too late
The kingdom will fall into despair and the three fairy godmothers will wither
Soon I’ll drown in the sea and swim amongst Ariel’s dead body
Because there is no happy ending
The Grimm reality is the prince fell in love with another woman
And Ariel was sentenced to an afterlife of pain and misery for using sorcery
Jerson Valenzuela, 8th Grade
The Dragon Slayers
Dragons take over Chicago, burn down hundred of civilians houses. “Saturday night around 8:00 pm and I walk outside, I looked to the left and I see so much smoke coming from a couple blocks down. They had destroyed Cabrini Green”—said a Chicago citizen. (ID is being kept private to protect the innocent. Dragons do not like the voices of the innocent.) The damage the city is taking is outrageous, the dragons will address this at press conference today.
At the press conference, the Dragons said they tore down houses to build “better” ones. They said they only close schools because there was not enough money. But in reality they’re the ones who steal the money. The Major Dragon said he just wants to work with the city and make it great again, but he’s the one destroying the city.
Dragons killed 17 year old Laquan McDonald by shooting him 16 times and covered it up for a year! But then we fought back together as a city and we got a few dragons captured or banished. But more come back in their place. Another Dragon steals money from Chicago Public School and uses it for other companies. We pushed! We protested! And now she’s gone!! But that’s not it. The Major Dragon covers up killings and then pretends to care about what we feel!!
Our Community of Color has faced and feared this for too long and now the day has come for us to be Dragon Slayers. Why don’t we take them down? Because dragons only attack when no one is looking. But we are learning to see. We’re learning to smell their stench. We NEED an action now!!!! We are uniting to take these dragons out. We don’t want more of us losing shelter. We need our schools. We will protest and we will fight in a non-violent way until we get what we want.
We must raise a shout, “The Major Dragon must go along with all of his companions!! We are losing freedom! We are losing power! We are losing our city! Demands must be made! The Major Dragon and his companions must go! Our schools must get back all the money that they stole! Our whole city of Chicago should be blanketed with the feel of freedom. We have power and we will we have our City back!”
Are you a Dragon Slayer?