From United States: Lesson Learned in Chicago & Gang girl, two poems by Yolanda Nieves

Lesson Learned in Chicago 

You strut in with gang signs in your eyes,
I arrive with books under my arms.
You have lived on the streets where
the cry of your mother has become broken glass,
your stepfather's belt buckle a scar on the edge of your eye,
his fist a split bone in your nose.

We sit in a room
until we find a story we can share,
a short one for a short time.
It keeps you from gazing out the window,
from becoming a cloud. 

My hope hangs on the edge of a cliff.
All day I hope; trying to give you new things to consider.
You, in turn, have given me the dark dreams,
of death spilling red under my feet,
of trouble flashing in the corner of my eye.
I study your eyes-they become birds
detached from my words

Across the street young boys
rise up and explode.
What is a book to them if they cannot read
their own stories or utter their own names?

I cannot make you copy the problems
on the board; you have too many of your own
What happened last fight- 
the body shot down next to you,
cops pulling back your neck
thrusting their stick in your ribs
until you screamed 
These are the subjects that worry you
a book will not help now.

I do not know how your story flew away
and became a small thing under us.
I want to remember your eyes;
they have wings.
I keep your desk by the window
a pencil and some paper ready for you.


Gang Girl

For a dead girl of fourteen
her hair could not be more beautiful
her lips and nostrils seem to quiver
but her cheeks are flat, her brows too serious
she used to laugh easily.
It is a hard place to be-this pine box
Some hands try to touch her cheeks
neighbors whisper their sadness to each other.
Soon a flower will be planted over her heart.
It happened so fast
soft mumbling, heads shaking back and forth
what a shame, such a shame.

When you live on a block that knows gangs
there are no rules
certain things are impossible or mangled
few grow up to believe in great things
death is a fever that laughs at children
a language of hate rises to swallow them.

Gang girls are slow in thoughts of peace
landscape of empty names, empty eyes
sitting on rotten thrones, there is a ghost in each one
bellies stuffed with revenge their breasts nurse violence
their tongues grow cold, their hearts grow cold
they run through flames more dead than alive.

A mother burns then bursts into pieces
cursing them, waving her fist
while they jump the fence folding into darkness
their days travel backward vanishing into the streets,
into dark houses or the edge of a knife.



Yolanda Nieves nació y creció en el barrio Humboldt Park de Chicago. Es profesora del Wright College. Estudió la licenciatura y la maestría en Organizational Development en la Universidad de Loyola y su doctorado en Educación es de la National-Louis University. Nieves es poeta, dramaturga, directora, educadora, actriz y fundadora del ensamble La Vida Bella, una de las pocas compañías de teatro a nivel comunitario en Chicago. Su obra ganadora, The Brown Girl’s Chronicles: Puerto Rican Women and Resilience, fue puesta en escena de costa a costa en los Estados Unidos y en Broadway. Por su labor como profesora, en 2016 fue galardonada con el Andrew Kirchmeier Teaching Award.

Por su activismo a través de la poesía ha sido ponente plenaria en la Universidad de Manchester, la Universidad de Guanajuato, la Universidad de Bucarest, la Universidad de Puerto Rico, la Universidad de Chicago y la Universidad del Noreste de Illinois. Sus proyectos de activismo y educación la han llevado recientemente a Costa Rica, Guatemala y a Arizona con la Nación Hopi. Nieves es autora de los poemarios Doves Over Clouds y The Spoken Body. Ha sido publicada en El Centro Journal for Puerto Rican Studies, Revista Diálogo de DePaul University, en el San Francisco New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education Journal entre otras revistas. 


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