We’re tangled in a month of state testing
like insects trapped in the president’s spider web.
As we take it, we feel like bad people,
like birds without wings nor bones,
like snails without shells
whose hearts have been stepped on.
But then we tell ourselves, our second grade progress is excellent;
besides, we’re stupendous poets,
and, as César Chávez says, ¡Sí se puede!
But then we look around
and see a classmate about to drown
in a sea of tears
because she doesn’t know the language well enough
and we can’t throw her a life jacket.
¡No se puede!
No we can’t!
Like a month of dark, endless rain,
the test is long and boring;
We’re not learning a thing.
Kids in private schools don’t have these exams
as though they were royalty
and we, the indigenous.
But then we remember
that Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.
also suffered seeing their people mistreated,
separated from the rest in unequal schools
and that Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
was tormented by not being allowed into college.
And we remember that because of their struggles
our lives are better today.
Well, we too can fight to improve the lives of others
this little poem.
* Some of the Spanish vocabulary learned by these students, such as indigenas in a unit on the conquest of the Americas, translates into sophisticated English. I’ve opted to simplify some literal translations to convey the true level of the students. For example the Spanish word, interminable, has been changed to “unending,” instead of “interminable.” (The students often employ the word terminar—to finish.) Nonetheless, studying poetry, conducting Internet and literary research, and engaging in critical thinking all year did produce some astonishing writers in the class. Many went on to publish their own poems in Street Spirit newspaper and won awards from Cody’s Books.