A Poem for Mr. Hughes
My junior year of high school, my English teacher had us study Langston Hughes’ “Theme for English B,” then had us go home a write our own version of the poem. Mine was something about going to film school and moving to California. Then, earlier this semester, one of my professors had us read Hughes’ same poem, giving us the exact same assignment I received almost five years ago. I obviously couldn’t use the same poem I wrote when I was sixteen, considering I’m now an English major living in Brooklyn, so I wrote a new one. This is how it came out:
(If you’re not familiar with Mr. Hughes’ poem, I highly suggest giving it a read. You can read it here.)
The professor said,
Go home and write a page tonight.
Write something like Mr. Hughes-
Then, it will be true.
But what makes writing true?
I am twenty-one and as white as they come.
Born in Westchester, grew up there too.
Now I live in Brooklyn, about two blocks away from school.
I take the back exit of Boylan that never actually sets off the alarm,
And then across Campus Road, I’m on my way home.
I pass the Residence Hall, where I spent my first year,
I’m so glad I don’t live there still.
I sit at my desk, where I will write this page,
Waiting for the fog on this window to fade.
I love Brooklyn, but I’ve never felt part of it.
I spent so much of my life in one place,
That I long to move from space to space.
I want Germany, Mexico, Prague, and Peru,
Moscow and Dublin and that’s only a few.
I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I hate to work, idle, or pretend.
I love collecting records, though I have far too many,
Billy and Elton and Ella and Freddie.
I don’t have to think about race, but I try to.
Sexuality, though- I think of that often.
I like boys and girls and everything in between.
There’s a word for what I am,
But it never helps as much as it can.
Queer is my culture,
Don’t like it or do.
Not Irish nor Scottish nor German,
Though I am those things too.
I don’t go to protests and I’ve only once paraded
I’m kind of a bad gay,
And I won’t be persuaded.
But in my defense, my culture kind of sucks.
You can be gay or trans or any way you are,
but pan? “Oh sweetie, you’re just confused”
It’s just one step too far.
So how’s this poem going, professor?
Did I tell you more than you wanted to know?
You wanted the truth
and that’s what is here,
Like the window beside me,
I’m evermore clear.