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Cheleta Tuckson

My Eyes Have Seen What My Heart Has Felt

About this Poem 

I am part of an organization called The W.I.R.E (Women Involved in Reentry Efforts) and as a group we wrote poems about our experience being incarcerated and how it impacted us. My poem is based on real experiences I had to overcome during my prison sentence. I served eight years in federal prison as a first time offender at the age of 18. So I went into the system young, wild, and rebellious. I spent five years on and off in solitary confinement, but I still was able to complete all of the programs that were offered to me and ended up at the top of my classes. I believe writing is a major outlet for incarcerated women and men. “The pen is mightier than the sword.” So instead of us lashing our pain out on those around us, expressing ourselves with words can be a tool to receive closure, help, and to assist someone else who may have experienced something similar. People relate more, and really listen, when you have experienced the same thing they have and have overcome it.

My Eyes Have Seen What My Heart Has Felt

Guilty Guilty Guilty for actions that took my sympathy
Shackles around my wrist shackles at my feet
Prom and high school graduation these eyes will never see
My heart said, Oh well
At least you will no longer have to endure your daily home abuse
I grew into a woman unbalanced behind those wire fences
Recall (3xs) that’s all I knew
Always committing some illegal offenses straight to the SHU
These eyes have seen the bottom of boots,
Mace in the face,
The heavy blue dress while people watch you 24hrs a day,
A lock in a sock,
Shall I go on?
My heart was always heavy
when I constantly placed myself back in the same abuse
I thought I would escape
I knew I had something in me worth showing the world, but what?
Fighting my demons was real tuff
A peaceful life didn’t feel so ruff
I opened my mouth and people was shocked
That I could read, count, think, understand, listen, play chess, learn a trade
They started to see my worth
My eyes have seen a life the majority would have failed surviving
Rape, abuse, homelessness, parent-less, drugs, prison, mental health, failure
My heart became strong enough to finally love myself
And I finally looked up to the woman in the mirror 

Copyright © 2019 by Cheleta T. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2019 by Cheleta T. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

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collection

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

poem

This Is Not a Small Voice

This is not a small voice
you hear               this is a large
voice coming out of these cities.
This is the voice of LaTanya.
Kadesha. Shaniqua. This
is the voice of Antoine.
Darryl. Shaquille.
Running over waters
navigating the hallways
of our schools spilling out
on the corners of our cities and
no epitaphs spill out of their river mouths.

This is not a small love
you hear               this is a large
love, a passion for kissing learning
on its face.
This is a love that crowns the feet with hands
that nourishes, conceives, feels the water sails
mends the children,
folds them inside our history where they
toast more than the flesh
where they suck the bones of the alphabet
and spit out closed vowels.
This is a love colored with iron and lace.
This is a love initialed Black Genius.

This is not a small voice
you hear.

Sonia Sanchez
2018
poem

These Poems

These poems
they are things that I do
in the dark
reaching for you
whoever you are
and
are you ready?

These words
they are stones in the water
running away

These skeletal lines
they are desperate arms for my longing and love.

I am a stranger
learning to worship the strangers
around me

whoever you are
whoever I may become.

June Jordan
2017
National Poetry Month Poster 2019
poem

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
Langston Hughes
1994
poem

Heart to Heart

It’s neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
pain,
yearning,
regret.

It doesn’t have 
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
shapely—
just a thick clutch
of muscle,
lopsided,
mute. Still,
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want—

but I can’t open it:
there’s no key.
I can’t wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it’s all yours, now—
but you’ll have
to take me,
too.

Rita Dove
2017
collection

Lesson Plans for Winter and the Holidays

Celebrate winter and the holiday season in the classroom with this selection of lesson plans featuring poems by Richard Blanco, Emily Dickinson, Naomi Shihab Nye, and more.

collection

A Poet's Glossary

Read about poetic terms and forms from Edward Hirsch's A Poet's Glossary (Harcourt, 2014), a book ten years in the making that defines the art form of poetry.  

Fall-Winter 2018 issue of American Poets