You are not fifteen, or twelve, or seventeen—
You are a hundred wild centuries
And fifteen, bringing with you
In every breath and in every step
Everyone who has come before you,
All the yous that you have been,
The mothers of your mother,
The fathers of your father.
If someone in your family tree was trouble,
A hundred were not:
The bad do not win—not finally,
No matter how loud they are.
We simply would not be here
If that were so.
You are made, fundamentally, from the good.
With this knowledge, you never march alone.
You are the breaking news of the century.
You are the good who has come forward
Through it all, even if so many days
Feel otherwise. But think:
When you as a child learned to speak,
It’s not that you didn’t know words—
It’s that, from the centuries, you knew so many,
And it’s hard to choose the words that will be your own.
From those centuries we human beings bring with us
The simple solutions and songs,
The river bridges and star charts and song harmonies
All in service to a simple idea:
That we can make a house called tomorrow.
What we bring, finally, into the new day, every day,
Is ourselves. And that’s all we need
To start. That’s everything we require to keep going.
Look back only for as long as you must,
Then go forward into the history you will make.
Be good, then better. Write books. Cure disease.
Make us proud. Make yourself proud.
And those who came before you? When you hear thunder,
Hear it as their applause.
Copyright © 2018 by Alberto Ríos. Used with the permission of the author.
We sat Indian style, & sang our pledge
to Audubon, painted birds on every wall,
& heard mirage when our teachers said
mural. We stole soccer balls from French
exchange, spiked them on the walkway
& yelled touchdown. My friend, where
are you now? We tripped over tree roots
racing to the playground, walked the sea
of wood chips to the plastic ship’s eye
& wheel. We bartered Super Donuts for
extra cartons of chocolate milk, played
duck, duck, duck, duucck, duuuuccckkk
goose. We vamoosed around a sunken
circle of laughter. We were hedgehogs,
were road runners & sombrero mice.
We were bullets, the Flash & every Green
Lantern; the Black ones, the White ones,
the alien ones too.
Copyright © 2022 by Clemonce Heard. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 28, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
we all heard it,
cool and clear,
cutting across the hot grit of the day.
The major Voice.
The adult Voice
forgoing Rolling River,
forgoing tearful tale of bale and barge
and other symptoms of an old despond.
Warning, in music-words
devout and large,
that we are each other’s
we are each other’s
we are each other’s
magnitude and bond.
From The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks (Library of America, 2005). Copyright © 1970 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Reprinted By Consent of Brooks Permissions.