Evening of Inspired Leaders 2022: Poems

Read along with our speakers! Poems are in order of the official Evening of Inspired Leaders 2022 program.

“Hoop Dreams” by Michelle Garcia Fresco

Performed by Michelle Garcia Fresco

Luis says I got hoops for days. What he means is you
can tell a lot about a girl by the size of her earrings. 

Says I got a hole in my chest. 
Wants to know why all Latinas are the same. 

Wants to know what we hide in our hoops to have
all this attitude. & you know what they say. 

The bigger the hoop, the looser my hips swing.
When I dance my hoops so big they salsa in the air 

or in circles. My hoops is circles 
or cycles of survival. My mother says she had hoops 

As big as my heart. As big as my mouth. 
Says I don’t know when to shut them. 

Says hoops are hollow from the inside out
you can see right through them, 

but no one ever sees the weight. My hoops never wait.
Always swing when my hands talk. 

Always got something slick to say 
Always have the best intentions & the worst patience. 

My hoops is impatient. Be all attitude & acrylics.
& yeah they`re mine cause I paid for them. 

& they as real, as my refills. 
My hoops be 

____________________A No Net
Above the Rim 

Make the boys on the block wanna ball up 
& ball out. Make them wanna shoot their shot- 

& you know, my pick up game nice, 
even when i`m not. My hoops is consistent. 

Always clinging on to skin. Always trying to hold 
all the people I love them. & yeah maybe all Latinas 

are the same, just the holes in our chest. 
The targets on either side of our neck. 

But tell me a story of survival 
that did not come full circle. 

Where a woman is not both the beginning 
and the end. 

“Crossing” by Jericho Brown

Performed by Michael J. Bobbitt

The water is one thing, and one thing for miles.
The water is one thing, making this bridge
Built over the water another. Walk it
Early, walk it back when the day goes dim, everyone
Rising just to find a way toward rest again.
We work, start on one side of the day
Like a planet’s only sun, our eyes straight
Until the flame sinks. The flame sinks. Thank God
I’m different. I’ve figured and counted. I’m not crossing
To cross back. I’m set
On something vast. It reaches
Long as the sea. I’m more than a conqueror, bigger
Than bravery. I don’t march. I’m the one who leaps.

“Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden

Performed by Michael J. Bobbitt

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

“You Deserve the World” by Ally Ang

Performed by micah rose

____________________What to do with this knowledge that our living is not guaranteed?
____________________________________________________________—Aracelis Girmay, “Elegy”

During this latest shiny new catastrophe,
while I lie in bed and luxuriate in the silk
of my sadness, a friend’s text lights up
my screen: You deserve the world. Not

this world, hostile and unkind, but the one
we are building in the lines of poems,
in our wildest melatonin dreams, in the dirt
of our gardens and the recipes passed down to us

in a language that we have not yet forgotten.
I catch glimpses of it in the tsunami
of voices that floods the streets after another life
is snatched from a mother’s grasp, their demands

for justice impossible to ignore. I feel it
in my friend’s deliberate knuckles massaging
coconut oil into my scalp, how their steady
hands unworry my brow. Everywhere I look,

aliveness. I open my cupboard to discover
the plump red face of a tomato that I forgot
to turn into pasta sauce, now blooming
soft tufts of mold, the stubborn insistence

of life in even the harshest conditions. I slice
the tip of my finger while chopping cloves of garlic,
and before the first drop of blood has blushed
the counter, it coagulates at the edge of the wound—

a miracle, this body, how it has already begun
to heal before I’ve even registered
the hurt. When I say You deserve the world,
what I mean is this is not the first apocalypse

we have survived. The world has ended before,
and before and before, and for some, there was
no after. We have watched its rind cracking open
like a freshly broken heart, and each time

we build and rebuild. We kiss our houseplants
on their leafy foreheads before we go
to sleep. We dress our bodies in the most
brilliant light. We dance like the empire is dying,

water the ground where it once stood, and watch
what blooms, lush and verdant, in its wake.

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

Performed by Rupa Shenoy

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

“We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks

Performed by Dr. Kimberly Frazier-Booth

               The Pool Players.
        Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We  
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We   
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We   
Die soon.

“As I” by Josie Colon

Performed by Josie Colon

As I a woman
As I a lady 
As I a girl
As I a afro-latina girl who does not understand the complexity of her blackness

As I am

Categorized at times, to be 
Anything other than black
The power in my identity 
Is lost and restricted because
As I a woman
As I a Lady 
As I a girl

I am just a confused girl who does not know her place 
Or her limits within society 
But I still recognize that
I hold control
I recognized that 
I hold control with my voice 

As I a woman
I am sometimes deemed as
As I a lady, 
I lack the manners of a girl
As I a girl
I am sometimes categorized as a
Big girl
Not a small girl
But a big girl with dumb thoughts
Or a big girl who’s head is too big 
For her thoughts because
As I a woman
As I a lady 
As I a girl
I am outspoken
I hold power within my voice
I hold power within my confidence,
And even though
As they are a Man
As they are a Young Man 
As they are a BOY
Within the patriarchy they have no control of my thoughts
Especially the ones I put on paper 
Even if they want to convince themselves that they do.
I speak 
And speak
And will continue to speak 
Because AS I am a WOMAN
A woman who understands the importance and power in her voice 
Although im sometimes sent away with
Women do not deserve rights
As a joke
I recognize
And hypothesize
The likelihood of how far their ignorance will take them 
Because the difference between them and me 
Is that although 
As a woman
As a lady 
As a all of the above 
I will not stand behind societal limitations 
That are put onto my gender 
I will continue to hold power
Even though the misogonists 
Proves his earnest 
I will continue to write 
Hold power in the pen 
Power in the fingers that typed this poem 
Hold faith in myself 
Because As I AM 
A woman
As I AM a lady 
As I AM a girl
I will continue to challenge 
And make the call to reform 
And that would not be under the permission of no 
Man of entitlement  
Because who the hell is he
To think he holds 
Power over me?
Because as I a woman
I bring life
As I a lady
I bring ideas
As I a girl
I bring joy in the room I enter
With my thoughts
My assertiveness should intrigue 
Or initiate some form of envy
envy so far that you feel as though it is necessary to tie my feet
into chains
And Uphold me to the standards
Society has put onto me 
And it’s sad to see
As I am a woman
As I am a lady 
As I am a girl to the man
My opinion won’t matter after my voice leaves the scene
As I a woman
As I a lady
As I a girl
I will do it any 
– way

“Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes

Performed by Lee Pelton

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,

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!

“The Lie” by Sir Walter Raleigh

Performed by Dan Chiasson

Go, soul, the body’s guest,
Upon a thankless errand;
Fear not to touch the best;
The truth shall be thy warrant.
Go, since I needs must die,
And give the world the lie.

Say to the court, it glows
And shines like rotten wood;
Say to the church, it shows
What’s good, and doth no good.
If church and court reply,
Then give them both the lie.

Tell potentates, they live
Acting by others’ action;
Not loved unless they give,
Not strong but by a faction.
If potentates reply,
Give potentates the lie.

Tell men of high condition,
That manage the estate,
Their purpose is ambition,
Their practice only hate.
And if they once reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell them that brave it most,
They beg for more by spending,
Who, in their greatest cost,
Seek nothing but commending.
And if they make reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell zeal it wants devotion;
Tell love it is but lust;
Tell time it is but motion;
Tell flesh it is but dust.
And wish them not reply,
For thou must give the lie.

Tell age it daily wasteth;
Tell honor how it alters;
Tell beauty how she blasteth;
Tell favor how it falters.
And as they shall reply,
Give every one the lie.

Tell wit how much it wrangles
In tickle points of niceness;
Tell wisdom she entangles
Herself in overwiseness.
And when they do reply,
Straight give them both the lie.

Tell physic of her boldness;
Tell skill it is pretension;
Tell charity of coldness;
Tell law it is contention.
And as they do reply,
So give them still the lie.

Tell fortune of her blindness;
Tell nature of decay;
Tell friendship of unkindness;
Tell justice of delay.
And if they will reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell arts they have no soundness,
But vary by esteeming;
Tell schools they want profoundness,
And stand too much on seeming.
If arts and schools reply,
Give arts and schools the lie.

Tell faith it’s fled the city;
Tell how the country erreth;
Tell manhood shakes off pity;
Tell virtue least preferreth.
And if they do reply,
Spare not to give the lie.

So when thou hast, as I
Commanded thee, done blabbing—
Although to give the lie
Deserves no less than stabbing—
Stab at thee he that will,
No stab the soul can kill.

“Place” by W.S. Merwin

Performed by Bill McKibben

On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree

what for
not for the fruit

the tree that bears the fruit
is not the one that was planted

I want the tree that stands
in the earth for the first time

with the sun already
going down

and the water
touching its roots

in the earth full of the dead
and the clouds passing

one by one
over its leaves

“On Good & Evil” by Kahlil Gibran

Performed by Assaad J. Sayah, MD

And one of the elders of the city said, Speak to us of Good and Evil.
And he answered:

Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil.
For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?
Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it thirsts it drinks even of dead waters.

You are good when you are one with yourself.
Yet when you are not one with yourself you are not evil.
For a divided house is not a den of thieves; it is only a divided house.
And a ship without rudder may wander aimlessly among perilous isles yet sink not to the bottom.

You are good when you strive to give of yourself.
Yet you are not evil when you seek gain for yourself.
For when you strive for gain you are but a root that clings to the earth and sucks at her breast.
Surely the fruit cannot say to the root, “Be like me, ripe and full and ever giving of your abundance.”
For to the fruit giving is a need, as receiving is a need to the root.

You are good when you are fully awake in your speech,
Yet you are not evil when you sleep while your tongue staggers without purpose.
And even stumbling speech may strengthen a weak tongue.

You are good when you walk to your goal firmly and with bold steps.
Yet you are not evil when you go thither limping.
Even those who limp go not backward. But you who are strong and swift, see that you do not limp before the lame, deeming it kindness.

You are good in countless ways, and you are not evil when you are not good,
You are only loitering and sluggard.
Pity that the stags cannot teach swiftness to the turtles.

In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness: and that longing is in all of you.
But in some of you that longing is a torrent rushing with might to the sea, carrying the secrets of the hillsides and the songs of the forest.
And in others it is a flat stream that loses itself in angles and bends and lingers before it reaches the shore.
But let not him who longs much say to him who longs little, “Wherefore are you slow and halting?”
For the truly good ask not the naked, “Where is your garment?” nor the houseless, “What has befallen your house?”

“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

Performed by Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.