mornings you sing of rebellion,
of tyranny rejected, of bloodied beaches,
the shared legacy of students
taught on liberated ground, I suppose:
But our bombs burst in air
leaving no minefields cordoned off
a mile from our classrooms.
No man on our streets
dragging stumps eroded
by the slow scrape of sand.
No children lighting on him
like egrets or vultures.
In the mornings you sing of rebellion
and in the afternoon still:
a chameleon melody
terrifying to your teachers.
Your modulations fling themselves
at sturdy things: a wall, the ground,
anything that will bloody them,
give them the bruises
born by all respectable ideas.
But you’ve heard the wrong songs,
memorized the wrong lines,
the lines that say there are villains.
Who can blame you for trying to find them?
In the mornings you sing of rebellion.
Your anger is understandable;
we conspired to fool you,
we, the writers of songs,
of textbooks and screenplays.
We gave you our words, our weapons
against the cacophony, and now
when you sing our false harmonies
the notes crack
in the teeth of your frustrations.
Your words will come.
Soon, I imagine, since you fight
constantly, barely conscious
that you are not quiet
when others are,
that the long crescendo of a scream
riffing above your peers’ silence
against hunger and inequity
against the small future
allotted to you
is your voice
Alice Pettway is currently teaching with
the Peace Corps in rural Mozambique. Her work has appeared in various
journals including The Connecticut Review, Keyhole, The Bitter Oleander, Crab Creek
Review, Lullwater Review, The Mid-America Poetry Review,
Plainspoke, Women’s Voices for Change and others. Alice’s
chapbook, Barbed Wire and Bedclothes, was published by Spire Press,
Inc. (New York) in summer 2009, and she is a former Lily Peter fellow,
Raymond L. Barnes Poetry Award winner, and two-time Pushcart Prize
girls who have found their way into my 12th grade classroom are the
lucky minority, and even these girls have little hope of attending
university. But against all odds, they continue to care. It is their
will to succeed that will ultimately bring Mozambique into its own.
This poem is a tribute to them.