A Picture of Courage

Currently my juniors are wrapping up the year with the memoir Night. If you haven't read this gripping account of Elie Wiesel's struggle to survive in a concentration camp during WWII, you must add it to your summer reading list. My students' final is to compose an ekphrastic poem (poetry that speaks to art) on the subject of intolerance. They had to first find an image that displayed an act of intolerance or action against intolerance, some image that really spoke to them and evoked a sense of emotion. I think this was frightening waters for many students because we (society and school) have taught them to stuff their emotions down. The day we searched for images, there were many misty eyes in my room.

Much of our reading this year has, in some way, led us to an exploration of the dangers of intolerance or indifference. As an example piece, the other junior teacher and I had our students study the poem "To the Little Polish Boy Standing With His Arms Up" by another Holocaust survivor, Peter Fischl. He wrote the poem in response to a photograph he saw in Life magazine. You can read the full text here; but you also should watch him read his poem (at the end of this post) as his reading is packed with emotion. I cried the day I showed it to my students. On Monday, we'll all be showing the images we picked and then performing our poems for the class. I'm excited to see what the kids produce.

I always try and write alongside the kids, so here's my attempt at ekphrastic poetry (shout out to Bob for helping me revise!):

A Picture of Courage

She is a picture of courage.
16 years old, books held tightly to her breast,
left arm at her side--
her dark skin a contrast to her starched white dress.
The white dress covering the darkness
of her skin--
a storm hidden in clouds.
She tries to look collected and unphased,
but her eyebrows tell a different story--
furrowed and to a point, dipping below the sunglasses
that mask the rage in her eyes.

She is a picture of courage.

She moves towards those coveted doors--
Central High School--
a mob following close behind
yet keeping their distance
as if her skin color were contagious.

She is a picture of courage.

A white woman is five paces behind,
her face scrunched into a scream--
a fit of rage, hurling words that sting worse
than shattered glass.

I wonder if this woman, this grown white woman,
knows that her face will be made famous--
not for its natural beauty,
but for its display of hatred.
Will her children see this and
fear this very rage will be unleashed on them?
I hope her children ask her why she is so angry
at this black girl, five paces ahead,
16 years old, books held tightly to her breast,
left arm at her side--
her dark skin a contrast to her starched white dress--
the girl who tries to look collected and unphased
by their mother’s indignation.

And when their mother stumbles on an answer
to their question, as she chokes on the logic
behind her own madness,
I hope they realize
she was wrong.  
I  hope they realize that the world is not
better off as one monochromatic image like this photo.
I hope they see the world as better off
in technicolor.

Don't forget to watch Peter Fischl read his poem!

1 comment:

Bob Josjor said...

I love the monochrome vs. technicolor at the end! (Note: NOT my edit.)