Poems on Words

At the beginning of May, our TFA training included an assignment to write a poem about the words we hear and use and want at school. We were forty first-year teachers almost finished with that first year and the forms our poems took were varied but so connected. You could hear the day 171 knowledge vibrating with regret at knowledge we didn't have day 1; you could hear the curse words our kids cautiously test out and the swears we drop over dinner; you could hear the humor and the hubris and the hope for next year when maybe just maybe we can use words a little bit better and take our kids a little bit farther. 

40-some of us read - only one sent me theirs (and a few OWE ME THEIRS ahem - email me and I'll add 'em), but I wanted to post them here because I felt they captured the rhythm of days here better than I could write. Having all forty would be best but two will have to do -  

(This is the first time I've posted a poem in a public place since I contributed to a, um, poetry blog during my freshman year of high school. I'm so sorry (*relieved) to inform you that the site is gone and you will not be able to read my free verse teenage angst). 

Poema de la Lengua

"Te la bañaste” - wide eyes

“Pinche negro” - blindly and smoothly said.  

“Ok, so does it mean…” - correct but unsure

“ahorita lo ago”- now


“Diache, y con jabon!” - low eyes

“not in my room” - slim stare, mountain voice

“hm, but you do know...” - soft eyes, cuddle voice, comfort pose

“ahorita lo ago” - later.


hope stands right with the water

still with no touch, splashed with the pressure 

speaks with different voices

the same words of patience.

-----Jogene Castillo -----



Miss, miss, I hear 

them saying, sometimes in 

my dreams, sometimes in 

the half sleep after

the alarm goes off and before

I drive to them again. 

Meess, meeeeeesss, Omar says - 

"Can I help today?" in English when

he's rested but

"Nombre porqueeeeee?!" in Spanish when

he's sad,

sharper but more 


I'd like to talk with

them about

books in 



Comparing and contrasting? They asked,

What's that ?

(Face palm, two days

before STAAR). Bueno, dije yo - 

Think of contrast as contra, and comparing as 

tu compadre - and a lightbulb went off, 

illuminating two worlds. 


Thank you, Miss, round-faced Nahomi says

on the way out the door. Thank you,

Miss Parker, Nickolas says, and when

those words

come out crisp I think  how

my name is unusual

here. My name is 

unusual and my tongue is

unusual, capable of 2 and 3 worlds despite my 

skin but too soft, still, too polite. I've

untamed and unteased it, tried to 

toughen my tone and tighten my words. 

They listen; I laugh; but still I

breathe most

freely when I can speak my age, let long words 

and swear words spill and 

roll across a dinner table,



There must be a middle ground, a 

frontera where I speak to children like

grownups and give them

the words they need, in

both tongues, for

both worlds.