The Sunday Poem: Merimee Moffitt... Love Letter to the Teachers of Arizona

We share so much with our neighbor to the west.  In fact Tucson is so like us in many ways it is considered something of a sister city.  Yet here we are...our very real differences as people revealed by the actions of the Governor of Arizona, the Sheriff of Maricopa County, and now the Tucson School Board.  What happened? Let's review.

Last year, Arizona passed the controversial H.B. 2281, a bill banning school curriculum “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.” Along with the bill, a number of ethnic studies books have been removed from school district shelves.  Some of those book are Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, six books by DCF poet Jimmy Santiago Baca, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States 1492 to Present, Yo Soy Joaquin/I am Joaquin by Rudolfo Gonzales, and The Tempest by William Shakespeare.  More information is available on the Librotraficante website.

Merimee Moffitt lives in Nob Hill. She is a co-editor of The Rag, a monthly poetry broadside.

Love Letter to the Teachers of Arizona
in Tuscon Unified School District March 18, 2012

AZ we worry about you, married like we are along our border
snuggied tight from Lordsburg to four corners
we cross into each other like an old married couple
comfortable and crazy—what are you doing
denying roots,
sassing your heritage?
your children torn to select a favorite parent, you
know better. We share
wild west marauders, indigenous
peoples robbed of homeland
Spanish and Mexicans here before armies
desecrated confiscated and slaughtered—ethnic cleansing
aqui? again in the Southwest?—my God, we share
the Great Spirit of forever ago, Mother Earth
Father Sun Sister moon and precious little water
Arizona, arid land with red rock valleys, mining
towns and conquistador crime scenes, ethnic studies
forbidden? Will you tolerate
new concentration camps? (privatized prisons)
Boxing up books does not silence truth
Anzaldua, Cisneros, Cofer, Alvarez, Urrea, Rios
Baca into little boxes together
just imagine the fires sparking on those dark shelves
blending history and language, stolen kisses
as the Rio Grande waters roots, la migra hunts families
once cordially invited, disappears them now
like pages, fields, trees, books
closes borders rudely like bad parents
shunning kids they birthed, teachers ordered to
forget lessons—who are you kidding, Arizona
What we don’t teach becomes alluring
—why is this book forbidden, students? Let’s
think critically about oppression
of cultures, how combustion is spontaneous, how
repression is dangerous history repeating itself.
The books can’t be abolished, a banned book is
a paradox, the best advertising ever for its
message within. Read and consider, Arizona.
You are not alone.

Poetry submissions are welcome.  Email 

Views: 289

Comment by Jules Nyquist on March 25, 2012 at 9:10am

Merimee, your powerful words inspire us all. Thanks for this!

Comment by Dee Cohen on March 25, 2012 at 9:47am

Merimee, This poem contains a strong message wrapped in good solid sisterly advice. Get your act together AZ. Your sibling states are watching. Nice to read this one again. Dee

Comment by Margaret Randall on March 25, 2012 at 10:02am

Yes, "read and consider, Arizona. / You are not alone." Wonderful poem, and very relevant to the moment. Although I think there will always be moments like this one, and such poems will forever be relevant--sadly. Thank you for your inspiring voice.

Comment by Merimee Moffitt on March 25, 2012 at 2:03pm

thx Margaret, Dee, Jules--yes, we seem to repeat and repeat history, maybe until like an old vinyl record, we break ourselves entirely.  i am interested by the 40 "likes" but only 3 comments.  It's not such a moving poem, just a poem standing witness.  I am bearing witness and speaking.  I have also witnessed the steady influx of women and multi-cultural writers into our textbooks much to my relief as a teacher.  Students can relate to words from a culture they recognize,  I had a man from Kenya in my cnm lit class and when we read an African story by a women, he was so surprised. "We can write like this?" he asked me.  He has published two books about his interesting life since being set free like that.  (Henry Rono, the fastest man in the world!)  I love CNM, but I do see a slow exodus of edgier lit, even of th 4th genre--cw non-fiction.  Scary.

Comment by Merimee Moffitt on March 29, 2012 at 11:47am

@john Drake--I had the similar thought of wondering at the 173 views which at one point said "40 likes" at the time there were three comments only--yes, and none of my Hispanic poetry pals--I'm thinking more along the line maybe they are protecting their own precious necks, Sophie Scholl etc., staying under the radar of possible repercussions for siding with the enemy of the state, "rabble rousers and free thinkers advocating hmmmmm. . ."  I'm old enough not to worry much.  But the silencing of the poets would be indeed dangerous--there were some outright seditious lines spit out at the Librotraficante gathering NHCC--very inflamatory oratory as the rally was intended to do.  I suppose I count myself as among the wild west mauraders, desperados, and whatevers--I've been accused of treason but never paternalism--too bad I don't have a pipe; I could smoke that one up.  I agree with meandering towards poeticism--I invite you to a reading called Windows and Mirrors April 20 at St Michaels hosting a few poets against the war in Afghanistan--Richard Vargas may also be reading there.  Do you suppose "conquistador crime scenes" was taken as an affront?  Acoma? Taos and Kit Carson?  hmmmm  it's just a poem, much like a spoon, meant to feed with and to stir


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