Community Poem: Jamaica 2009

By: TJ Burgin, Sonya Burton, Krista Davis, Lara Donnelly, Niloufar Ehsani, Kathleen Filkins, Jennifer Fitch, Nina Flores, Julie Gray, Delana Hill, Caitlin LeMay, Patrick Mooser, Erin Rasp, Sandra Reid, S. Bryan Reinholdt, Adam Renner, Jessica Sprowl, Laura Stamm, Gina Stiens, Allison Stovall

Our group this year used a collection of poetry to guide our reflection time.  These poems provided a jumping off point to discuss various social issues that directly or indirectly related to our time in Jamaica: things we witnessed, ways these issues transcended geographical borders, and our role in impacting change. As this collection of poetry was a core part of our group and individual reflection time, it seemed appropriate that we complete a “community poem” on our last evening in Jamaica as our closing group reflection.  The community poem was written two lines at a time, passing our papers from person to person. Based on the previous line, we added two additional lines, and so on.  When the stanzas were complete, we read what our starting two lines blossomed into as a result of the community contributing to its growth.  Once compiled, this resulted in a poem 19 stanzas long, perfect in its imperfection.  It speaks to growth, new connections, isolation, community, conflict, confusion, search for self, frustration, love, struggle, innocence, exploitation, hypocrisy, search for (a) truth, forgetting, remembering, beauty, questioning, choice, dignity, poverty, greed, humanity, and hope.  It displays a wonderful connection of individual human stories to complex systemic injustices, historically perpetuated.  Our poem provides an honest example of the barriers that prevent us from recognizing and/or acting for the sake of humanity.  It also challenges us to reflect on who we are and pushes us to recognize that our liberation is incomplete when others remain oppressed.  These words are, however, meaningless if they stop at the bottom of the page, if the impact goes no further, if no action follows. The next two lines of the entire poem, we suppose, represent our future actions in the world.

The place....Jamaica
Brothers/Sisters/Friends
We are one in the same
So how can I work with you?
I over come challenges
to make you my friend
I am here with you now
but tomorrow an ocean will separate us
And something much deeper will connect us
something unfamiliar
Emotions run ramped in my body
Am I just overwhelmed or am I more confused about what I am seeing and feeling
it is easy to be overwhelmed when faced with something new
It's not always easy to put on a brave face and appear unaffected.
So much of this world can be overwhelming
How then do we learn to deal with the struggle as we move forward?

Education for liberation or domination?
This is what will decide our future
Who will be a part of that journey?
When the time comes for us, we will know it is right
or will we know
I wish everyone would know when the time comes
You could save a life today
or, is it too late?
A complete intellectual revolution is impossible
is it not? God has muddied us.
This can be beautiful or challenging or both
The task is to see humanity in the face of the "other"
Are we too selfish to recognize or see the other?
or, is the world already blind?

Right now I am by the pool side
I am wondering about those kids at West Haven.
Twisted bodies, beautiful souls -
A piece of heaven in each smile.
They are so genuine and innocent,
Have we created a hell for them in this world?
A hell many of us can choose to ignore,
Challenge this reality to create a space for hope.
For all to prosper and thrive
In a world which does not easily comply.
Maybe we need to go on a humanity hunt,
Can we go around the system?  Over it?  It seems most times
The best solution is to fight through it.
A war with society, and a war with myself
No end in sight.

Smiles, hugs and welcoming eyes
Traveled from city to countryside wide
In search of some sort of meaning
Attempting to unravel reality.
I struggle on this path
To determine what is true and false.
Can we really know what is true and false?
We can only imagine.  Things.
The child who goes to bed hungry;
The mother who lovingly abandons her child;
A father who gently beats his son
To teach him the cruelty of the world,
While holding on to a light of hope,
A possibility, a struggle, a life.

I am a positive person, surrounded by negativity, and it's hard not to get bogged down.
I still feel like I don't belong
Regardless of how hard I try
I'm not sure I'm able to be this strong.
I don't know what to do, how to act.
I don't know what they want.  I cannot communicate with them.
But I know their needs, wishes, and fears are closer than
I thought.
We are human
I am them; and they are me.
Together, that makes "we"
But is that really what it means to be in community?
To have people around you just to say hello.
Are you going to miss Jamaica or the People?

What is community?
Who is the WE when describing it?
we are Jamaicans who like to use those words
what next would we do
do we choose the road less taken
or move over and forget
I say I am moved to action - LIAR!
Chances are I will still shop at Wal-Mart
Damn this desire or necessity or reality
what will it take to fight the things that seem larger than life
or will it take life itself
to make this dream come true?
will the truth ever come to be?
the only way to know is to keep fighting

Their eyes light up when they see me.
I smile back because I know I've just made their day.
And they return to me a
childhood day...
Where the innocence once assumed
was washed away by a tear streaming down a face.
That which I couldn't recognize
However, somehow our souls were attached.
I wonder who that someone might be?
Are you happy right now?
Happiness comes from a life lived for others.
What will you do?
Will you dull your senses knowing what you know?
Or will you be outraged and join the conversation?

I see a dark cloud looming over the sunset.
I wonder what troubles are brought in with the beauty?
The sun, the bay, the sand, the sea
But I struggle to see the beauty on an exploited city street.
Some claim "the people need a purpose,"
but their purpose is clearly to serve the system.
Systems are made and broken.
Ours is the choice.
It falls on us.
We choose
whether we will remember or forget,
and forgetting would be so much easier to do.
Tomorrow I must choose to take a stand.
The first step is joining my brothers' and sisters' hands.

When I look into your eyes
I see the perils of a nation written on your face
Masked by your blind patriotism
And there is a weathered look about you which forces me to question
Where have you been?
What have you been through?
I search for your story within your eyes
But only catch minor glimpses of truth
Why don’t most people take the time to see
When oppression and dehumanization seem to be right
In front of us?
Why do we sometimes choose to turn our backs?
Turn around, stand straight, chest out.
Fight for all that is right.

From this chair I can see the ocean,
but what is seen in its reflection?
how do people know that it’s really there?
when will the world accept this image? What will be done?
its hard to believe the world will accept the image it has created.
I need to know that this world can be a better place.
it’s so incredibly easy to lose hope each day,
but I know that fighting for humanity will set us all free.
the smiles and the laughter and the tears
they are no less human than the rest of us.
and we each inherently are of value.
each imbued with the dignity of our humanity,
each marked with the hope of possibility.

The challenge is the next step
Where do we go from here?
I’m going to pack up these memories
And take them back to the US
Memories held close
Ideas and thoughts flooding my mind
With no answer, only more questions:
Is the grass really greener on the other side?
Or should we instead fight to tear down the fence?
We fight change because we’ve been told to fear it
But does fighting change really help us or does it keep us pacified?
Change doesn’t happen, so what is there to fear?
Revolution does, so why are you afraid?
Change has to be accepted
Only we can bring change!

When the uprising of the oppressed occurs,
How will I describe who I am?
I am not a writer or a poet, neither a spaceman nor a cowboy.
But I am a compassionate, loving, humble being.
Surrounded by a family of multi-
hued friends.
I finally recognize my place in the world
And it wasn't where I thought it was
But I know if I search long and hard enough
I can find it wherever it is hiding
Do you think so or maybe you are guessing?
If someone hides something, where would you look?
In the poverty that's hidden
Or the greed that is not?

A question begs,
Who am I?
And more importantly, why must this internal conflict occur?
I examine, I digest my surroundings for guidance, But then what?
Stumbling, tripping over ignorant, chaotic word,
I must believe that I will catch myself before I fall
And if falling is inevitable, can I pick my neighbor and myself back up?
I've come to see my role in this world is more involved than I once believed.
Everything I do and every choice I make
affects the world in a positive or negative way.
This is my decision, my contribution to the world
Why not live purposefully?
As we focus on today,
improving tomorrow.

Who am I??  Who is "me"?
Where do I fit in?
Fitting in is more about being true to yourself.
Sometimes, its okay to stand out, as opposed to fitting in.
I've tried my whole life to fit the status quo,
but what happens when you aren't sure of who you really are?
I try to find myself.  My friends can't answer this for me.
I look deep inside myself for the thing that makes me whole.
And I find my wholeness in the present moment,
In the sacred face of a child,
In the sacred space of history,
for which I am the turning point.
In this process,
to enlightenment.

Race may be a man-made construction, but I am neither white
nor black, trying to be different and the same,
a challenge to fit in
without sacrificing a piece of yourself.
And in doing so, remember those who inspired us,
Mrs. Kaye, Monique, Frankie, Sondra, and others.
Forever here yet still there,
but nonetheless shaping me into something different,
like clouds on the horizon,
shifting constantly and becoming no more defined than before.
Make our own definition, decide for ourselves.
This constant struggle for change will
exhaust our bodies, but our minds and souls will soar united.
Change is the baby's first step.
Going further into the world of the oppressed enables us to walk again--Upright--
arms embraced--hunger pains--optimistic smiles--Authentic lives.

ready to leave, not ready to go home
a bittersweet farewell
saying goodbye to a family of three days
hope for better
better hope?
does hope lead to false ideals easy explanations, or worse complacency with crumbs?
or does it give us something to strive for?
something we can accomplish together
to create a more humane existence
for every human being
i must stand
screaming at the top of my lungs
a sound that most will hear as silence
but a select few will understand.

when our hearts are left in the hills of Jamaica,
what is the next step? Do we fly home and forget?
questions without answers found in books of the wise
but rather quest to be endured
and taken with friends
friends remembered forever
for their love, their smiles,
their pain and their tears
fall heavy on my heart.
a bittersweet experience
and one that will not be forgotten, no matter how much distance is placed
this will adhere itself to my memory
I will use it for reference in my life ahead
never forgetting, always remembering the changes it made in me.

Friends from the cricket field
Friends I’ll never forget
They give me so much to remember
I leave them with so much to forget
Tomorrow I will return to my palace on the hill
What will I choose to hold on to?
And what will plant itself inside of me
Growing through the cracks, helping me to form words
Rising above and beyond the point I destined for myself
I begin to realize that I am me, I am smart and I am strong
Embracing who I am gives me the strength to stand up for what I believe
Standing up can be the first step towards action
I am a witness to the oppression you live
and I want to be one with you

Tears fall from my eyes
Into empty arms.
Children the world has forgotten,
Children of lesser means with greater hearts.
Hearts and souls that will take you by surprise,
Losing yourself in their eyes.
The souls who crave love
And want nothing more than a purpose in life.
The question then becomes "What is life?"
Is life all about a career or is it lying in the same bed day after day?
Or maybe life is about defining ourselves instead of being defined by our careers or beds.
A journey never completed, leaving me not quite satisfied - not quite myself.
But through this changing of myself I find a completion I cannot live without,
And because of this I continue the struggle giving all of myself, because I have nothing else I could be used for.