City Lore Poetry Dialogues

“Taking students to visit community sites can provide rich, authentic experiences that
inspire powerful personal responses. Often young rappers are—as freestyler Toni
Blackman put it—“stuck in the style” so writing about dramatic new experiences
forces them to experiment. African-American high school students who participated in
City Lore’s Poetry Dialogues worked with poets Toni Blackman and Kewulay Kamara to write poems based on their experience of visiting St. Augustine’s Church, on Manhattan’s
Lower East Side.”   From ‘Field Trips,’ City Lore, 2003

Me and My God
For no moment of my life, have
I been free
Free to work at my own pace
Free to go to school
Free to worship as I please
I wish to be free
I wish to pray uncessingly,
But I can’t because I’m cramped
So close to other sweating bodies
around me that
We seem to be taking our breaths
in unison
And as we breathe we sway to the
organ music
To distract ourselves from
discomfort
We sway while trying to pray to God
for strength
Trying to make it through one more
week, just one more day
But as I pray, I must comfort my
master’s child
Sit and rock my master’s child,
Forced to love those who despise
my very breathing,
And as I try to pray, I wonder
If God can see me hidden away
In a small upper dungeon in the
midst of the unsightly,
Black, swaying, sweating bodies,
Slowly dying sea of blackness,
Can that God they speak of see me?
I just want to praise Him one Sunday
without being a slave
Hold my own babies instead of my
master’s
They control my daily activities,
family structure, survival,
Control my words so much
That I wouldn’t even recognize the
phrase “I love you,”
In my own native tongue
And they think they have controlled
my worship
By hiding me away from my God
But while I’m swaying holding onto
my master’s baby instead of
my own
With my clothes sticking to me in
this intense heat,
With the stench of hot, baking,
black bodies encompassing me,
With the preacher talking about a
God who probably can’t see me
I’m gonna praise Him
No one will control my worship
No one shall deny me my God.

DeAnna Evans,  was a high school senior
when she wrote the above poem as part of
the Poetry Dialogues.

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