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SHJ Issue 8
Fall 2013

[Four Poems by Students + Commentary]

by Dennis Morton


by Paris

Scarred. My heart bleeding loud like a guitar.
I lived hard. The streets tore me apart.
Now I’m behind bars, inflamed like a star.
But this heat is not going far. I’m stuck
in this atmosphere, playin’ a game I’ll never win.
Am I destined to live this way ’til the end?
Will I prosper from it or live life in the pen?
These scars show where I’ve been.
If I hit the streets, will I see the same thing again?
Poverty and evil intentions embrace me with sin.
What can a band-aid do 
when the scar comes from within?


Like a Clock

by Favio

The sun is in the sky
but in my mind it’s still night.
The shadow approaches
but my heart’s without fright.
Posted on the porch
with my brain filled with splinters,
my smile starts to fade
and my blood gets cold as winter.
The law’s got me.
Voices in my head guide me.
My future’s on the block.
Poems are my release.
My mind is turning like a clock.



by Alex

I can hear the keys dangling
as they walk by my cell,
like a rattlesnake hissing
in the hallway of hell.
Footsteps approaching
telling me to do well.
Is it a demon or an angel?
I can’t really tell.


The Beginning of the End

by Marcos

The beginning of the end already started.
I got no family ’cause they all departed.
The time I spend when I’m out on the streets
is precious to me—just like my heartbeat.
My older brother’s doing time up on the “P.”
Torsido for a minute. Life of a “G.”
My dad’s on parole. I heard he got deported.
He needed a lawyer. He couldn’t afford it.
Homeless for two years. Sleeping in the cold.
They say this life ain’t right for a 17-year-old.
But what can I say? I chose this life.
I’m married to my barrio. My ’hood is my wife.


On Poems from Juvenile Detention Center, Santa Cruz:
Commentary by Dennis Morton

Four poems that my kids in juvy wrote: When I showed them to a friend, he immediately had the idea that they could be the basis of a short symphony. So he commissioned a composer friend of his to write a piece, based on the poems. The composer enlisted the assistance of an actor friend of his, a guy who works on Broadway, among other places. The result was a “symphonic poem” called “Somebody Else’s Child” that was performed at last year’s Cabrillo Music Festival and conducted by Marin Alsop, who, so I’ve been told, is the most famous woman conductor in the world. I was present at the performance. Immediately following the last note, the audience of approximately 900 people jumped to their feet and applauded for many minutes. I looked around. Many people were crying. The Broadway actor combined all the poems into one longish one and recited it while the music played in the background. When the Festival was over, “Somebody Else’s Child” was easily voted most popular of all the pieces performed.


—See also Editor’s Note: Issue 8 from our Poetry Editor, Steve Kowit.

SHJ Issue 8
Fall 2013

Dennis Morton

leads writing workshops for incarcerated children under the auspices of The Beat Within. He also leads poetry workshops in alternative-ed high school classes, and recently began a poetry workshop at The Santa Cruz County Jail. He co-founded Poetry Santa Cruz and hosts The Poetry Show on KUSP—the oldest radio-poetry program in the country. He also writes film reviews for KUSP.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury