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The exercise completed, the kids take turns sharing what they wrote. Having zeroed in on the smallest paper crane in the flock and jotted down words like hiding, watching, unwanted, hanging, little, light, oddball, loneliness, and fly, Destiny shares this, in a burst, about her brother:

I couldn't stand looking at you.
Watching your hope fall onto your pillow.
Stupid, you were always told.
Stupid, you always felt.

I couldn't stand
watching watering brown eyes
looking for an answer,
waiting for an answer.

Hiding my defeat,
I hugged you.
Telling you that you are beautiful.
Never feel unwanted.
Trust me, little brother,
I see you
hanging.

I am your light.
You don't have to look for me.
I'm right here.

No longer will you be the oddball in the crowd, little brother.
I know you don't believe me now,
but hear my optimistic cheer, little brother.

I'm here to love you,
guide you,
kiss you,
steal your taste of defeat,
help you put your loneliness aside.
I'm by your side.
Together
you and I
will fly.

Applause and murmurs of "beautiful," "strong," and "awright Destiny" fill the room.

Crowd support grows rowdier once the open mike starts. Denisse kicks it off, morphing in an instant from a circumspect teen into a truth ninja, hurling hard-won wisdom in her anthemic "My Bronx" ("America. / Shut up. / Dare to observe us in silence. / Get away from the 5 o'clock news / and come live with us. / For years, not for two weeks— / and then you can talk."). She amplifies the verse through the theatrical lifting and lowering of her voice, the punching and jabbing that punctuates the words—all stagecraft she's developed at DreamYard. (Says writer and teacher Renée Watson, they work with the kids to help them drop their "slam poet voice"—that knee-jerk angry cadence they've all learned from rap music—in favor of something truer to the piece they've written, something more their own.) Standing in the back of the room, Caroline Kennedy seems transported, feeling the rhythm Denisse weaves with her words. Like Denisse, every subsequent poet is ushered to and from the stage with supportive shout-outs and hugs.

Because they know. They all know what this requires—to take your emotions and wrestle with them publicly, to manhandle them, mash them up, and turn them into something fierce you could almost ride right out of here. What they also know: Poetry is many things, not least of which is power.

The Power of Poetry

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