3 Poems by Imani Marshall-Stephen


the price of silence

It’s not okay you make 
me want to run. Your endless 
wails have shattered the bones 
that keep me standing. And 
I think of leaving you here 
to drown in the abundance 
of your tears, proof of your 
distaste of my presence in 
your home. I imagine you 
slip slowly to the ground; 
the tears finally stop. 
I can close these eyes for 
just a second short of 
dreaming and wake up ready. 
I’ll hold you with a lighter 
touch then. Your smile will 
stop my trembling fingers. 
But right now my head holds 
foggy images of you in the 
womb. Only my ears can 
see how you hate this place 
and this actor made to portray 
the role of doting mother. 
And I am. I will be? 
Tomorrow. But today, the 
feeling passed by me as 
quickly as a gust of wind in fall, 
and I saw a thousand pupils 
burn through me for the 
thought. And this melanin 
coursing through me says 
“be okay,” even if only 
a mantra yet to be realized. 
So these lips are stitched, 
silenced in a medicinal prayer.


Sunday Morning

Sunday morning is bright 
colored brimmed hats with 
organza flowers on the side, 
yellow pencil skirt suits 
appropriately hitting nude 
stocking covered knees, 
homemade cardboard fans 
that read “Home is where 
HE is,” pastel pumps steadily 
clicking down the hardwood 
aisle, strong hands laid on 
weak shoulders, little kid 
dress shoes banging backs of 
pews, soft murmurs of how 
good HE is, loud shouts of 
the same, beads of sweat 
down the pastor’s forehead, 
white cloths to wipe them 
from his eyes, the gasp he 
makes to breath between 
the Word he speaks to 
perked ears and beating 
hearts, silver plated trays 
of flesh and blood, gold 
plates with paper for HIS 
work, half-hearted smiles 
from those who only heard, 
sincere ones from those who 
know the truth, staccato 
claps with soulful rhythm, 
tambourine shakes that 
stir the feet, tight handshakes, 
tighter hugs, careful flips 
of ancient pages, strangers 
with familial titles, potluck 
brunches of fried catfish, 
eggs, and grits, full bellies, 
fuller conversation, and 
an easy ride home, napping 
to Donny McClurkin 
on the radio. 

What we may hope for

Drumbeats merge into beatings 
etched in the dark memories 
of pancake faces consumed hungrily 
by the highest bidder. And years 
later we rejoice at the sound of 
freedom’s ring, promising free 
hands and free feet that translate 
into the free will to birth complacency 
at the expense of a free mind. So, 
like sediment, we settle for less, 
hoping to gain more in the long run. 
We close our ears to the whispers 
of sharp tongues, but secretly 
inhale them, filling us with cloudy 
images of our own self-worth. 
I marched and saw the faces 
of the forgotten. Now, I watch 
those around me walk around in 
forgetfulness, unaware of the power 
of their past. I knew Malcolm before 
the X, but today I watch young people 
chase materials that only measure 
the meaninglessness of paper. I 
remember the long walk to the 
back of the bus, but now I listen 
to the sailor talk of kids who 
sit there willingly and wonder 
when the shift happened. The family 
unit shatters as easily as a glass 
slips between the immature fingers 
of a child. The tapestry that binds 
us is frayed, pulled apart somewhere 
between sit-ins and music videos. 
Connection has become a foreign idea 
duplicated by wires running through 
a motherboard. And if we look closely, 
we see that our own reflection has been 
pre-created in a painting, not a mirror. 
But time has moved me past relevance 
in this age. The present is owned 
by the young girls I used to bounce on 
my knee. But they know that more 
than bondage, our mark runs deep through purple blood and in the 
minds of creators of worlds. They 
know the chain of family is made 
stronger by each link it retains. They 
know that richness is not measured in 
dollar bills. But I hope this understanding 
spreads like an epidemic to those 
who own the world and spread their 
seeds across it. Though I doubt time 
will keep me here to see it. 


Imani Marshall-Stephen is a New York City native. She is currently working on completing 
her first book of poems based upon her master's thesis. Besides writing poetry, Imani spends her time hanging out with friends, enjoying good food and conversation, and relaxing with her new husband and best friend, Ostus.