Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2019 finalist, Anna Birman! Anna finished 8th grade this past school year. The poem she submitted is called “I Am Going to Make This Work” We asked Anna what she likes best about her poem and she said “I like the motif of “work” at the end of every stanza and how the details in the stanza relate to the theme of making a new situation work. I also like how the perspective of the 2 characters alternate every other stanza.” Enjoy!

I Am Going to Make This Work
By Anna Birman


She is coming, and she is going to make this work.
An eighteen year old with two handmade duffle bags
A guitar, whose case was made
From a few scraps of leather,
and $100 dollars in her pocket,
Bringing pots, blankets, a meat grinder
Into the heart of San Jose.
Needs to learn English,
Needs to study,
Needs a job.
She is going to make this work.

He is coming, and he is going to make this work.
A sixteen year old carrying a suitcase
Filled with pliers and hammers and nails,
That is hurled from a train by porters
Yelling, Davai! Davai!
Needs to wait in Italy for three months
Needs to work as an English translator
Needs to sell goods outside with his dad in the chaotic Roman streets.
He is going to make this work.

Arriving at interviews in a sputtering car,
She is asked, What can you do?
Yes. Yes, I can.
Who knows what they have said?
Her uncle teaches her to say,
My English is good, and it is getting better everyday.
She is going to make this work.

At home there really is no one to ask.
He rides a bike around town,
Looking for his high school.
He takes US government classes
And enrolls in community college.
He is going to make this work.

She wants to be a doctor or a nurse
But she is willing to work
As a nanny and a housecleaner
To pay for English classes and medical courses.


The smell of meat and fish is overpowering
As she enters Lion market to buy ninety-nine cent per pound chicken.
She is determined to make this work.

He wants to be an engineer
But he is willing to work as a gardener
To pay for the basics.
He hears the rattle of the shopping cart’s wheels on the pavement
As he pushes it for over a mile to the supermarket and back.
He is determined to make this work.

At the end of the day, tired,
She gathers with her family.
6 people in a two bedroom apartment
Laughing about their days,
Sharing how they are doing.
“Hi, how are you doing?”
What does that mean anyways?
Do people talking to her on the street
Want to know how she is doing today?
With humor, she knew she could make this work.

At the end of the day, tired,
He gathers with his family,
4 people in a two bedroom apartment.
Earlier, he rode his bike right onto a busy freeway in Hayward.
He was exploring the neighborhood.
With knowledge of his new home, he knew he could make this work.


That was 26 years ago and now I,
Her daughter, a first generation American
Ask her, Were you ever called an ‘alien’?
Yes. I think as a political term,
She replies while frying potatoes as if she has never even thought about it.
Didn’t it bother you? I ask, incensed.
This country, it treated me well and still does.
I had much bigger things to worry about than labels.
I was determined to make this work.

That was 39 years ago and now I,
His daughter, a first generation American
Asks him, What surprised you the most?
The constant smiles from strangers, he replies.
Where I’m from, people do not smile for no reason.
My high school counselor smiled.
I felt welcome, and I knew that I could make this work.

I am the daughter.
I am the first generation American.
Their mindset inspires me.
They set a goal, they were resilient,
They never let pride, starting from the bottom,
or a fear of hard work ever get in their way.
They have taught me that the eyes may be scared,
But the hands must do.
The answer to, Can you?
Is always, I’ll figure it out.
I have to do whatever it takes to make this work.

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