2 Poems by Anastacia Tolbert

 

Cold

my heart is cold
but not like cold like ice
cold like cold feet on a
long bed with a tiny blanket    
                                                cold
some say, she cold blooded
like bad ass, like awesome
like there aren’t any hot words
to describe her
                                               ice-ice baby
my heart is a 
velcro igloo with a sink full
of dirty dishes
all the crumbs wet
from feeling left over
jellying at the tinker
of a knife & a slow fork
i need poems in the garage
at night in my underwear
& that makes me c(old)
but once i caught a shivel-wivel
that sauntered down my
foot steps & i knew a coat
would not suffice
no itchy blanket
for the new baby of my       goose bumped
skin. hard nipples
are a thing you hide

she doesn’t come around & no one
knows about the tank & oxygen
how it always lugged behind her
my heart is cold but not
like forget about your troubles
come on get happy. more like
freeze it. so it stays alive


Judy

call me            judy
pretend my mother is becky my father ryan
pretend everything i say is the truth—just because.
pretend i wrote it (                                                         )
pretend i am intelligent & creative
pretend i work hard—for the money
                                donna summers on your dick
                                _____________
                                if you need it.
call me            judy
pretend i am the white fence
pretend i am the big house
pretend i am the dog. make it a lab. make it golden.
pretend i drink cosmos. smoothies after a workout.
pretend i smell like—prell
                               lips like bonnie bell
                               victoria secrete model
                               ______________
                               if you need it.
call me            judy
pretend i dominate history
pretend i am the love
pretend i take little things (culture) 
pretend i am exotic. 
pretend i have soul—like a black woman.
                                jill scott/tracy chapman/nina simone     goddamn
                                afro wig & wide lips/hips
                                ________________
                                if you need it.
 

 

Anastacia Tolbert’s work is a syrupy rune—wings, words & why not. She is a Cave Canem Fellow, Hedgebrook Alumna, Jack Straw Writer, EDGE Professional Writer, VONA alum, creative writing workshop facilitator, documentarian and playwright. She is writer, co-director, and co-producer of GOTBREAST? Documentary (2007): a documentary about the views of women regarding breast and body image. Lately she’s been obsessed with the body & the stories it holds. http://www.anastaciatolbert.com/ 

1 Poem by Jacinta White

 

Lands We Travel

We hold lands inside
us like embryos wanting
life. Water. Stones
we have crossed, some
without knowing. Some
forgotten. No matter, they breathe 
inside of us like memories seeping
through the sheets, we toss
and turn before our dreams
color. This is us – 

Someone’s history. Someone’s 
lifeline. Nothing turns inside of me, 
connecting me to its breath, calling 
me Mother. Land
spans inside instead 
no longer distant and foreign. Saints
have called and I have responded

Like old women – hands up, eyes closed –
Holy Ghost spilled over in Communion
wine cups. I drink 
while body broken like lands
open. Somewhere in heaven
my father is praying for rain to fall
on his seeds. Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

 

Jacinta V. White is a NC Arts Council Teaching Artist. Finishing Line Press published her first chapbook of poetry, broken ritual, in 2012, and Jacinta has work also published by The New Verse News, Prime Number Magazine, Jacar Press, and Press 53. Jacinta is the founder The Word Project. www.jacintawhite.com 

4 Poems by Jessica Lanay

Queer Friends

Your scaly knuckle springs a quarter
Into the ketchup on my plate,
Tails,
You are the kind of man who chases his own tail,
Out of vanity,
Your smile attracts the noise in the room,
You are a good friend,
Attracted to me by my inability to commit
Until I have to,
This way,
I never know what I really want,
You are always promising me that you are not gay,
In front of your boyfriend,
He talks about all the time – he beams,
Who you want to fuck,
And the Darwinian desire to reproduce,
Are often confused,
I remind you that in Russia
They are McCarthying the queers,
You remind me that you can’t 
achieve creation of the fittest –
With your boyfriend,
You  put your head on my shoulder,
Tell me my writing has bad transitions,
I tell you that your plays are like fake tiffany lamps,
Plastic,
But everyone wants one because
It reminds them
Of what they hoped to could
Have had,

 

It is only Wednesday,
Light suspended like still water in this 
bar,
You smirk and ask me if I’ve tried the 
apple pie, I have,
I haven’t,
As we tune into the murmur
We realize
People don’t have conversations 
anymore,
Their words are bundled up in
What already happened,
What they will do,
Never this second,
But who wants to be cognizant of that 
shit?

You are a good friend,
You remind me that I am allowed
To do things,
Like wear lipstick,
Like look feminine for once,
I am grateful to have at least one black 
friend who won’t get all neo-african-soul 
on me about every-fucking-thing,

We connect because we share starvation,
And pile our memories we don’t want 
together,
For barn fires,
For smoke signals,

Looking for each other’s approvals
In the next piece,
We are each other’s standard of 
humanity,
We want to live up to.


Bathwater

the sun is a burning 
coin in my palm that I would spend to take the fastest train
to reach the platform where your shadow was,
i could walk and thirst, moon-shot 
night, through deserts, to imagine the same oasis 
you imagined,

you scoop cracked 
diamonds from my thighs,
leaving me defenseless in the 
bathwater, i strain 
into the blackness of your pupils, wondering if you can 
smell the veil of 
crude frenzy
that lies over me, i pull

at my soft, tight, smoky
hair; you scratch carnival 
confetti from my back,
ask me about Santeria, why Oshun loved Shango,
And I hope you are not talking up our future together,

you whisper that you would scale and throw 
yourself from mountains for my love, i tell you: 
take a long leap off of a short building.
you say: you would fly like a bird.
not all birds have wings to fly; to keep balance,
they run away.

i touch your hair and wish it was 
longer so I could wrap myself up in its 
blackness, 

you soap around my breasts,
retiring me of the gilded pieces i stole from the jewelry box
of my mother, my abuela.

you touch the gilded beads on my neck,
i wonder if you are reading my mind as you count my toes.


She, Who Raised ME

My blood
Does not believe
In goodbyes,
Its memory is
Too many
Of being put
Asunder,

She lost her mind,
In pints,
Like blood,
Her recollections
Seeped like fog,
I am here to
Tell it,
I inhaled it,
To buy time,

The day she did not
Remember me,
The doctor said,
Cysts are in
Your uterus,
I felt erased,
But she had said,
That half-spirit children,
Don’t reproduce,

 

She sits rocking,
Clucking her throat,
In the corners
Of all the rooms
In which I’ve lived,

I make people
Take off their shoes,
When entering,
-       I know she is there
-       She requires it

When my lover,
Presses my face
To the floor,
I am proud,
I love hard,
It was the talisman,
She left behind,

To make me forget.


Swing Home

Your body
Black and thick
Molasses
Cracking like flamingo wings
Down the long hall,
Blood bolting
From mouth
And nose,
Hands up in surrender
Towards the side of the bed
Where I know
You keep the aluminum
Louisville Slugger,
He charges behind you
A summer storm cloud
Just before he can
Fist your mouth
With his hands
Callous as gravel
You swing home,
The sound
Of the hell tap
The bat gives
Is flat,

 

Suddenly you are – oceanic,
A murder of waves sweeping inward,
I run inside like rainwater spattering over a sill,
Bare feet crossing from wood to tile,
I will rescue you,
If I can avoid the radius of your swings,
I can love you past this,
You graze me,
Like an audience of birds alighting about me,
I scream,
You awaken – eyes white with shock,
Quivering with the treble of a pigeon’s coo,
You implode around me,
Swarm me,
Swell me with kisses,
He has gone,
Somehow,
Like a sheet off a line,
Fluttering away,
Abandoning us
Is the best
He could ever do
After grinding us down
Like salt crystals.

 


All Gone

it was hot.
Thanksgiving was
soon,
      How many days away
      I could not recall in that time

there.
they had given me
this pill
three.

it was supposed to
get
it
out

the doctor
had to administer
the first

my cramps
kicked
on the
city bus,

it was
beginning,
you being
gone

i had
no place
to go

the friend
whose couch
i lived on
said she
couldn’t
come help me

i cried
stupidly
for three days

blood in me
like dried
red clay,
in my stomach,

she had
her husband
tell me to
leave,

thanksgiving
despite what you know
isn’t for
refugees,

it was so hot.
i went back.
same bus,
the nurse
scanned my
stomach,
smiled and said,
all gone. 

 

Jessica is first a poet and then a prose writer and the former permeates and colors all other writing that she does. Her work seeks to illuminate the unmanageable moments people have with themselves, especially those moments experienced by Black and Brown women. She was a finalist in 2007 and 2008 in the Georgia Writers Festival held at Agnes Scott College and currently work for Poets & Writers.

4 Poems by Taylor Steele

 

James Baldwin's Book

Dear Diary,
James Baldwin has this book. It’s about racism in the American legal system circa 1985. It’s
called “The Evidence of Things Not Seen,”It’s got me thinking, what of the evidence of seen things, the eyes that belonged to the body, thebody that belonged to its brown skin, how their witnessing is never a matter of truth, alwaysinstead spun into self-condemnation, a bathtub overflowing with tar, a hand holding a coffin’s
first sprinkle of dirt like a broken hymn.

Diary,
Michael Brown is still dead. My brother still isn’t.

Dear Diary,
Today, a White boy called me pretty. I’m not sure if it was a compliment,
Or a reaction to my being there, still existing, seemingly unafraid to leave my house
Despite all the guns with my name stuck between their teeth, on the roofs of their mouths.
So stuck in there I be, that these guns hired hands to loosen me from their barrels.
I’ve heard it’s as simple as stealing babies from the cradle, babies from the womb, babies from
the streets they were raised on. And everybody hears the babies screaming, crying; and 
everybody sees the babies bleeding in the back of SUV’s; and everybody is yelling, “They’re
taking our babies!” And just like that, the babies are still gone, still stolen. See, it’s so simple.

Diary,
Is anyone still listening to the poems about black boys, the dead black boys?
Is anyone still listening to the mothers of black boys, the dead black boys?
Is anyone else still waiting for the other shoe to drop,
For the Earth to start swallowing itself,
The Sun’s gold cascading into rivers, melting the walls of the sky
All that white and pink and blue and white just covered in burns, just covered in black
And scabbing like cast iron pans left on the stove just long enough
To make a crooked cop’s blood sizzle
And all the dead black boys back with lions for fingers
All the dead black boys back with BB guns for eyes
All the dead black boys back.
All the dead black boys back.

Diary,
Michael Brown is still dead. I don’t know where my brother is.

Dear Diary,
James Baldwin’s got this book, see. In it he writes, “A stranger to this planet might find the fact that there are any Black people at all still alive in America something to write home about.” Isn’t that scary, Diary? That word “still?” Like someone’s been counting? Like someone’s got a list of how many of us there are left to go? Like that list was passed down through generations, people always adding and subtracting us? Isn’t that even scarier, Diary? Somewhere, a congregation sits around a table, scratching off our names.

Yet how strange a thing, Diary. They’d never let it slip that they ever knew our names to begin
with.


How to Love Her In Spite of Herself

One: Remember how crisp the air
Feels on your tongue,
How lucky you are to feel
That.
Two: Know the salt of your words
Before you bury her in them.
Three: You are not dangerous
Because you smoke. You are dangerous
Because you have swallowed death
And liked it.
Four: Don’t look at her As if she is a map,
As if she is clip-winged and beautiful—
She has been told that for years
And is trying to forget
Those voices aren’t hers.
Five: You are not her savior.
You cannot be love
If you are shackles.
You are a history unfolding
Before her.
You are her history
Unfolding before her.


911 Call

She was all, but what is the problem though?
And I was all, I think he’s dying!
Was all, his eyes are so far rolled back,
The god in him might have pulled them down
From inside the hoof of his diaphragm.
And he was all…

Then she was like, but what’s the address?
And I be like, I done told you
That shit already!
And he be on the floor like…

She was all, is he breathing?
And I was all, why ain’t you hearin’ me?
All, I told you where he live,
Where he be in the bathroom all…

And I was all mouth and teeth and loose
Ends untying.
Ain’t never been ‘bout no
Watching people die and shit.
Ain’t ‘bout no 911
Can’t be down with the 411.
How you gonna explain to me
That West 43rd and 9th is redundant?
Be all, okay but what’s the building number?
When I been like, I done told you
That shit already!
And he’s on the couch all…

I be like, please don’t die cuz of this cunt,
This ticker tape, this sits safe behind her desk
Cuz she ain’t ‘bout no
Watching people die and shit.
Be all, emergency responders are on their way.
Be all, third coffee in 3 hours
Because death can be so tiring sometimes.
I be like, but what if they don’t get here in time?
And she be all, fourth coffee in 3 hours
Because death can be so tiring sometimes.
And he, he just be all…

 

Taylor Steele recently received her BA from The New School University, graduating with Departmental Honors in Cultural and Screen Studies. As spoken word poet and writer she has competed on both a national and local level, including the Collegiate Union Poetry Slam Invitational of 2010 and 2011, has been published on Thought Catalog, and has written and recorded with M-1 of Dead Prez. Through such malleability, she makes it her business to write about politics of the body, especially in regards to race, class, gender, and love and self-actualization. https://www.facebook.com/tsteele.nyc

4 Poems by Raina Fields

 

Blue Ghazal

Grandma said the clubs were jumping: blues
on the jukeboxes, military men in blue

walking the streets of Okinawa for the closest bar,
ordering drinks straight, no chaser, dancing with blue

women, whose hearts unsettled on this new continent.
She said Pop-Pop was sharp in his dress blues. 

When he wasn’t there, she bought her daughters
baby dolls with soft curly blond hair and blue

taffeta pinafores. The dolls’ faces strained as if 
seeing themselves for the first time, blue

eyes reflected from their brown skin. A distraction
from typhoon season, crowding with its blue,

its humidity of memory – blue everywhere, that taken-for-granted 
hue. How can anyone remember (that) blue? 


The Madonna of the Ghetto

grease stench of fried chicken wings         egg foo young
the floor     sticky with bubblegum and cigarette butts
stomachs hurtling further into hunger

i wished for those tv moments
assembled at the dining room table        chatting about the day
mother dons her apron and presents our all-american meal on a platter
meatloaf     mashed potatoes    green beans    a tall glass of whole milk

instead         we wait    
for our $7 general tso’s special 
while men dart in and out of the store        for blunts        loosies        condoms
they curse    i grow warm     avoid my mother’s glare
afraid she will embarrass us    like the time in mcdonald’s 
her high voice         perfect english        telling some man about himself

unafraid    or too hungry to care about the neighborhood’s myths
stray cats    pigeons        horses
turned into dinner                a kind of alchemy

stiff    crunchy chicken in a sticky sweet sauce    a few tufts of broccoli
on the way home    brown sauce drips from the styrofoam container 
into the plastic bag 
 
after school     we visit the same store    china garden     
dig in pockets and book bags, 
scraping against broken crayons and unsharpened pencils with eager fingers
            for the sum of a fortune cookie

the thrill of our school lunches wore off 
and it would be hours before our mother would come home from work
with heavy plastic bags of cans and boxes

hours bent in a cubicle
dividing herself until there was little left
we couldn’t say that after eating    we’re still hungry    
but tomorrow at lunch
we remind ourselves to gulp more of the cold chocolate milk
pretending to fetch snacks for friends    

turning away from the principal’s suspicious eye


Heat

Winter afternoons, we walked to a brick building 
without an entry in the telephone book.

There, a man filled our red plastic gas can 
with kerosene, as if from his own personal spring.

I bustled my plaid uniform jumper and kicked my green-nyloned
legs, pretending to be a Can-Can dancer.

You were careful holding the canister, no swinging, no spilling,

each drop precious. At home, we huddled 
around the space heater still in our coats, 

shivering a little while it  warmed up. Jim Gardner’s
voice a mumble in the background on the news, 

then watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, rooting 
for the contestant who looked the most like us,

who just couldn’t seem to catch a break 
and solve the puzzle before the beep.


Time Travel: Or I go back to June 1982

after Sharon Olds

I see them:

At the public pool, my father is tanned,
bored atop the lifeguard chair.

My mother swats sunshine from her eyes,
leading in a group of children,

I see him watching her long hair 
braided into a loose rope. Hair that
begged to be unraveled into waves,
Her thin girl body, her face dewy
with the day’s humidity.

Later, she hoists skirt above thighs 
and sneaks through a window. 
Down the street, she mounts his black
motorcycle, pats the curls escaped 
from his helmet, folds herself around his waist.

They push the heat of summer 
into each other’s bodies, tube socks 
shimmy to his ankles, her t-shirt around her hips—
fingers slick across each other’s skin.

I want to tell her that her two children
will be of his legacy, but the only bastards among six.
The family court workers will memorize
her fast gait, her white streaks of hair, her name.

I want to go up to her before her belly rises 
months later, before the skin stretches
into webs, and tell her to run. But I don’t. 
I want my brother, wrinkled high-yellow with his clubfeet. 
I want myself to live.  So I turn away, pretend 
that I don’t see their desperate lovemaking, 
their desire so apparent. I cry, do what you will, 
and I will live with it.

 

Raina Lauren Fields is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Virginia Tech. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Callaloo, The Collagist, PANK, Literary Mama, The Bakery, Tinderbox, and Emerge, among others. Her manuscript, Last Rites for Uptown, has been a finalist for the Cave Canem Poetry Prize (2014), National Poetry Series (2013), Crab Orchard Poetry Series Open Competition (2013), and Crab Orchard Poetry Series First Book Award (2013).

3 Poems by Melissa McEwen

 

White Sheets

One summer down in Thomasville,
Alabama, my father took us to the
church he attended growing up. It
was small but it had a balcony. We sat
in the balcony. After the service we
made our way down to the church
basement. I could still hear the drums
pounding in my head. In the
basement, paper plates of chicken,
ham, green beans, collard greens,
yams, dressing, cornbread, and more was
being sold on long tables that had
white sheets for tablecloths. They
were white as can be. I could smell
the bleach, but it was all in my head
and made me dizzy. I remember
wanting my father to get his food and
come on. I was scared of being in a
church with so many of us Black
people, was afraid we'd attract the
wrong kind of attention, was afraid of
what I had read in class that past
February during Black History Month
about four young girls (I remember
their names: Addie Mae, Carole,
Cynthia, and Denise) that were killed
when a bomb exploded in the
basement of a Baptist church in
Birmingham, right here in Alabama.
And wasn't this a Baptist church?
And there were four of us---my three
sisters and me. And there were those
sheets, those big, bright, white sheets
spread across those tables that brought
to mind the men that planted the bomb
under the steps.


Memories

Even if you don't, I'll remember, always
the times we spent in the rented two family home
you lived in on Wade Ave and Joyce Street.
No cable, no wifi, but we had more than enough
entertainment provided to us by the woman
upstairs who yelled at her son as soon as he got off
the school bus. From the window she'd shout hurry the hell up.
bring your ass on, do this, do that
and those times
when he talked back, he got smacked around so hard
the walls would shake. You laughed when I said we should
call the police. And then there were your friends
that were always dropping in to smoke weed with you
or to borrow a few dollars, especially Mookie, with his O-Dog braids.
He was always broke, always getting arrested, always hungry
and going through your fridge like it was his, but
you never had anything in it. Breakfast for you was
the yooj--a cigarette, Coke, and bodega hot dogs.
You'd ask me if I wanted one and I'd give you that
you-know-I-don't-eat-meat type look, a duh type look
and you'd oh yeahhhh and buy me a bodega banana instead.
I know you remember that, but you will always
remember, more, the memories that were made
and the tragedy that occurred in the house before I came
and that incident outweighs everything. I'll always remember
what you told me, how you came home from work at 5 AM, how
your wife was in the bathroom getting ready for work and the water
was running. You didn't peep in to say Baby, I'm home. You never
did that, just went straight to bed. You remember dreaming about waterfalls
and how they fascinated you. Hours later it was the sound of running
water that woke you. You called her name, said You should've been left
hours ago
, although you had a feeling something was wrong. There was
water everywhere when you found her there, in just her bra and panties, 
on the bathroom floor-- not moving, not breathing.


Gigi

I washed my hair
for you.

Had mama part it and plait it
for you.

I wanted you to see
how long it grew

since I've seent you
last.

It's thick and curly
and grows so fast.

That's the Sicilian
in me from you.

I dream of you.
I miss you.

My aunts
think it's wrong

for me to love
you still

'cause you never
come around

when you say
you will

like now.

 

Melissa Dione McEwen is an on-again-off-again poet from Hartford, Connecticut, that graduated from the University of Pittsburgh ages ago with an English Writing degree (concentration in poetry). Her poems have appeared in various literary magazines, online and in print, such as Rattle, MiPOesias, Poets/Artists, and Black Magnolias Literary Journal, to name a few.

1 Poem by Alice Saunders

 

Sonnet: Eve’s Warning to Fairytale Women

“Till death do us part,” said the Tick to the
Tock with two fingers crossed behind his back.
Repeat it with me now because the black
graffiti on my heart…it gave me the
ink used to write this liturgy with the
intent of telling you about the lack
of grace that led to Charming’s fall, right smack
before he stepped up to be at best the

presence that brought me down, the prince who had
contributed to my bout with the lure
of opportunity. Yet and still, bad 
is the heart that will keep warm and secure
the path to unrighteousness that’s clad
in the covetous steps of men who tour

the shortcuts of romance just so they can
draw out seers looking to be led by
the blind thieves who pretend to be led by
sincerity. But they are sly men. Ban
imposters with seductive lure! What can
be said then…wherewith shall we find by…by
our standards a pure beating organ nigh
unto perfection that rests, calmer than

most, in the chest cavity of one who’s
demeanor represents the Charming of
old days when chivalry was thriving? Lose
the strained notion that he is a part of 
the same cloth those snakes come from. Don’t abuse
your dreams and forsake your chance at true love.

 

Alice Saunders is a poet, writer, and editor currently residing in Tampa, Florida. Her 
work has appeared in the OW Newsletter and BLACKBERRY: a magazine. Saunders is also 
editor at TL Publishing Group. Her latest published title is Before the Epiphany. You may 
visit her website at http://lyricaltempest.com.

3 Poems by Lauren Wheeler

 

LADY LIBERTY

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
                — Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus”


As the sky swings its fiery fist towards noon, I retreat
from the diminishing shade of Bryant Park to the cool interior
of the New York Public Library: clutching two slim volumes of poetry,
I wind my way through high-ceilinged halls, names of trustees
etched into the walls with gold leaf, looking for a place to read.

I duck groups of gawking tourists with Midwestern complexions
and cameras hanging from their necks, resist taking my own pictures,
remembering the admonishment against flash photography
at the entrance. In the air-conditioned digital gallery, I find a chair
but continue to wonder where they keep the books.

On my way to a toilet downstairs, tourists wait awkwardly
outside the women's restroom, and I smell their discomfort before
I see her: copper-skinned and statuesque, she stands just inside at the sink,
one arm raised over her turbaned head splashing water from the tap
into an unshaven armpit and muttering to no one we can see.

I press past her to piss, my bladder unconcerned; here, in this washroom,
we are all human stink. When I emerge from the stall, she is gone,
the floor shining wet from her morning ablutions: a respite
from the city’s grim patina within these hallowed halls
where we all, each of us, can feel at home.


Bull's Eyes

Standing on a BART train surrounded by children who look like children I might have some day, little boys with their heads shaved close, little girls with hair in braids, tiny plastic barrettes in the shape of birds and fish and flowers clamped at the ends. I’m refreshing my smart phone as I travel back to Oakland early on this BART train under the bay, looking to see what our lives are worth to those twelve people sitting on that jury at the other end of the state, where other juries have decided in the past that our lives are, simply, not worth very much.  

But my smart phone isn’t so smart under the bay, and instead I smile at the children surrounding me who are acting like children:  climbing over their seats, climbing over each other, voices raised in the sparkling cacophony that happy children are known for. They are on their way home from a long day of field-tripping with young white teachers who look exhausted and protective when a middle- aged white man in a suit presses past the children with his briefcase clutched to his chest and his face a mask of annoyance. I wonder if he sees these children as children, or if he sees these children as so many animals, or a drain on the system, or a shitty way to end his workday, or living, breathing bull’s eyes. What do the other people around me see when they look at these little boys, smelling like little boys, full of energy and excitement, their eyes reflecting nothing but the sun as we come above ground in West Oakland?  

I refresh my phone again and know what our lives are worth, know that the twelve people on that jury decided that these children are little bull’s eyes. I want to hold them all close to me, spread my arms around them, protect them from those who will involuntarily pull out their guns, take aim, and slaughter them for being little boys, for being little boys full of energy, for being children who look like children I might have some day.   


That Way

I know you didn’t mean it that way, but today is a day when you’re the fifth person who didn’t mean it, and the other two meant it very well, and I just can’t keep my mouth shut anymore  

because I said nothing when white hipster boys biking in the Mission, muttering “nigga” ironically as they passed. I said nothing but silently wished them transported to a small cabin in Missouri 

with tiny dark windows like missing teeth, miles from anything resembling a main road, clothes waving lazily from the line stretched across the yard and illuminated by the cross being set on fire,  

inside babies smacked by helpless women trying to keep them quiet while outside horses whinny and sigh and bullets and rope are eased from saddlebags, the night so disgraced that even the moon flinches.  

No, I cannot keep my mouth shut any longer, I’m sorry. So when your eyes grow wide and indignant at being found out, when your face twists into tantrum, your cheeks streaked with fat embarrassed tears,   

I find myself trapped between compassion and a desire for you to grow a thicker skin:  a darker skin, perhaps, for Lord knows the rest of us can’t afford to be so sensitive, so tender, in this world full of people who never mean it that way. 

 

Lauren Wheeler writes poetry and really short fiction. She's twice competed at the National Poetry Slam and has featured throughout the country, including at Cornell University, where she studied English. Her work has appeared in Monkeybicycle, PANK, and The Nervous Breakdown. She lives in Oakland, California. Learn more at laurenwheeler.com.

1 Poem by Tamara Hollins

 

Learning from Benjamin

the thing about being anything really
is the dissection of the original
through analysis and interpretation
tear-me-down gossip and the imposition of
your context on the thing that is me
about whom you know very little
even still
that dissection is a creative act
in which you (re)create me
until you have copies of me
that are more real to you than the original
and in some strange way
i am (re)born and (re)produced

 

 

Tamara Hollins has earned the following degrees: a B.A. in Art, with distinction; an M.A. in Cultural Studies; an M.F.A. in Writing and Literature; and a Ph.D. in English.  Her scholarly work, creative writing, and art have been published in journals, anthologies, and encyclopedias.  
 

1 Poem by Ciara Miller

 

From the DCFS Counselor's Office (while chewing Bubblicious Bubblegum)

third grade girl say i pretty
pretty ugly

learned lies ugly
before i ever believed them

mama beat me bloody
til i broke: banjo

still cried
to whitney houston

i want you to see light skin 
think i mixed

believe i believe 
i pretty

doctor ask if i see
that thing

i tell boy in class 
i want to see his thing.

my cousin’s daddy 
say my daddy a nasty thing

i hear you
talk too much

teacher gave me a star
for keeping my mouth shut

 

 

Ciara Miller, a native of Chicago, is a poetry MFA candidate and an African American/African Diaspora Studies MA candidate at Indiana University. She has published poems and academic essays in such collections and periodicals as Callaloo, the African American Review, PLUCK, Chorus, Alice Walker: Critical Insights, and Cave Canem Anthology XII.

1 Poem by Brooke Hendricks

 

Convenience

In Savannah there is a long winding path
Of round black cobble stones and
Broken dreams. And there, in the rain of angry gods,
A boy stands waiting for me.
With hair weaved from Rumpel’s gold
And hands bigger than my
Every dream, the boy is
A lion calling out for me.
Step by step, slowly, I am walking, walking,
Walking into the arms that
Do not open easily. The arms
That stretch wide for Maria
And Maya and Mai but falter
Just slightly for me. And I wish
That it wasn’t so
Obvious. That when my phone rang
At four this morning
It was me
Swimming in the watery abyss of
His bloodshot eyes. But I know
I am only
The twenty-four hour diner on Montgomery
With the warm seats
And jelly doughnuts
Eaten not for its gooey flavor 
But because the Olive Garden
Across the street had closed until morning.
Still, I let my head
Rest against his wet and shivering chest.
I let him take refuge
In my always open arms
Because sometimes a lopsided burger
From McDonald’s is more filling than
A five-course meal. Engulfed in
An embrace meant for someone else,
I drown in the violent, pouring rain.

 

Brooke Hendricks buys more books than she can finish and spends her nights bingeing on fruit. When she's not crying over foreign dramas, she loves to write at her local Starbucks. She currently majors in Creative Writing at Full Sail University.

1 Poem by Regina Reid

 

Air Strike

In the absence of paranoia
I visit public places 
to look for work as if
the private sector is 
            still around
and
these are not my disciples,
though they follow me everywhere
leading others through distant satellite
as to what to believe:
              something is wrong
we are being colonized into a new America.
Opposition is present where job opportunities
have abandoned.
             On some city blocks every other house
             is divorced. What remains is a vacant neighborhood,
gapping
                         from decay
and not many are brave enough to partner to what’s humane.
People live in places where hardly anything works—
the electricity is off; the heat is a chill, and water
leaves a paper trail—bills stacked for future use.
              Maybe firewood.
An EBT card replaces good credit, and the only checks paid
are to bishops before each night.
                           Why are churches still here? This is metro Detroit.
This is not good.
This is not fair trade.
This is not free enterprise.
This is not capitalism,
and it’s not personal.
             If we are no longer the land of the free
             and the home of the brave,
                          who are we?

 

Regina Reid: MA, English Language & Literature, Creative Writing, earned 2002. Previous worked published in local journals. English and Creative Writing Instructor since 1998.

2 Poems by Rina nk

 

Yearning

I sing my name into the soukous
and with a gamble: yours too /
I sing in love notes /
twists my hair
into conga drums : and your eyes
in the liner notes and as I dance
I begin to weep


Instruction Manual

scrub the brown off very late at night
sit in the tub and let it boil off
rip thin pink patches of flesh
from everybody who has ever hurt you 
and tie em around your pointer and middle finger 
press em into your palms and
allow this to happen
and then cut some more against the grain 
when the blood starts to boil and flow, bottle it up
like it's spring water
and rinse your hair with it
and you will start to see the change
like you do with the seasons. 
you will see white 
white in the stars 
white like lilies 
white in the snow and be reminded about what you tied
around your finger so long ago 

 

Rina nk is a 1998-born Filipino-Congolese writer from Illinois. She lives and writes in Arizona. You can find more of her work at rinank.tumblr.com.

3 Poems by Morgan Christie

 

Targets

If only it hadn’t been 1946 on a remote back road 
in a rural town in North Carolina, but it was;
or if your brother hadn’t stayed late after school for extra help 
with his homework, but he did; 
or if those three white boys speeding through the back streets of town 
hadn’t spotted him walking towards them, 
or if one of the boys hadn’t had bottle of 
Coca-Cola and decided on a game of target practice, 
or if only the driver didn’t lean out of his window and whip the glass bottle 
at your brother’s head, yelling, “Catch Nigger!”,
or if the bottle hadn’t ricocheted off your brother’s jaw leaving 
a scar he would carry for the rest of his life, but it did;
or if only the pain he felt from his bleeding chin had outweighed his anger,
or if he hadn’t gripped the bottle and in a moment of rage thrown it back 
towards the speeding truck narrowly missing its bumper,
or if the three boys hadn’t been watching in the rearview mirror and 
spun around in hot perusal of the boy, but they did;
or if only they stopped chasing him when he cut into the woods,
or if they didn’t jump out of their truck and run down behind him,
or if your brother hadn’t tripped over an elevated root,
scraping his knee and slowing him down, and he did;
or if you hadn’t been on the front porch waiting for him to get home,
or if your brother’s tears hadn’t mixed with the blood of his chin,
running down the sleek neck you eyed with worry,
or if you hadn’t seen those three boys closing in on him,
or if your father didn’t leave his rifle beside the sofa in the living room,
or if only those boys fled when they saw you with that double barrel,
or if only they stopped approaching when you told them to,
or if only they listened when you warned them,
or if only they had taken you seriously, 
but they didn’t.


In response to being questioned by authorities the morning she was arrested for firing two 
shots into the ground with a double-barreled rifle near the feet of three boys that had 
chased her brother in their 1939 Chevrolet pickup before jumping out of their vehicle and 
pursuing him on foot through the wooded shortcut he ducked and dodged through to get 
home and evade his pursuers in all their unyielding fury for a reason he was sure stemmed 
much deeper than the launch and miss of an empty Coca-Cola bottle that they had thrown 
at him only moments prior 

                                                                                                           I was protecting my brother


Reasons for Release

Heard her daddy and sheriff served together 
That her daddy saved sheriff’s life
                                                                                                                 Cuz she a young girl and ain’t no one 
                                                                                                                     want no marshal sniffin’ round here
And when them boys’ uncle took them to the
station they said she shot at them
                                                                                                     Cuz when the police pulled them bullets from 
                                                                                                     the ground their trajectory was pointing down
                                                     

                                                   Cuz them boys was on they property                                                                                                                                                    and had no business being there 

Since her grandmamma took care of sheriff’s
wife when she was a baby
                                                                                                        Cuz she a pretty young thang with killa’ legs
                                                                                                                 and one of them police boys want her
And them boys’ parents tore up they hind parts
for stealing they grandpappy’s truck 
                                                                                                                        Cuz black folks ain’t got no rights 
                                                                                                                                       but to protect they home

                                                        Cuz the police couldn’t figure out
                                                                what to charge her with

Since them boys’ mama been buying her 
jarred peaches from her mama for ten years
                                                                                                    Cuz her brother had to go to the hospital and 
                                                                                                         get ten stiches in his jaw and four in his leg
And her granddaddy drove her brother over there 
and made him apologize for throwin’ that bottle
                                                             

                                                               Cuz she could have killed em’                                                                                                                                                                         but didn’t

                                                                                                                                   Cuz the white folks in town
                                                                                                                                                  respect her family
Since she’s always been
a good girl

                                            Cuz she was right, 
                                                                        no,
                                                                           Cuz she was lucky

 

A Toronto, ON native, Morgan has a tendency to get lost in scenic views, good books, and potent aromas which might account for the slow, but steady, intention of getting her blog up and running. Her work has appeared in Hippocampus, Germ Magazine, Vagabonds, & was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s 2013 Family Matters competition. She plans to attend graduate school & obtain an MFA in Creative Writing in the fall of 2015.

1 Poem by Nneoma Nwankwo

 

Trials of The Wooden Comb

The wooden comb takes no prisoners
            only clumps of my hair
shedding, falling
rest in peace


When I was young 
           I knew I was a tree
my legs, unstable roots
my torso, a germinating stem
my arms, long ebony branches
my coily sable mane –
            the most bewitching of flowers


The wooden comb –
            wide teeth,
pointed picks
– achipu oji*


Tears
              linger persistently in the corner of my eyes
I refuse to let them fall
the comb must pass through
or break
                                     one victor only 


My head stock-still
            between Mother’s legs
the coconut scent of her boubou*
congesting my nose,
             an eruption of sneezes


When I was a child,
            I spent hours staring at straight hair
of women who looked nothing like me –
                         with their pale skin
                         and narrow noses –
never did I envy
but often, I wondered –
          if they ever used wooden combs

 

          Mother’s bi-weekly battle
the wooden comb, her captain general –
         trudging through,
                     struggling 
                                 to manipulate my mane into cornrows
        for school

 

A loud snap 
            one vanquished
                         the comb, in two
I hear Mother’s frustrated sigh
           and rub my aching scalp
Remorseful –
            again,
the unintentional victor

 

*Achipu oji – common in Igbo culture, a masquerade with claws, wild hair and scary clothing.
*Boubou – a West African flowing dress.

 

Nneoma Nwankwo is an 18-year old poet from Nigeria, who attends school in Virginia. She also now does her hair herself.

1 Poem by Nikita Hernandez

 

Cemeteries
After Rita Dove

There are ghost towns in the ocean
where I tried to encourage a love impossible.
We lie down screaming

in empty beds with icy pillows. The walls
answer our echoes, then toss them into
ghost towns in the ocean.

When you tired of swimming and sank
in the salt, I decided to drown too
and cease breathing. We lie down screaming

defeat as the Atlantic punches through
us. We come up dripping. Our bones build
ghost towns. In the ocean

a battered row boat drifts—my initials 
carved on the right oar, yours on the left. 
We lie down screaming

and holes where our fingers should fit
become apparent. For every failed transatlantic
romance, there are ghost towns in the ocean.
We lie down screaming.

 

By day Nikita Hernandez is a legal writer and by night a poet. In her downtime she likes to curl up in her papasan chair, laugh, drink sweet tea, say “y’all,” and make a mess when baking. She spends her life hoping it will snow in Florida.

1 Poem by Latorial Faison

 

Reclaiming Eden

Reclaiming Eden
We congregate in mental secrecy
lifting ancient gourds to sky
grateful, for words that fell 
from beneath Gabriel’s wings

ntitled poems, protests, songs 
revolutions of dead gurus 
            in between Heavens and hells

Souls issued out, offered up 
reigniting fires birthed and burned 
ancient antiques, broken vessels 
hanging from southern trees
scrubbing red bloods from 
lily-white hands, calloused black feet

Recording rages of the ages 
preaching, scribing, and reviving
            baptizing in the name of justice

Sent from Eden to raise the dead 
from the ignorant, poisoned dreams
summoning hues of black blues 
with the lyrics of syncopated truths 
anointing blank pages with oil 
from inkwells of martyred kings

5 Poems by Elizabeth Mitchell

 

Starlight

On a night when you existed but did not exist, I pulled you from the sky.
On a grassy hill I gathered the stillness around me, filling my eyes
with the dragonflies of night. I invited your presence, the dark
wash of your jeans, gleaming buttons of your shirt. Our bodies
phantasms of light. Our noses
traced the quiet brilliance of constellations, our palms
turned together towards the earth.
You asked me “Do I know you?” and “Where can I find you?,”
but my heart's only answer was “yes.”

On a night where I existed but did not exist, you
brought me to the base of a mountain.
You lying there in the freshly sawn grass.
Your eyes were so familiar, your voice
a lullaby I had slept to for years. Above us
the spirits laughed and glinted as we'd never seen them before.
Our whispers that night made love to the whispers of the night.
A love of listening to your words, our laughter blended into the crickets.

And what to do with this fire that breathes
only on nights where we do not exist.


A Room of Painted Ladies

in this room are deer
and a river creeping up the wall,
where newts and northern leopards leap,
each splash a breath.

the wings of painted ladies,
their fire and black, their light
and silt settling on our heads
folding and unfolding over daises.

it does not rain here
nor is there cold,
an endless spring creeps
into fall and returns

orange flames of leaves
where we rest
together each night,
the sky lit with planets.

my hair, a long throw of curls
to warm us in the night
as our bodies cup
the earth beneath
this gnarled bough.


Once in a Blue Moon

should be a flavor of ice cream, which drips
down your chin, vanilla and something
sweetly familiar, yet unexpectedly out of place,
a flavor that doesn’t quite make sense,
but that you keep eating anyway.

There are multiple ways to end a sentence or
one could keep it going, still
you’d rather have an end, but maybe the end
is never really the end, the period
an invitation to something again,
some word against another’s tongue
waiting for the correct shape to give it being.


Our Neighbors Are Not Happy People

Into the quiet evening his voice yells,
“I’m the one in control,” and she responds
with silence, her hand on brass doorknob.
“Have a good time,” he tells her. And yet
how can anyone have a good time after that.

When I anger you to the rare moment your voice rises,
I am ashamed. This rage inside of me
overwhelming. “It is this crazy job,” I tell you.
And you believe me, but you still don’t think
it should affect me this much.
“Let it go,” you say. But I can’t.

The ceiling splinters under the weight
of two running children. On Saturdays,
erratic sounds emerge from the keyboard above our heads.
I laugh at the absurdity of “My Heart Will Go On”
at 9 in the morning and cannot fall back asleep.

When I have hurt you
with a slew of slippery words,
it takes hours, days, to return to that peace,
for you to feel safe again.

One afternoon, a rare explosion of my neighbor's voice.
His Arabic, her silence, their baby crying beneath my feet.
They moved soon after that, drilling beneath us,
unscrewing their lives from the walls.


Soul

If you meet yourself on an empty street,
eyes slapping your face like the wind,
do not turn away. Gaze into the eyes of
this stranger of different circumstance
who is you from a different life.

If your other self rejects your existence,
remember, there are only two of you
in this world. (Though there may be more.)
But it is rare to find yourself
in the body of another.

Cling to this other self
even when they walk away from your life.
It is you clinging to you that is not you.
It is you clinging to your whisper,
your mind, your breath.

 

Elizabeth Mitchell grew up in Detroit, MI and calls southeast Michigan home. She teaches poetry to high school students through the InsideOut Literary Arts Project and builds websites. Her poetry can be found in Mobius: The Journal of Social Change. She enjoys water and water birds. http://emitche.github.io/

1 Poem by Joy KMT

 

Negotiations 

as if eyes were lobster crackers 
and safety was a word that didn’t 
work, like “pineapples” became a 
joke and so did the girl who belonged 
to herself- 
 
too strong to not go insane. 
mostly you don’t even notice it. our 
heads go prowling while we wash 
the porcelain dishes or stir the pots 
or drive the cars or listen to white 
women talk about sisterhood. 
 
sometimes the crack is noticed. 
a babalawo will look at your miniskirt 
and ask you why you are so 
unstable and you always keep 
a different number. 
 
so you smile and position your voice 
two octaves higher and you’re a little 
girl again whose shell has been 
cracked and your only defense is nice. 
vacant. You have immediately 
vacated your own body in deference 
to an Authority. 
 
and your girlfriend is watching. Angry 
watching you shrink your average-height- 
for-a-man frame. Angry that you flinch at 
a hint of an old man’s disapproval 
 
and you couldn’t tell this woman whose 
blood is so royal that five hundred years 
ago in benin they cast her face in bronze 
so she would be remembered when she 
walked back across the ocean 
that you

are sometimes absolutely terrified. and that 
you are also so Angry that you curl 
up like a bantu knot every time 
someone looks at you with 
lobster cracker eyes 
 
so you both order a rum and coke 
and forget about what is not said.

 

Joy KMT is self-taught & queer & black &  femme & hood & poet & mother &l over &. Her poetry has appeared in Amistad: Howard's Literary Journal, Black Girl Dangerous, Backbone Poetry Journal, The Feminist Wire, Pluck! the Affrilachian Journal of Arts and Culture, and others. www.facebook.com/KMTjoy

1 Poem by Jennifer Bartell

 

White Shoulders

Her perfume burned a hole in his pocket. 
The scent of her was as close as the smell 
of dirt and dust after plowing 
when the wind carries traces of it and triggers 
his days working in Tarheel tobacco fields. 
Now fresh earth-wounds open to accept a seedling that will 
never sprout, stays buried until the trumpet waters it to life. 
 
A plume of cigarette smoke hovers over the corn stalks 
as he palms the cobs. He shrugs at the thought of White Shoulders, 
reminisces on how the scent embalmed her skin, 
how when they were apart he kept her skin in his pocket. 
And for her final depart, he could smell her skin still, 
even through the purple-laden coffin. 
He sniffed out White Shoulders even when he passed 
a fire-curing tobacco barn in mid-August. 
In a wave of air that rushed his barn door, 
he detected the bouquet again. His heart 
considered the electric slide, but could only be still. 
And in his pocket: a receipt for Dr. Pepper.

 

 

Jennifer Bartell is an MFA candidate at the University of South Carolina. Her poetry has been published in Jasper Magazine, The Art of Medicine in Metaphors, Letras Caseras, The Double Dealer, 2013, and decomP. Follow her on Twitter @bartelliyo.