The Gift Giver

By Joseph Murphy, Vanderbilt University

To unsettle and alloy that bewilderment with joy
To allow flight and provide an unseen scaffolding
of support
To hold tightly while letting go

To correct with precision and warmth
To reveal mysteries and provide ladders for
climbing to understanding

To challenge, to exhort, to demand
To push, to pull, to carry
To build, to empower
To respect and acknowledge, to ennoble

To place one’s own heart on the altar and one’s
own hands in the fire
To remember the forgotten

To feel, to share
To dance in celebration
To pass into the shadows

To teach

Reprinted with permission from Education Week.

Living Wage

By Shonntay Butler

What is this thing that they call the living wage, when families can barely maintain?

Mothers become single while fathers keep leaving trails of despair; forcing mothers to lose their mental frame!

Lost sleep over little feet’s…

Lack of memory due to the fact they have to eat.

Seconds become minutes; minutes become hours; hours become days of lost time without sleep!

Losing Public Assistance and the decrease in Food Stamps causes my bills to add up!

With rent, electric and needing more eats; combination of clothing and basic needs I’m staring at defeat!

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If I Made a Living Wage

By Elliott DeLine

If I made a living wage
I think that I could disengage
The guilt I’ve felt for being alive
And doing what I must to survive.

The time wasted, the sickening rage
Uncivil servants in my face
Accusations, threats, and lies
Profits from my teary eyes

My mother’s silence
My father’s shame
The intergenerational pain
“We pulled ourselves up, why can’t you?”
“A college degree should get you through.”

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By Tal Mintz

Burnt hands carrying calloused fingers
I take pride in my work.
Smells of meat and sweat stain my clothes
I deserve every cent of that paycheck.

My co-workers threaten to strike for living wage, I cannot afford too.
In a sea of high school students, I am trying to pay my rent.
In a sea of debt, bills, and taxes, I am trying to stay afloat.

You see my dad was poor and his dad was poor
And I’m poor but have a degree, but my child will likely be poor like me.
The American Dream of socioeconomic mobility
Is now a modern day caste system where we celebrate the few who achieve.

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Diane Gillam Foster


Diane Gilliam Fisher, who lives in Ohio, has published a book called Kettle Bottom that portrays the hard life of the West Virginia coal camps. Here is just one of her evocative poems.

Violet’s Wash

You can’t have nothing clean.
I scrubbed like a crazy woman
at Isom’s clothes that first week
and here they come off the line, little black
stripes wherever I’d pinned them up
or hung them over—coal dust settles
on the clothesline, piles up
like a line of snow on a tree branch.
After that, I wiped down the clothesline
every time, but no matter, you can’t
get it all off. His coveralls is stripy
with black and gray lines,
ankles of his pants is ringed around,
like marks left by shackles.
I thought I’d die that first week
when I seen him walk off to the mine,
black, burnt-looking marks
on his shirt over his shoulders, right
where wings would of folded.