And what will we sing?

The little boy
Lies on the concrete floor
In one corner
Of the prison cell
Occupied by
Many other children
Who were, like him,
Taken from their parents
By uniformed men with guns
As they were attempting
To cross the border
From Mexico
Into the United States.
The little boy lying on the floor
In the corner
Is crying quietly and saying
To no one in particular
Que hice mal?
What did I do wrong?

The little girl
Trying to shield herself
With her bruised, spindly arms
From the blows
Her father
Is raining down upon her
Sobs and pleads
What did I do, Daddy?
I’m sorry, Daddy,
What did I do?

The homeless and hungry
Brother and sister
Living with their mother
In a broken-down sedan
Across the street from the park
Look out the window
At all the shining families
Piling food
Onto wooden tables,
Onto blankets spread out
On the glistening green grass,
And they think,
But do not say to each other,
Why are we different?
What have we done?

The song of existence
Deep within us,
The song of all life singing itself
To all life,
The most ancient of musics
Saying we are to protect and nourish,
Shelter and cherish every child
Without exception.
In our brief time here together
Do we listen to that music?
Do we hear?
Do we understand
That no towering monuments,
No vast fortunes,
No dazzling accomplishments,
No great victories, no conquests, no empires
Matter as much
As that immemorial melody,
Matter as much as the well-being
Of a single child?

The abuse of children,
The starving of children,
The jailing of children,
The beating of children,
The raping of children,
The murder of children,
Is commonplace in our world,
And the small ones that we have invited
To be here with us
With the unspoken promise
That we will care for them
Because they arrive
So tiny, so helpless, so utterly vulnerable,
The poor baffled children
Dismayed and bewildered
By the pain and suffering
Being inflicted upon them,
Must believe that they themselves
Are somehow responsible
And beg us to tell them
The mistakes they have made,

The wrongs they have done,
To make the world hate them so.

And what will we tell them?

And what will we do?

And what will we sing?

Buff Whitman-Bradley’s newest book is And What Will We Sing? a collection of protest and social justice poems spanning the last 25 years. He podcasts at and lives with his wife, Cynthia, in northern California. Read other articles by Buff.