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what does it mean to be first

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Below is the poem entitled what does it mean to be first which was written by poet Mari Roberts. Please feel free to comment on this poem. However, please remember, PoetrySoup is a place of encouragement and growth.

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what does it mean to be first

I won first place in the school oratorical contest.
I still remember I got to say my poem in front of the whole school and they gave me a medal
I felt good - proud that I was first.

He never told me.

Where is his medal?
When I found out I told everyone and waited for the parade to begin
My mother, my sister, my best friend . . .

Mother (who made much ado over my medal) said,
“Oh, really? I’m not surprised. Do you know he left bread crumbs all over the floor yesterday? 
Didn’t even clean them up!” I was confused.
 
Do icons have to clean up breadcrumbs?

He never told me.
“We just dug a lot of trenches for the ammo dump.”
This his testimony - the Marines kept him safe just for me. 

He tossed out names like Guam and Guadalcanal 
as he picked up his lunch box to go to work
yet gave silence to race-based time wasted in ditches.

He never told me.

He did tell me about friendly fire 
from White boys standing above them while they dug but 
White men are always shooting at Black men . . .

So I thought little of it.

He taught me to sing
from the Halls of Mon-te-zu-uma to the shores of Trip-po-lee . . .
never said that he was first to sing it.

Said, “We trained at Camp LeJune.” But never mentioned Montford Point

He said he snuck in - really too young to be there
Told me as he tied his shoe 
“I wanted to choose the Corps so I just volunteered. I was a proud marine.”

Years later when I had lived enough to navigate the ocean 
between Camp LeJune and Montford Point
I asked - wanting to know what it felt like to be first . . .

“Dad, Do you know what you did? You never told me.”

Though struggling to share memories clogged by clouds of time he simply chuckled.
“Yep, we were some of the first but I just didn’t think nothin’ about it. 
Was just one of those things.”

Just one of those things . . .

One of those things like
Coming North in the migration, teaching yourself a new trade, and starting a business?
The one you ran for 47 years with only an eighth grade education.

Now I get it.
True firsts often miss out on medals and parades
but don’t expect them.

They are those who come before us
as living machetes - carving our way in silence 
teaching us what it truly means to be first.

A lesson easily overlooked as we wiggle with impatience in our snow pants
while they bundle us up for the cold 
and put on our mittens.

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  1. Date: 2/15/2013 4:58:00 AM
    Mari I just love this, it has a very strong message, well done....David

  1. Date: 2/15/2013 3:51:00 AM
    A SEVEN...(7).....With no apologies....i soo love it ..Thank you Mari:-)