Selected Poems

from Oakes' Spring 2018 Course, Diverse Voices in Contemporary American Women’s Poetry

The students in this class became remarkable poets in just ten class sessions. I was amazed by the honesty, emotion, compassion, and support that I read in these students’ poems and witnessed in our classroom.

I was honored to teach this class, and am so grateful to Oakes College for this opportunity, and to each student (and our honorary class members) for their individual contributions to the happy place that was our class.

You are all remarkable, world-changing artists, and I am proud that I got to be in the classroom with you.

A number of the students in the class chose to share one or more of their poems with the wider Oakes College community here, and we invite you to experience their powerful work.

Lindsay Knisely, Instructor


Short memories on being brown, confined, (and poor)

Yasmine Rodriguez



Watching fireworks with grandma and

waving around sparklers

acting like Uncle Sam wouldn’t

deport her brown ass if given the




Splintery wooden platform

perched on the tree

Nails sticking out here and there

Our tree ‘house’ had no walls.

We weren’t allowed to have


But it was okay for me to fall 12 feet from the




I grew up brown, called a white girl

by white Latinas

I couldn’t get it on their Spanish convos about the

ugly ass boys in our class, Rebelde, Chivas, or that puta

they wished would piss herself when the teacher said

she should have gone at recess.



I went to that private school for tutoring and

some bushy haired white boy overheard me tell

the teacher I had no graphing calculator because I couldn’t afford

one and he said:

“Why? They’re cheap”



Crushing on a red-haired commie upper-crust white boy

he got 2300 on his SAT and no matter how much I liked him

and wrote school-girl crush diary entries with his name

he intimidates me and he popped in to get his

blonde-haired upper-crust white girl when that boy

didn’t understand people

could be




I wrote about the continuing segregation

and educational

disparity in

Pasadena schools for my

senior project.

District administrators came to our

cracked-concrete school and

graded them.


was written in red ink next to my name


Gentrification of My Soul

I’m walking. Across the block

I feel under my feet the crunch of cracked concrete.

The smell of wet asphalt hot and heavy in the summer air.

The steam seeps through the holes in the soles of my shoes.

I’m walking. And as the summer sun sinks into my skin

I see a house across the block.

Lock eyes with the new “for sale” sign.

It’s a surprise, since I remember it a time ago.

Not knowing the renovation growing inside

I forgot to watch its “progress.”

This house used to look a lot like the others.

Like another one I’d call home.

A single-story but held so many more than that.

A single-story whose stories were told

in chipped wood and stained sentiments.

But this single-story is now a two-story,

all its old glory washed away by new paint and plaster.

I’m walking. Faster now, past the porch and through the threshold.

This open house opens up questions when I mention to myself

that I knew the neighbors who lived here.

I wonder whether we shared the same faded family memories-

Like being welcomed by the smell of spices sifting through the screen door.

Not needing to see la cocina to know mom’s at the stove,

browning onions and peppers in hot oil.

Foil crinkles and pans clank, but above the spatula scrapes

the loudest sound is mom’s voice.

At full range she’s boldly singing 60’s oldies.

I’m walking. And my mind returns from where it’s wandered.

My eyes begin to water when I realize

the sterile stench of bleach has reached my throat.

I note the hollowness of this new house.

Surrounded by these long white walls, I feel as if I don’t belong.

This house that was once a home is now a shell.

This pastel hell might sell well to those who can afford it.

Remodeled to remove any life, love, or culture,

Its value went up with the erasure of our existence.

And maybe mocking our resistance,

all they left behind was this vile Spanish tile.


-Miranda Stuart


The Quiet Truth

one of the most difficult things

    I’ve learned

is accepting the truth


    sometimes it’s quiet

        moments that carry soft like a prayer on a warm Tuesday afternoon

        but pass like a winter storm on the crowded coast


    sometimes it’s loud

        amongst the prodigal crowd yelling to the sky

        and yet I hear nothing beyond your prostrate stare


        I want to believe that what you are doing

        is simply misguided, a product of what was

        brought upon us by the power that chose

        to destroy, instead of create


            but when I look into your eyes

                Brown man

                    Brown woman

            I can’t help but feel like you have already crucified me


the world remembers Pontius Pilate for one reason


                your mother, your grandfather, workers on the field

                your daddy, your grandma, laborers of a union

                you, another virgin birth of the hood

                yet you think you’re so different


all of a sudden you’re the one with your hand on your holster

while my palms are bleeding out


you, all of a sudden above the ghetto

you, once destined to be our savior

you, now our reckoning


the world might forget your name


    the people you knew might forget your actions


history will remember


-Ray Decadiz


My Faith

Jasmine Yip

I fight to be remembered

No matter what you say to me

I will fight

Recklessly I will get hurt

But I do not learn

My heart is pure

No matter what you say to me

My heart will be pure

Curiously, my heart will get hurt

Untouched by your words

I tell you this to have faith

Have faith in me

I fight to be remembered

How is it that we can live and forget

But not remember the times when you stayed up crying yourself to sleep

How is it that we can live and not recall

Recall that time when you felt your heart in your stomach

Because of how much pain you put yourself through

How is it that we can live and not remember

Remember who we dreamed of becoming

My heart is pure

How can a heart be pure after all the scars

After that night you wanted it to stop beating

How can a heart be pure after you stopped breathing

After drowning yourself with regret and emptiness only to forget

How can a heart be pure after your own self hate

After hating yourself for who you are and will be

I tell you this to have faith

Have faith in me




In Italy I learned that the word “solare”

Is used to describe a person who is warm and good and cheerful.

A sunny-natured person who worries about others,

A person who brightens the room.


I think about how nice it must be

To be so warm and welcoming

That people compare you to the sun.


Long before Italy, I once met someone

Who made me feel like the sun was in my heart.

I did not realize there was a word for it,

Ma era una persona solare.


Yellow became my favorite color.

I see it in the flowers that grow,

And every Spring brings me back to you.


My rosy cheeks are too delicate for the sun.

When the sun tries to kiss them and warm me,

                        They are only inflamed by it.


                        I reach out my palms and offer those instead,

                        But it is not the same.


                        And when I think of you,

                        I can feel the sun again

On my cheeks, in my heart.

But you do not burn them like she does.


You are warm and good and cheerful;

A sunny-natured person who worries about others.

You brighten up the room.

Sei una persona solare.




Piernas Queridas  

Piernas que brillan como la arena a la hora que el sol dice su último adiós del dia

Piernas que crecen raíces tan pequeñas que no hay necesidad de cortar las, un regalo que solo puedo agradecer a mi ama

Piernas que se estremecen al sentido de tus manos

Pierna que se mueven al baile del beeper pero que no saben caminar al baile del mundo

Piernas largas que se han estrechado a través de los años enseñando me que solo tiempo me dirá el final de mi cuerpo

Solo para ver que son una replica de mis ancestros

Pierna mias y solo mias

Gracias mami.





You HATE me


You tell me I’m WORTHLESS

You tell me I’m UGLY


You tell me I’m STUPID

You have TAKEN so much


You have STOLEN everything

You have KILLED so many of my people


Yet you NEED me


You would have NOTHING without me

You built NOTHING without me


You may have OWNED my people



Despite these things WE continue to extend a hand

You are the one to SLAP it away


Imagine what we COULD HAVE BEEN

But your Selfishness erases these POSSIBILITIES





Her eyes are seas of caramel.

Her smile portrays rays of sunshine.

She has this distinct smell,


There's still so much left to tell.


Her hands are rough and weak,

From years of cleaning after the wealthy.

She comes home tired everyday.

The amount of work she puts in is not healthy,

But it brings home the pay.


Her love goes farther than the moon. .

Her voice is comforting like a familiar tune.

Once you're with her,

All your troubles seem to be far away.

She is the strongest woman I have ever known.


When she cries,

It seems like everything in the world is dark.

If you tell her lies,

She will get disappointed.

Nothing else will seem to matter after that.


As a child, I would see her as my hero.

In my eyes,

Everything she said was right.

When she would have to leave,

I made sure I held on tight.


As of today, I still see her as my hero.

Because of her,

Everything seems bright.

Even now as I prepare to leave her,

I still make sure I hold on tight.




White is Gold

I used to think I was special

It was shown to me in magazines, movies and toys

And then it was written out in books, articles, journals, everywhere


I thought I would help to save the world

Until I realized I was a part of the problem


The world is red, blood on the hands of the men in suits

I always knew this world was cold

Where ice freezes the air and no human can live

I just didn’t know how cold it was


It pierces through me, all over my body

I will never be the same

What was taken was the truth, hidden away under layers of snow and ice

It would pierce your skin if you got too close

For some, it would rupture through your whole body until there is no you left


There’s evil here and it’s covered in layers of white

So deep that not even bullets can pierce through it


{We are all stuck here}


In different places with different things but we should all fear the ones covered in gold

Their skin so shiny they can’t see the blood dripping from their hands onto their

Feet, they can’t hear the screams around them, shouting at their

Bodies, They are not blind, they choose not to see


I am not blinded by their skin

Their words written in books, articles, journals, everywhere


Their faces shown on magazines, movies and toys

I used to think I was special

Until I realized I was them, covered in aluminum skin

I thought I was shiny, too


But I rip the aluminum from my skin and I see the blood drip down to my

Feet, I can hear the screams around me, shouting at my

Body, I am not blind and I don’t want to be

The world is red and there is beauty here

It was taken when they stained this land with greed

it lives somewhere deep in the roots, under the water, up in the air, right under our skin


But we are not meant to be here

In a misguided trance that says “White is Gold”

And that Gold is more precious than breath

I hate how cold this place feels

When I see them laughing, unaware that over the ocean there is blood on the hands of men in suits. They through clouds of smoke, poisoning the rest of the world

and We, We are all covered in gold




Our Country

Why                 are black men shot down

                      even though their hands are in the air

                       just cause they’re a little more brown?

America           is putting black men away in its prisons

                      trying to continue the white man’s power

                       hiding that this new Jim Crow has arisen.

Why                 does someone’s color hinder your vision?

                      it makes me wonder if you were blind

                       would that lead to you making better decisions?

Why                 are women only useful in the kitchen?

                      can they wash your pants and raise the kids

                       But are not able to have true ambition?

America          says feminist is just ‘our time of the month’ fury.

is paying women 79 cents to a man dollar.  

                      thinks that it can “grab ‘em by the pussy”.

Why                does true feminism strike such fear?

Cause you’d have to admit the overt advantage                                                                              Well, the women will no longer adhere.


-- S.M.


Sorrow Cycle

I stand beneath a storm of sorrow

Invisible in this world of immutable pain,

Cemented by anguish and despair.

It engulfs me as I drift through the pit of darkness,

Helplessly unable to hold on to hope.

I have no power.


Others take their own power.

How is it to govern one’s sorrow

and keep grips on such elusive hope.

They will stay unaware of my buried pain,

Never knowing the reality of my overbearing darkness

that pulls me to despair.


There is no point in fighting the monster of despair.

He slaps me down from any false sense of power.

I’m back, wandering adrift the darkness

Surrounded by the cold, consuming fog of sorrow.

Again, trapped the pain

No inkling of hope


With no hope,

it is like my soul has been taken by despair,

fed to an already abounding pain.

Yet it devours all power.

Aware of its control, I am forced to be lost in sorrow,

Thrown back, screaming, to be left, tangled with the darkness


Tears are all that remains, erupting and washing clear a light in the darkness.

The relief forms, maybe, a glimmer of hope.

In that moment, is an ignorance of sorrow,

A restraint of the burden of despair.

“Please give me power…”

“Strength to kill the ever relentless pain.”


Will there always be pain

Can I ever truly escape the darkness,

have any chance of wielding my power.

It has evaded me, the presence of hope.

It could be only a trick of despair.

Why can’t I forget these sorrows


I want to ignore the opaque sorrow, break the steady pain.

I must let others help me free from darkness, to exist beyond despair

I need to find the power, and finally claim the warmth of hope.



Consuming Fire

Love is fleeting, love is unconditional

Love is magic, love is an all too harsh reality

Love is fire… tempering your soul to uncover who you are


It consumes your possessions, your family, your heart

It burns away all you ever were

In those scorching flames your bonds are loosened

and you are shaped and molded

into something, someone new


And how you crave those flames….

The tingly sensation when they lick your skin

The surrounding smoke filling your world with their scent

The comfort of its heat in the cold, lonely winter

The shining light through the blackest of nights


And when your pulled from those flames….

….ripped away from that searing heat

And dunked into the icy waters of solitude and life


Your weaknesses have melted away

And you shine bright and brilliant under a new light

Stronger and sharper than you ever were before

A new blade forged in the all consuming fires of love.


  • Brianne Cesario



Siento el contacto de la tierra a mis pies,

conectándome a personas que nunca conocí

Not names, not faces

But i feel vibrations by the touch of my feet



Start from your head down to your shoulders, feel the tension





You are

A DIY project, todos me ven y asumen cosas de mi

Cisheteropatriarchy, asumeasumeasume


Ve me por mi





undocumented and afraid, yea you read that right

Pero nunca me para

My body numbs and my mind wonders



You are

An abandoned shell washed ashore

That belongs elsewhere and is never home


No se que soy--


A universe of experiences



You are


Can’t make up your mind

Too femme

That does not exist

You fake




Yo soy yo

Cambiando como las olas del mar

Fuerte como las olas del mar

Calming like the waves of the ocean

Hurtful like the waves of the ocean

Flooding like the waves of the ocean



From my mother

I gain my sense of wonder and Intellect

My love for animals and all things tiny

The desire to clean every inch of my house


From my father

Comes bad choices and insecurities

My hate for alcohol and false hope

Fear that my love will walk out the door any second

And leave me and my daughter behind


The phone rings, a man’s voice

Making promises

About going to a Beach Boys concert

Next weekend


Next weekend comes, the phone doesn’t ring

Eight years old

I sit on the steps outside

Learning the harsh realities of my father

Tears falling from my eyes like a thunderstorm


The thunderstorm brews, like a fresh pot of coffee

In my mother’s soul

As she calls the man who makes empty promises

And screams at him

From the bottom of her broken heart





Her Unfinished Testimony

Cancer tried to defeat me

and it failed

“A tumor in your chest,

Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Stage II, Type B”.


My mom was filled with disbelief

    yet I was unencumbered with peace

This was an ultimate life-changing moment

    for me


My entire world flashed right before my eyes

    The Devil tried to take my life but

he failed

    I survived.


God’s love empowered me to share His blessings upon others

    But still while sharing my testimony

I sometimes begin to stutter

Then I remember…


I am the strong woman who looked cancer in the face and conquered it.

    The Devil wanted to take my dignity but

God intended more for me.

Little had I known that it was done; the battle was already won.





creating my reality


personal growth                             what does it mean exactly?

to be better                                       how is that measured?

what is taught                                    status wealth titles.

to be unlearned                                       is what is internalized.


it begins                        you will know and there is no turning back

a metamorphosis                              untouched by social constructs

emerging slowly                               into a world that is mine

so fresh and ready                                  live in a different light


i begin to observe from nature                                how to thrive in these conditions

take after flowers                                       their beauty and radiance

learn from trees                                persistence and patience

lose myself in bodies of water                                 wading in ambiguity


meandering streams of thought                           make their way onto this page

flow onto a canvas                            creating a world i never knew existed-

drowning                                     in my imagination

peacefully                                    in between then and now




Collateral Damage

By: RS

While we read the news about another Taliban leader

successfully ‘eliminated’

Children, women, and other innocent lives are lost

But as we know, they are only remembered as

collateral damage

Somewhere outside the land of the “free”

Drones are committing killing sprees

Of course our government wouldn’t agree

They will claim that the outsiders asked for our help

Surveying above the sky

Stealthy and unheard

Target located, waiting for permission to eliminate

Granted, shoot without hesitation

“Terrorists” successfully annihilated

Death, injuries, trauma

Suffered by the innocent

But at the end, they are menely collateral damage

Of course our government wouldn’t tell us the real reason

why they survey the foreign lands

They will claim that it was for ‘security’ purposes

Little we know, they are looking for resources to take

Trying to protect the people of the “home of the brave”

Doesn’t mean it’s okay to hurt other people

Apologizing and bribing the family

All the family want is for their loved ones to be remembered

Not as collateral damage, but as human being