To honor National Poetry Month, we’ve asked 4 Minnesota-based Creative Writing Instructor-Poets to share a favorite poem by one of their students.

Tracy Rittmueller is founder and director of Lyricality. In 2014 she worked with staff of West Bay Residential Services in Rhode Island to develop a method for collaborative communal poetry for people with limited language skills. This week she shares a collaborative poem composed this past January by adult English Language Learners in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

I am so honored to have participated in the making of this poem, inspired by our Read Poetry 2021 author Louise K. Waakaa’igan’s poem “Within.” Kelly Travis and Kahin Adam joined me on January 27, 2021 in facilitating this poem, with the participation of Mary Mulbah’s English Class at La Cruz Community Center: Fatouma Hachi, Dahabo Abdi, Halima Abdi, Ardo Dahir, Zeinab Hassan and others who wish to remain anonymous.
This poems takes us from the tropical weather of Somalia to an English class in St. Cloud, revealing emotional experiences common to all people–the struggles and joys of learning something new; hope; the loneliness and fear that happen when we leave the familiar behind; grief; and a desire to connect. With the last word “we,” the poem opens our eyes to the mysterious truth that although there may be superficial differences between us, in our essential humanity all of us are very much the same.

Tracy Rittmueller

We Are Here
a collaborative communal poem, made in Minnesota

We are humans learning English
within God’s creation in America,
Saint Cloud, Minnesota.
We are fathers and mothers who are students.
This is not easy. Head hurts. Hard.
Back hurts. Hard, hard.
Are we not meant to be proud, making improvements? 

Already we see benefits. Our children can no longer hide
from us behind their perfect English words.
We are learning to understand them. 
But we cannot wait for the day
when we can express ourselves better in English. 

We hope to speak like our teachers, to read applications
and understand, to write letters, to communicate well 
to our American friends. 
When will our dreams come true? 

Our tears fall down our cheeks into our hands.
Not to be able to articulate to doctors
what our children need—
Sometimes we want to go home to our country.

When will we be understood? 

We miss our mothers and fathers back home,
miss the tropical weather of Somalia,
we feel an ache in our hearts, 
we feel abandoned.
We older people have lost our friends and country, our culture. 

How will our broken hearts ever be mended
without our tribal society?

Who will remember our stories from Somalia
through North Carolina, Buffalo New York, 
South Dakota, Willmar Minnesota and into this place? 

we are divided
into separate cars, driven by strangers
to our new place in this new

we miss your home.

we have been afraid.


Here’s a video about the invention and first implementation of our collaborative communal poetry process.

Read “Within” by Louise K. Waakaa’igan, the poem that inspired “We are Here.”