When You Feed A City Its People

Poem Transcribed As Performed.

To the class of 2018, the eagles flying towards the sun.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the story when you give a mouse a cookie. A small mouse with enough force to destroy a house and everything in it. I don’t think it was intended to be this dark. To convey a silent killer that sucks up all the possessions you’ve ever carried in your life. It reminds me of this city, of my school, what it is to be a Salinas kid, in a Salinas school, living in a Salinas house with Salinas siblings, and have Salinas teachers that don’t usually live in Salinas because Salinas can be a bad place to live. But, not all of us get to decide in Salinas. We don’t want to live here but sometimes Salinas chooses you. Salinas taught us how to close our mouths and walk faster. We think we can help Salinas if we ever come back but we don’t really want to come back to Salinas, do we? Because if we feed into Salinas won’t we just make it bigger?

Okay, it’s really not about the mouse. The mouse is just a pawn, a heartbeat connected to an even bigger organism. We don’t notice that this little girl is feeding a rat and probably many others and now her parents have to deal with rat infestation because their daughter keeps trying to be friends with rodents. As kids, we see the problem as small but now I see it as a crisis. Salinas has spitting kids like us out for generations. I’m not the first kid to write a poem. But I think I’m the first to talk about the real problem.

The problem of a small mouse, overcrowded by hundreds of things, and eating them with every bite but never full.

I found my copy of this book in the closet, the first couple of pages were ripped out and in black sharpie, my name was scribbled incorrectly. But on the back cover, my old home address was put in perfectly and the date on the cover said 2001.That is when I realized we are known more for our street address then our last name. We are survivors, no the children of survivors. The September 1st, 2001 survivors, the two planes, twin towers down survivors. On the mark of our first year alive, we became the beginning of a long stretch of red blue and white violence.

We were the children that came with ammunition already packed in our lunchboxes for the next war. Our first words were liberty and patriotism and we learned to draw pictures of a far away freedom. We were the kids left behind when the world shifted to find justice. As my ripped and beaten book cover suggests in 2001 we were named the children of tragedy. Wrapped in the arms of self-discovery, being anything but American suddenly became a discrimination. When the explosion sounded around the world we learned to breathe in silence like it was a tablespoon of cough syrup for the sickly.

Forgotten in the background noise, we fought to even touch something as soft as peace. A tornado of a city always overshadowed by another hurricane, Our school in the middle of a battleground but our pencils never wavered. We went to a high school named after a veteran and they expected us not to know how to fight. We read books not to mention the one about a mouse, played every game they had to offer and sucked up all the extracurriculars until they had to squeeze up more courses. They tried to keep us down with benchmarks and test scores. Standardized us until we could only know our street address and date of birth. Moved us away until the world we lived in became an entirely different place.

The outside world consisted of surviving off wic and a strong stomach. The line for welfare was always longer than the line to pick up schedules for college. And they wonder why most girls that end up pregnant in high school find it easier to find a man with an income than a high school diploma.We learned to choke down our hopes and dreams while Scribbling down whatever came up on a google PowerPoint. Used to doing whatever we were told without questioning the curriculum. This school system taught us to wipe our tears with worksheets and stifle our cries with thick bound textbooks. We learned to save our voices for better use and ask permission before we talked. Pat ourselves on the back because adults would never do it for us.This school taught us to keep our mouths shut. The only time we spoke was for attendance and school spirit.

But when justice seemed to shift into yet another murder it was like something shifted inside all of us. When the nation elected a man with six figures and no filter, we cried.When people died in the streets, when women were forced on their knees, when babies were ripped from mother’s arms, we yelled. When they said we would die tomorrow, we shouted.When they said we would be trapped here forever, we screamed.When they took our brothers and sister and friends we screamed until the earth shattered. We broke away, we held marches and protests and let our hollow throats create some noise. Our lips becoming a revolution. We learned how to play the system until we won. It wasn’t about being an AP kid or an honor student or even the loudest person in the room. It was about the blood. Knowing what you were willing to spill for a cause. But, we only seemed to let our voices be heard when bad things happened. More than a decade stuck in this system we kept our true feelings undercover, waited till we got to our broken homes to cry.

The only way to escape it is to do what it wants. The only way to make a monster move is if you feed it. If you give a mouse a cookie he will eventually want more. So we stay in line, we memorize the codes they etch in our skin, we remember the requirements. Let our opinions simmer under the surface while remembering to say please or sorry after every sentence that left our lips. We became so good at being soldiers we forgot we were kids. They forgot we were kids. That some of us still are. They forgot that we are not just survivors, or students, or fighters. We are kids. Ones who had to grow up fast to survive in a burning city. And we wonder why we can’t stop feeding into it even when it crumbles beneath our feet. Because it was never about the mouse but about the city and the dark towers it built in its shadow.

I hope we go into the world and raise our voices, stomp our feet until we get we want. Don’t be another worker on an assembly line, no matter how much it pays. We are all big fish in a small pond so let’s make it bigger and better. Let us not leave behind the kids that didn’t get straight A’s or into the best universities. We cannot let this city or this school decide our rank. We cannot keep feeding this mouse with unaccomplished dreams in hopes it will never get hungry again. Sacrificing ourselves in hopes that maybe one day our kids will escape. You do not need another mouse, or another tragedy or another war, or another school to raise your voice.

When you finally exit this battlefield, I hope you scream.

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