Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mother to Son

So a couple of weeks ago, my summer school class and I read the Langston Hughes poem, "Mother to Son".  For those of you who don't know it,  here it is:

Mother to Son

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor --
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

--Langston Hughes

We had a long conversation about this poem, and they pretty much universally loved it.  They got what the mother was saying and had all kinds of things to say about her staircase.  By the time they were done talking about her staircase, we could have drawn a picture of it with labels and explanations.  So then I gave them an assignment: they had to pretend to be their own mothers and then use their mothers' voices to give advice to themselves.

The results were alternately funny and depressing and touching.

Usually after I finish looking at a bunch of papers, I give them back to my kids, but I couldn't find it in myself to give these up.  So late one night a couple of nights ago, I went through my stack and chose one line from each kid.  Then I kluged them together to make a multiplicity of voices merge into one: one mother speaking to one kid.

They call this found poetry, I think.  Anyway, here it is:

Don't be like me.

You can't be begging for stuff, trying to spend my money every five minutes.  You are not the only child.  You don't know how easy you have it.  You walk around with new shoes and money in your pocket. You don't have nothing to do but go to school and do what you supposed to do.

Do you want to eat all the food in the house?

You need to take your brother outside and watch him because he's not about to get on my nerves all day and you walking around not doing nothing but playing football.  Don’t think you’re going to be a professional.  Just make sure you finish with your studies.  Then I want to see you on tv.

Show people that they are wrong about you. 

Stop getting smart.  My mom was very strict.  She didn't take no joke.  Stay cool and don't join in with the ignorance. You don't need no friends. Go to school and do what you have to do to get out.  Some kids your age can't even complain because they don't have your opportunities. You don't want to have to work hard like me just so I can support my kid.

I will never trade you for nothing.

All you have to do is do your chores and listen.  If you think you're done, you still check with me and then I will tell you if you can go out.

Look out for your sister.  Don't hit no girl ... unless she has a knife and is trying to stab you.  

Never be like me.  Be better than me.

I spoiled you so much.

1 comment:

Lee Janene said...

Wow. That's a good compilation poem.

Your job is challenging! I just work in an after-school progam with Middle School students in downtown Grand Rapids and I find that hard sometimes. They all have different home lives and situations... It's hard to know how to help them all. You are helping them just being there, in a way, though. :)