REBELS WITHOUT APPLAUSE

Every Monday I teach poetry to teens on probation.

My classroom has a security officer and half the kids are on house arrest

wearing a two way sensor wrap around anklet

that tracks every one of their bounty hunted breaths.

This is no T.V movie where I stand and deliver until they lean on me for literacy,

this is a court ordered continuation school

where they call me a faggot cocksucker to my face.

These are the kids that would stab you in the neck with their pens

These are the throwaways, the statistics, the rebels without applause

and I’m supposed to teach them how to write

when they can’t formulate a sentence past 25 to life.

On the first day I introduce myself by performing a short set

and the principal wants me to tell the class how poetry has made me a success

when I’m just another crash test dummy looking past a life of wrecks

calling his skid-marks Art,

but now my scars are my credentials,

my suicide attempts are inspirational, I’m fresh out from the gutter

and they still let me in this school without a background check.

The principal opens the floor for question time

and there’s this 15 year old kid with facial tics three rows back,

he’s real life offspring of the boasts of gangsta raps

who used his umbilical cord to take the first hit of crack.

and at 15 he’s still struggling with the ABC’s

and you’d swear he was a freestyle M.C

how he pretends to write down what he can’t read.

He sizes me up with a scowl bigger than his bicep and says,

“So Mr. poet, is this one of em deals how you come in here

and tell us were supposed to be snowflakes?

‘Words are weapons’ when I got tools that could blast you the fuck up?

You ain’t living my life, a’ight,

and there ain’t a damn thing you can do to get me to write”

They don’t pay me enough to lie and he’s got a good sharpened point.

how am I gonna make a difference to the indifferent

when I can read his face like carved bathroom graffiti

talking feces acting like we ain’t the same species,

when I went from an honor roll student to an homeless speed freak in a year flat,

my life up til now is a shadow in the spotlight that fades to black.

So I shoot back with a:

I ain’t no one to try to scare you straight

when I know you gotta find out like the rest of us

that you can free fall forever, looking for a bottom to scrape.

 

But the truth is: You have the future in your fingerprints

but you refuse to uncurl your fist.

kept in an continuation school stockade where teachers are paid with pink slips

fighting over the last stick of chalk while the students father figures

are drawn on the street in white outlines by cops.

You can add up all these teachers compassion multiplied by the kids apathy

subtracted by every budget in the state equals less than zeros of dead weight

The parents are still divided and wide awake about the next school shooting

while freshman shoot tar heroin point blank

and teachers can’t pass out condoms to girls who’ve already been raped.

 

Most of these kids are illiterate

otherwise they could read all of this in my face.

 

Listen, I’m not here to sugarcoat bullets.

I’m no victory,

but I’m here to tell you,

you have a story

and no one’s gonna listen

until you learn how to tell it,

so don’t bother saving your breath,

cuz this world will only give you a penny for your thoughts

but you’d rather cash it in impersonating 50 Cent

And despite what your counselors tell you,

this world doesn’t give a fuck if you survive

and when you get on the 9-5 grind, creativity is the first thing to die.

from the pen to the penitentiary,

you’re going to pick your path or pick your poison,

but don’t get it twisted homie, cuz I ain’t here to spoonfeed you help

I’m here to listen

Because the next generation

can speak

for itself.