Editor's Note: Eighth grader Jordan G. recently earned a Gold Key in the Bay Area Scholastic Writing Awards for his series of poems, "Grandfather." Additionally, he shared his spoken word poem, "Fear and I" at the March 21 World Poetry Day celebration at the Hillsborough campus. Jordan shares his poems, in both written and spoken form, below, along with an artist's introduction for each.
I wrote this set of poems about my grandfather who fled the Holocaust. While he did survive, his father and many of his friends and family did not. To fully embrace and take pride in my Judaism today, I realize that acknowledging the pain and suffering of past Jews is important. While the state of anti-semitism has definitely improved since then, synagogue bombings and attacks continue nationwide and that's an important fact to address.
Thunder Over a Nation
A thunderstorm of darkness
We used to make Challah.
When the soldiers enter
Their boots dig into the flour
I run from the bakery when
A teenager approaches,
I could report him.
I imagine the screech
Would the rain keep
Would the world notice?
The cross around my neck
I am a poet forging
A Stone of Meaning
A boy turns to his mom:
Did Grandpa ever come
A man digs a hole. I am
Do you think Grandpa
The apartment in front
Do you think people
My dates of existence
Some read me.
Let it be known: I represent
Roots expand underneath,
A new world that flashes
Let it be known: let it be known.
As I place my menorah
I think about freedom.
Freedom is a filter, letting
Freedom is a synagogue
Freedom is a collage, pieced
Freedom is telling others
As I place my menorah
His spirit lays in these wicks,
The rain pitter patters outside
What is freedom? Freedom
Fear and I
I wrote this poem about the fear I was feeling in different ways. For example, those include wearing nail polish as a boy (who knew self expression could make anyone feel unsafe!), living in a mass-shooting-plagued world, and being Jewish in a world that has historically and continues to treat us with violence. I see poetry as a way to share my feelings with the world in an engaging way, as well as learn about other people's experiences and find common ground.
It’s 1998: Matthew Shepard is tied to a fence. Thought body was safe until pistol banged on head. If violence dealt the blow then hate left him dead.
I’m at a gas station with fingernails painted the color of sweet cherries. A man and woman stare, laugh, and whisper until my face is either red from embarrassment or bottled up anger.
I scan for warning signs. Large truck. Bumper sticker. Rifle logo. I camouflage behind the aisle like a chameleon.
If that’s how chameleons stay alive, then what happens when the leaves rustle and branches shake and the veil of conformity disappears like dust?
I imagine the fall of fangs on its skin or my skin or skin risky enough to be uncensored in small town America.
Fear and I are intertwined. She sees me and I see her. We don't pretend to be strangers.
I enter an amusement park and an armed guard surveys the crowd. How can I enjoy my night when threats stain the air?
Suddenly: Blue and red lights. Sirens. Screams. Fear lurks in every corner I turn and every person I see. She thrives in crowds.
Sandy Hook and Orlando rattle my thoughts. Which is another way of saying I could be on a new victims list tomorrow in a speech about gun violence that I never thought I would need to contend with.
Fear and I are intertwined. She haunts me from the news stories I’m scared to turn on at night that I know I could have been on that night.
I ask Mom as a kid why our synagogue has a metal detector. How do you tell an eight year old about society’s thirst for violence?
2009: a plot to bomb a Bronx synagogue is exposed. 2017: Charlottesville chants “Jews will not replace us” with torches and swastikas.
2018: eleven are massacred in a Pittsburgh temple. 2019: five are stabbed during a New York Hanukkah celebration.
How do you tell an eight year old about enslavement under the Pharaohs, about gas and guns, about the shadow of persecution that chased your ancestors since the beginning of time.
The Pittsburg shooter said he wanted “all Jews to die” so don’t be surprised that I lower my voice when I practice my Hebrew in public.
How do you tell an eight year old that safety has never kissed his people goodnight. That he lives in a world that whispers.
Fear and I are intertwined. We fight constantly. If she wins I cower in my shell of lost moments and missed opportunities.
If I win I chant out loud. A chant so loud I cannot shrink anymore. A chant so loud the birds rejoice on my doorstep. A chant so loud that everything and everyone that’s ever been hunted sings sweet songs.