‘Are We There Yet?’

Teenage poets Salome Agbaroji and Violeta Esquivel — ages 15 and 14 — write about racial injustice, climate change and more.

Get Lit, which uses poetry to increase literacy and empower youth, and the Berggruen Institute, which publishes Noema Magazine, recently co-produced an event of spoken word by teenage poets at Second Home in Los Angeles. Two of the poems that were spoken aloud are presented below: “Are We There Yet?,” by Salome Agbaroji, and “Mermaid Goddess,” by Violeta Esquivel.

“Are We There Yet?” // Salome Agbaroji

Look out the window and see concrete jungles
Where you are deemed most dangerous beast
And when street cops turn kings
Top of food chain, looking for a feast
Well, these roads seem a bit more treacherous
So you gottta ask:
Ma, are we there yet?

She says zilch and doesn’t flinch
Besides the bounce of potholes
You know treachery; you came from the jungle
But this different type of danger
Sits stiffly in your soul.
You realize these highways are caution tape on indigenous land
A graveyard of Asian workers covered in concrete quicksand
And a tombstone for the missing girl
Whose search party quit last week.
These roads are guilt, gluttony, and taxpayer money
And that doesn’t feel right
So you gotta ask again:
Mama, are we there yet?

She says nothing
The windshield wipes away
The acid rain from her eyes
We have rain in the jungle
We just tuck the clouds deep
Within the canopy cavity of our tear ducts
To stay alert
For lions, red for meat,
And forks in the road.

Look through the bars of this moving cell
And see cages pass
Faster than time does
One group,
Black panthers from the jungle,
Moving in the center of the interstate
I don’t know
Some weird middle passage or something
The next group,
Children on the outside looking in,
Denied access because their parents
Did not have the proper driver’s license
You start to develop road rage
And that doesn’t feel right
So you gotta ask again:

Mama, there have been many bumps in the road,
So are we there yet?
They took daddy through the exit 58 miles back
We’ve been driving for 400 years, and I’m getting car sick
So mama, are we there yet?!

Ma replies:
Are we where yet?
Cause the future is a gas bill
Or the truth
Or death
Or a mericless God
It is a striped hyena, ruthless, evil,
Salivating from the mouth
Waiting to pounce
On any creature in its path
The future
No matter how fast we drive
It is coming

So quit running your mouth in the backseat
Like you got some place to be
We take this ride and we take it cautiously
Now, listen when I speak
If you see flashing lights and hear three beeps
Halt expeditiously
Make your hands visible to not come off too threatening
And just pray that sitting in this traffic doesn’t make you too tan
Or make the cops too hungry
‘Cause royalty must eat
Don’t make a meal of yourself

This claustrophobic caravan
Wasn’t built for this departure
But this horn is an emancipation proclamation
A key to child cages and higher minimum wages
These headlights are a search party and tax reform
This is justice and hope.
This gas pedal
A time machine
To when cars have a gear that spells POWER,
An exhaust that never tires
Tires that never wear
Despite the miles per hour

This ride is rewriting street laws
Making the freeway actually free
For the first time
Dethroning the kings
Reclaiming our jungles
Just to throw cucumber seeds in the cracks

These wheels are the movement
This will,
Fueled by the heartbeat under the pavement,
Is the ignition
We drive
GPS set destination: FUTURE
Are we there yet?


“Mermaid Goddess” // Violeta Esquivel

I shimmer like Hawaiian oceans
speak every language of the sea
Lenguaje de sal y perdón
Tongue of salt and forgiveness
“I’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty
sunken treasures of trumpets and pearls…”
A sacred coral necklace on the brink of extinction because of rising temperatures

I have long dark hair past my shoulders
glows with sun-kissed copper highlights
But remember… mermaid hair don’t care
Mermaids got bigger fish to fry.

Mermaid Goddesses know that climate change is real
As our oceans spike a fever
from the Northeast Atlantic to the Western Pacific
Waves and worries increase,
Kelp forests dying,
Plankton poisoned,
leaving nothing left to snack on

“I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore…”
13 million tons of plastic
Cigarette butts polluting our waters
Straws blocking the airway of sea turtles
Bags — 100 billion per year choking our whales, seals, and dolphins

Global warming gentrifying coral reefs
no longer red, like the tides of our demise,
displacing our homes.

Mermaid Goddesses don’t care who you love,
as long as you’re happy
Snails or whales, starfish and sawfish
All of them deserve to be loved,
all of them endangered species
So much at stake with all that you take

My voice is 14 times stronger than the fake tan man who
Won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Mermaid Goddesses don’t lock mer-children
in abandoned caves, to the depths of the ocean’s sorrow
Dear Chiquita Mermaids:
Be careful when you ride the waves of the future
Remember your beauty on the inside
Your compassion for the climate
Hope for your home.
Have no fear of depth as rising sea levels become the new normal.
Lil’ ones, use your voice, keep our home healthy.

“I’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty,
I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore
You want thingamabobs? I’ve got twenty
But who cares? No big deal. I want more!”

Please don’t call me “Little Mermaid”
Unlike Ariel,
I would never give up my voice for a man.