My City: Poems on St. Louis from Metro High School students

My City: Poems on St. Louis from Metro High School students

I teach American Literature at Metro High School in St. Louis Public Schools. In a recent lesson, students analyzed Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” and James Weldon Johnson’s “My City” to better understand the early 20th century city in addition to a number of literary focuses.

After reading the two poems, I tasked students with penning a poem of their own. Their aim was to capture the spirit of Sandburg’s poem by acknowledging the city’s faults while heralding their home’s strengths. In response, they crafted poems that were rugged and soft, dark and brilliant, critical and forgiving, ashamed and proud.

With permission from my students (some who gave permission preferred to remain anonymous), here is St. Louis through the eyes of some of our youth.

There’s More Than Meets The Arch

by Jelani Penny-Johnson

There’s More Than Meets the Arch.

But people stop at the entrance

and exclaim that it’s dark.

Rome of the West.

All they see are the retiarii v. secutores

and claim we’re a mess.

River City.

They only see the murky waters

and declaim pity.

O Saint Lou! His handsomeness is subtle but it’s supple.

Just look under the stubble. 

His children effervescent like bubbles.

His children ever present, might stumble 

but they never fall.

Standing tall, yet,

I arch my back for the City of Arches.

Archer Alexander, we’re the archetype for freedom.

But all they see is anarchy, confined in archaic binds.

We see the archives from the architects and poets,

the singers and heroics. 

Linger on our history, and see there’s no mystery 

of why we’re so proud of Missouri’s Mound City.

Every flaw makes the good more pretty.

I’m in awe. See the beauty in the cracks,

even when the hood seems gritty.

Legacy on our backs,

but we don’t want pity.

We’ll do what we do, we’re the Lou.

The Rome of the West, the Home of the Best.

Under stress, turn coal into diamonds.

The Midwest’s Star is still shining.

There’s More Than Meets the Arch,

just enter and find it.

The Key

by Elle Hamilton

The Forgotten Fly-Over city 

Marked off as The Murder Capital of the USA 

The Gateway to the West 

But never the final destination 

You’re a tourist attraction 

A 5-day vacation of music and laughter 

But when those 5 days are over 

You’re called violent 



But of the people who live here: 

We are more than the statistics show 

to those who’ve forgotten our depth 

our musicality and history 

our individuality as a pocket 

of noise 

of laughter 

of creativity 

We stand on the sidewalks of soft neighborhoods 

to loud bustling cities 

full of bright neon lights and tall deep-rooted buildings 

We hold the key to the gateway to the West 

Marked under a brilliant arch 

Silver Arch

by Lily Woodworth Wisdom

There’s a way the man shakes on this side of town,
Early in the morning in the still air,

I’ve heard it said that he is choking,
That this city is the harshest hand to ever hold your own,

And maybe it is, maybe it’s cold,
But this is the only dying that you do not have to save me from

I have to admit that I myself have had that yearning,
To go out East and have the ocean comb through my hair,

Or to go down South and feel the dry heat rise,
To travel light and sing the cowboy’s song,

But no matter where I stray, I always end up back home,
And to face the silver arch is like admitting I’ve been gone too long,

They say there’s too many people on your streets and I say there’s music on every street corner,
They say we’re sick with violence and I say yes but we were born to heal,

I’ve heard that we have nothing but I promise that we have enough,
Because the bond they instilled in us turns strangers into family,

They say it’s hard to live in The Gateway to the West, and sometimes that may be true,
But it’s here you taught me to love and I will always love you.

Treasure of the Midwest

by Xavier Holmes

Sanit Louis, my city 

Treasure of the Midwest 

The City with Open Arms 

Many say you are crime-ridden 

And strikingly dangerous 

Though I believe you are a welcoming city 

Warm and diverse 

With historic beauties 

And infinite places to feel at home 

You are my city 

Saint Louis

a far walk down delmar

by Vera Rosenblum

in the wake of crumbling brick, of plywood barricades, covering
broken glass.
of cots on streets, and cigarette
of an invisible line dividing opulence
and great elms from the neighborhoods
that can’t seem to mute the train
on its tracks.
in the wake of crumbling brick,
on the plywood barricades, they
have painted.
they have painted faces so familiar
and you can’t help but see this
house as a home and these bricks as

O’ soothing St. Louis

by Zoe Thompson

My city, though a terror to outsiders
is a beauty to me
Some might call it
Scraggly, slimy, suspicious St. Louis
but I call it
Sensational, scenic, sassy, soothing…
St. Louis
O, St. Louis slinking away into the starless depths.
Come forth and be my salve in this shadowy world
Although scraggly it is strong
Although slimy it is sensational
Although suspicious it is scenic
O’ soothing St. Louis, My City!

My city Saint Louis

by Grace Fuchs

Saint Louis 

Rumbling fans 

Quiet businessmen 

Hollering drunks 

The city built on broken dreams of hopeless romantics: to you I say we are a rising phoenix.  

You discuss the murder capital of the world: to you I say our people are loyal  

You turn up your noses at our divide: to you we say at least we have diversity 

No. You cannot tear us down, 

Every mocking word out of your sneering mouths we yell back in hundreds, our backs turned against your slander.  

Our dirty streets, and gunshots nightly but in the day we starve or thrive. Each piece slowly carving a way for themselves.  

The gateway to the west, a broken door with two sides. The road less traveled we were not.  

Our screams and yells at sports games, food filling our streets.  

We are saint louis, the men who sell tickets on the streets.  

We are saint louis, the artists writing stories and making food the world thrives on.  

We are saint louis, each bumbling little person who no matter how much they claim they will never return to their so called hellhole, have a soft spot within their hearts for the place they called home.

My City

by Anonymous

my city by the river
you light up the sky at night

They tell me you are harsh
They call you the murder capital

They tell me you are brutal
And dangerous at night.

In my city I see different
My city is lively

My city is abstract
My city is artistic

They focus on the negative.
I see my city as acoustic

To me you are home
To me you are exuberant.

Who is she?

by Anonymous

Who is she? 

Small but dangerous 

Loud and violent 

Her song of sirens and shouting 

With all her diversity, also comes segregation 

And separation 

The harsh reality of hatred living among the folk. 

But that’s only one side 

The light shines brightest in the darkest of places 

To many she is someone to be weary of 

To many she is their home 

Who is she 

She is ST. Louis 

Heart of St. Louis

by Amelia Ayulo

A city of culture 

Her people working hard. 

The grove, the loop, Cherokee, all at large. 

The arch, the stadium, the chase, our cities heart.  

In shambles! A wreck! The streets have bled. 

Oh how cruel! Oh how defining! People cry out and weap.  

The streets flow with blood but hold strong amidst the violence that spreads 

Another shot, we choose to heal, another stone thrown, another person for whom we feel 

A city with much heart, its soul being the people.  

She is hurting, but also healing, hard at work to fix but never forget. 

A city of triumph and opportunity, where creativity must spread 

For if her creativity is withheld, what else is left?


by Anonymous

St. Louis, a city holding its breath
I wish I could call you my own
Kinetic energy building indefinitely
I can hear it calling
Downtown, full of sound and light
and cars that scream
I wish I could know what you are saying
But instead I hear whispers
Rumors of a better tomorrow
Echoing through the streets

Growing City

by Jyel Hollingsworth

The faint whispers of envious slurs fill the air; “The Murder Capital,” they say

The Violent City

It escalates, louder 

They speak to me and reflect upon their own; “We have it all. We have everything.”

It gives me hopelessness

The potent screams rupture my ears

It’s starting to become true to me; “It has nothing. It is nothing.”

The Boring City

They’re all saying it. They have it all. 

We – are nothing. 


They – have nothing. 

These desperate cries surround me with about the potency of water

I hear, but they make no sound

Screaming like a child will get you nowhere, I say

Now I scream – what city has the vibrancy, the arts, the life, the nature, the theatre of this city

Louis is growing like an untamed weed

All I hear now is the growth and potential of a city consumed with green

The Growing City

My dear City

by Abril Vazquez-Lopantzi

Saint Louis, My dear City  

Blinking twinkling city lights 

Visible across the muddy Mississippi river  

Blind themselves from beauty  

Saint Louis,  

A blend of flavors which paint the city  

The gateway to the west holds us under itself  

Saint Louis,  

No amount of crime will let 

My love die  

Oh, Saint Louis, my dearest city 

STL is My City

by Leah Macon-Ford

St. Louis is not for the weak
It’s a hustle town
Show Me State
you might have grew up here
and call St. Louis home
But everybody’s goal is to get out

The sun may go up for 12 hours a day
but the night time is when STL comes alive
Call me HOME
Beautiful City
High arches are the heart of the city
Places where we come together –
The place I know best
STL is My City

We might not claim other parts of Missouri
We might be murder capital Missouri
Crime City
Not known to many
Hate and negativity

But you can’t forget our
Rich history
how we CAN come together
The love for our neighborhoods
The memories through everyday life.
And the good that still thrives throughout the city
STL is My City

A city rooted in its past

by Anonymous

Saint Louis 

The middle of the nation 

The provider to the states 

Gateway to the West 

Bustling, Vibrant, Lively 

A city teeming with life since the beginning of the nation 

Charming, Majestic, Mystical 

A city filled with people from anywhere and everywhere 

Where new mixes with old  

And where cultures are infused together  

Old, Bitter, Out of Touch 

A city basking in its former glory 

Trying to remain relevant in the changing and ever evolving world 

But I challenge you 

Is that such a bad thing? 

A city rooted in its past 

Not quite afraid to acknowledge it 

In this day and age  

Is unheard of these days

The City’s Anchor

by Katrin Allen

Busy, and passionate 

The streets always filled with busy bodies, just trying to grab their morning coffee 

Architecture built with passion and love and care 

Buildings filled with color and love of families that live within them 

Her gates, an anchor for her city, grounding and humbling it 

Bright and precise  

The sun beams down on her every house, accentuating their figure 

Every brick on her sidewalk was laid with care and accuracy 

People say her houses are crumbling, too old and tired to stand up on their own 

I say her houses hold character and tell stories of past generations and lifetimes 

Amusing and tranquil 

Children play on the grassy lands that make up her center, while parents watch and smile 

The couples stand calm on her bridge and watch over the still, brown lake 

The abundance of trees makes her all the more beautiful, every leaf crafted with care 

And when they fall, they bring a new type of hope her inhabitants  

Too uniform, too alike 

They say, using their time to pick apart every flaw within her walls 

Only we know, from friends and family who live here, every house has its own personality 

Its own autonomy from the rest 

Yet all the buildings seem to flow together in perfect harmony

Show Me City

by Ian Goold

St. Louis 

The gateway to the west 

The river city, defending the Show Me state 

A grimy, dirty, dusty,  

old, and divided city 

But as the cars and trains shout 

As the river flows, filling the city with soul 

We can see the hidden rustic culture 

We can see the belittling buildings  

that cover the city with their distinct shadows 

We can see the streets singing with history and music 

We can see the towering Arch 

Waving goodbye as we leave and welcoming us when we return 

Celebrating the complexity of this city is the only way to see 

What it actually “Shows”

My City: St. Louis

by Anonymous

City of the Arch

Of the bustling markets and busy streets

Of billboard advertisements and revving engines

Of struggles and obstacles

You are run-down and weary 

Yet these old-fashioned structures 

They are home to memories and the history of generations

You are impecunious and indigent

Your people deprived, disadvantaged 

Yet have you seen such perseverance and persistence?

This loud, stuffy town: St. Louis

This familiar city of mine: St. Louis

Pulling toward fate

By Anonymous

Brick city, the city of licks
A city of hard knocks and charmed walks
Where vacant dwellings spill despair
And smokestacks billow dreams
Where fatal cats, they feign no care
But under masks, they gasp for air
They tell me that you’ve lost your shine
Crime ridden, your people in bread lines
And so I grit my teeth with furrowed brow
Fists to fight a birthright of this town
Come! Show me another city that knows the worth of love
Another city that holds its history up
Another city that sings to the stars at night
In that melodious Blues tune that knows pain and hope alike
Pulling toward fate like greyhounds in the slips
Daring the world to test your mettle
An underdog bruised, but not at your peak
Brute but with a chess master’s mind so sharp
Blood running thick like the Great Rivers, vibrant with life and eternal as your hope
Brick city, the city of licks
A city of hard knocks and charmed walks
Where vacant dwellings spill despair
And smokestacks billow dreams


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