Note: Walt Whitman wrote “I Hear America Singing” in the mid-19th century as an anthem of American and democratic vitality expressed through the labor and ingenuity of its common people. The following poem is my response to Whitman’s celebration and represents the experiences of the common people in early 21st century America. I am thankful for the people who have given their lives for our us and for being a citizen of our country, I think we need to do better by our most vulnerable citizens.
Teachers Hear America Crying
By Michelle Waters
We grew up hearing America singing,
The songs of manual laborers in a Whitman poem,
The songs of champions venerating American exceptionalism.
But today, teachers hear America crying.
The girl whose mom threw her down the stairs and now she struggles to learn,
Yet the legislators tilt at gun-shaped poptart windmills,
While teachers call an underfunded DHS to no avail.
The abandoned boy who went home for Christmas and died on the basketball court,
Yet legislators deny Medicaid and shift funds that close rural hospitals,
While teachers try to be mom, dad, nurse, counselor.
The girl who goes home from school to an empty house — no family, no food,
Yet our leaders throw their legislative bodies in front of bathrooms,
While our teachers spend their own money on groceries for hungry students.
The “A” student who went home on Friday evening and shot someone for no reason,
Yet legislators drain money from social supports in favor of credits for overfed oil companies,
While teachers struggle to help students edify each other in Socratic circles.
The boy who worries each evening that his working parents will be deported while he’s at school,
Yet our political leaders talk about building walls,
While teachers are reassuring our kids and building a positive learning environment.
The girl who shows up every day with no pencil, no paper, and no care,
Yet our legislators unload resources from our schools, down to the paper clips,
While teachers spend even more of our meager paychecks to make up the difference.
Where do you fall?
Who are you?
A casualty, a problem, or the solution?