Won’t Be There
At 8, I want to be him,
wear his billowy coif
smidgeon smaller than his black halo.
Like him, I perform when prompted by adults
equally desirous of amusement
as I, attention,
do his signature spin,
wail his wail,
imagine I was born in Gary,
goin’ to Kansas City
as if I could spin there from Queens,
easy as 1, 2, 3 – I’ll be there.
I stop, look over my shoulder honey –
Grandma’s tenement building still rises behind me,
reaches vainly for heaven.
~for Richard Pryor
You didn’t tell jokes,
held up mirrors –
a comedic Langston
Profanely profound words
touched our core –
breathed through laughter,
Wendell Ottley is originally from Queens, NY, but currently lives in Durham, NC with his wife and three children. He has bachelor degrees from Shaw University in English and Accounting. He is also a member of the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective, and his work has been published in African American Review, BMa: The Sonia Sanchez Literary Review, Black Arts Quarterly, and Rhapsody in Black.
I seal my pain
in a cardboard box
stripe tape over it
in double layers
put it in the attic
under old clothes
and Christmas decorations
let it thicken
the air up there
so that I can breathe
Diane Judge resides in Durham, North Carolina. She is a member of the North Carolina Poetry Society as well as the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective. Her work has been published in Black Magnolias Literary Journal, 34th Parallel, Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora, Frogpond, Remembrances of Wars Past (an anthology edited by Henry Tonn) and Poetry South.
you and i
marsh and mellow yellow winds
chiming diatonic kisses,
misses and connections
slipping streams of saliva
washed up tongues
posing for truth
while bathing in lies,
awhile in the spot
you agreed of my success;
though I blessed your recompense,
my doubts like lilies dank and rank
rise with the phony phone calls of your morning cries,
but I love the lifts of love we tarry and sway!
whatever of perfection
predilections you mask are enough for a hand
Ernest Williamson, III has published poetry and visual art in over 400 national and international online and print journals. Some of Dr. Williamson’s visual art and/or poetry has been published in journals representing over 35 colleges and universities around the world. View over 1000 of Dr. Williamson’s paintings/drawings on this website. Dr. Williamson is an adjunct professor, Christian, self-taught pianist, poet, singer,composer, social scientist, private tutor, and a self-taught painter. His poetry has been nominated three times for the Best of the Net Anthology (http://www.sundresspublications.com/). The poems which were nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology were as follows: “The Jazz of Old Wine”, “The Symbol of Abiotic Needs”, & “The Misfortune of Shallow Sight”. He holds the B.A. and the M.A. in English/CreativeWriting/Literature from the University of Memphis and the PhD in Higher Education Leadership from Seton Hall University. Visit his website for more information. www.yessy.com/budicegenius
The basement of my heart is earth quaking
for poems to reconstruct me.
If I was a puzzle set,
would you be able to piece together my bigger picture?
No, I’m not a little house on the prairie
or a lake in the meadows; but maybe — just maybe I’m a barn.
My chest bared open
with children playing jungle gym on my rib cage.
I like to think that when Van Gogh painted Starry Night
he was painting the stars behind my eyelids
I’ve been desperately trying to reach.
Would you spare me the extra fingers to make it?
And if I fall short, will you look at me like a miracle in progress?
Something pending, like a Facebook Friend Request—
if you would just give me 20 seconds of silence
I can do something.
I want to cause you an out of body experience
and I won’t take “no” for an answer
because if you listen closely to the bass of my metaphors
you will hear the Hallelujahs that you are in the line breaks.
When I grow up, I used to want to inherit something of my mother
but I’ve long since noticed I don’t look like her anymore
and that’s okay because her voice box shoots daggers
through the hole in my heart that closed up when I was two.
The doctors say that my heart overcompensates
that it works a little too hard for its own good
so I’ve been singing it love songs
telling it that it doesn’t have to be good enough anymore.
It just has to be good.
There are people in my life that treat me like I’m breaking bad
that I’m broken and that they have to walk around me
Truth is, I’m slowly trying to break myself open
because I want to look like freedom is the most scarred of ways.
When I grow up, I want to be ground zero
so that whenever someone looks at me
they’ll sing amazing grace.
Shanice Shamzy Thompson more commonly known by the name Shamzy is in her second year at USF double majoring in Secondary English Education and Creative Writing. She is also pursuing a minor in Women and Gender Studies. She chooses to be identified with the gender neutral pronouns because they are not defined by the heteronormative gender binary. Through her creative works she tries to explore and express the human condition through deconstructing the individual’s effect on the world and the world’s effect on the individual because personal growth stems through relationships whether positive or negative.
And yours is the face
Cold steel circles
We are Adam and Eve
The Lights are flashing
On your face
And our last kiss
Is a sacrament.
You must have known the whole time
And the tears on my cheeks
Are a silent cry
The lights recede
You brightest of them all
With a last look, a wink
We could have gone so far
But you were never a runner
Without you, I slowly slip,
Of my own depressions.
Patrick Adigweme is a part-time writer, part-time devourer of knowledge, and full-time travel enthusiast based out of Portland, Oregon.
An embryo’s heartbeat paces
fast like the crescendo of a song,
an upbeat tempo.
In the deep of the night
a crescent moon is bent like an ear
as the heart quiets and listens.
Low murmurs in the secret dark.
You rest your head on my belly
and we spend minutes
whispering about our future,
about the name of our unborn child,
if he’ll have your nose and teeth
or my black hair.
A hiccup in summer gust,
a pause in lilac breeze,
a fetus’s heartbeat slows,
hangs on, and then
and that song we’ve been listening
to for the last eight months
a stillborn’s final breath.
Silence on repeat at noon,
silence on rotation at night.
The silence, turn it off,
play something tranquil for me,
of a xylophone
Melody muffles grief.
We can’t hear each other in the dark,
it’s easier this way.
And you’re crying like a man
who lost his son.
And I’m crying like a woman
who lost her firstborn.
The Hunger Artist
Hollow as a baby pumpkin,
a hole forms in my stomach
after you’re done scooping out
the seeds, slime, and pulp.
I once weighed fullness on a
supermarket scale, it was plump
as a melon, tipping the scale at
six pounds, 2 oz, but that weight
was aborted a week later and
emptiness felt like a glass of
tap water, half full.
In times of welfare and poverty,
you’re carving a grin on the
outer shell of a pumpkin, but
to be honest, it looks like
an upside down frown.
Seven o’clock before dinner,
I am reading about Kafka’s
hunger artist fasting behind bars,
shedding skin and bones,
and when he lost consciousness
in a cage stuffed with skeletal
straws and public scrutiny,
I wonder if he remembered how
it felt to be full again?
You bring me a bowl of rice to
fill my belly, but what about
feeding my growling heart?
I’ve tasted the sweet and the salty,
chewed the solids and drank the
liquids, but nothing edible,
not even two bowls of rice can
lift the unbearable weight of
emptiness from the heart.
Ha Kiet Chau currently teaches art and literature in San Francisco, California. Her poems have been published in many literary journals in the US, UK, and Asia. She also received nominations for Best New Poets (Ploughshares 2011) and Best of the Net (Flutter Poetry Journal 2012). Her chapbook, Woman, Come Undone is forthcoming from Mouthfeel Press in 2013. http://hapoetryblog.tumblr.com/
I am smashed against you in the stinking crevice
of a back room in some haven of skeptical antiques.
We ravel mouth in the gray of the stupefied past,
blot estival steam, slow-pump hips until stone
and porcelain quiver. We stop to stroll, affecting
a grasp of rhinestone brooches, we spritz our hands
with spit, scrub breath into grimy daguerreotypes.
We browse, sneeze, and sneakingly swap spittle
while avoiding the storming glower and bulged
cerise lips of the mammy dolls. Laquered mute,
they screech their awful lessons of Jesus and dust.
It’s On You
down a mountain
ripping your own body
open with the thick thunderous
fingers of weather. Beginning to die
is hearing growls at the paper gate
of heaven, and laughing uproariously at the gag.
The joke’s on you, tumbler, mountain climber, hurricane eye.
It’s on you, crazed searcher, almost angel, goddamned liar, bleeder.
I Bet You Looked Beautiful
when you were pregnant, you say, and again
I dream myself bulging with river, feel my calves
muscle with odd weight. You’d collect blooms,
raging chocolates, scraps of Neruda, to bring home
to me, where I’d lay on my side in our bed, naked
and amazed by errant flow. Sweet bumbler,
you’d make a mess of our bleached floral sheets.
I would carry your child unbridled, bared
to the horror, and then to the damned sun again.
Patricia Smith is that rare poet who has succeeded in both the
realms of spoken word and published poetry. A powerful performer,
she is a four-time National Individual Grand-Slam Champion
(an unsurpassed achievement). Her work has appeared in such
prestigious literary publications as Poetry, Paris Review,
Best American Poetry and many other journals and anthologies,
and she has been a National Book Award finalist for poetry.
Patricia Smith’s poetry collections include Shoulda Been Jimi
Savannah (2012); Blood Dazzler (2008); Teahouse of the Almighty
(2006), chosen for the 2005 National Poetry Series; Big Towns,
Big Talk (2002); Close to Death (1998); and Life According
to Motown (1991). ~ bio courtesy of Dodge Poetry
The Method[José Balmes, Realidad 10, mixed media and collage on wood, 1964]
A coffin is a poor substitute for a gag.
A voice grows larger in artifice: a child
pinned to a loom, a spouse crumpled
into bullet wounds on the porch
where every dog barks night’s slur.
The body finds its voice in a beartrap,
hurt, returning to the cause of every
terror and misery – the mistruth.
They are speaking from bagged heads,
gurgling their telegraph through black
water like a liturgy for the unforgotten.
Even from behind the yellow newsprint
is the law of transitivity—one voice breaking
through the obit, another taking the shape
of the voice to seal off the gaffer tape.
There are other lives waiting to etch
themselves on live grenades. The ash clouds,
the wailing, are drowned out by blood,
but murmur in the blood underneath, & so
remain as permanent as air, or walls, or
blood. Is this real: as in, does this correspond
to something outside themselves,
or does it last, even when they don’t think it?
They were asking too much about how the world
came to be so damp with blood, blood stamped
with peace, blood in the absolute center of things
like a dipole, until the pistols, sleek as Dobermans,
uncovered them. What was real against the wall,
do they linger once the last loud firecracker is spent?
Do they correspond to something outside themselves?
Rodney Gomez lives in Brownsville, Texas and works as an urban planner. His poems have appeared in Denver Quarterly, Devil’s Lake, Salt Hill, Texas Poetry Review, Barrow Street, and other journals. He was a CantoMundo fellow and has received residencies from the Atlantic Center for the Arts and the Santa Fe Art Institute.
Ferns with taut synthetic banana leaves and
chipping lightweight boulders
sit, arranged on sod inside a glass case.
A faded mural of an African landscape
twisted acacia tree ignited by an impressionist sunset
a backdrop, electric fencing its frame.
Dead grass drifts in an outsized dog bowl
murky with bits of fur and puke.
A faux mountain generates a door.
Tongs emerge through bars, plunking
lukewarm meat within.
A child smashes his fist against the exhibit,
fogging fat glass with muggy breath.
He propels his plush lion, sent recoiling
behind him into crowd.
Face paint smearing onto glass,
blob of papaya orange and black.
Slouched and gaunt, panting
in smog, the animal fans his tail for an anticipated breeze.
Pawing the dirt, toes spread clench spread clench
until collapsing unto rock. Raucous djembes pounding
over intercom, glare of tribal masks in his cage.
The child in his iris,
as a fly treads across his cornea.
Melinda Dubbs is from Fishers, Indiana, currently earning a Bachelor’s in English and Psychology at Indiana University Bloomington. Her work has appeared in Tipton Poetry Journal, zaum, Collision, Red Fez, and unFold, among others. She placed first in the 2012 Melba Geoffroy Poetry Contest.
“I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes,
I had one thousand and sixty.” — Imelda Marcos
When she slipped us on,
we cracked small smiles.
Straightened our slender heels,
bit the ground.
Claimed our spot nearest the closet
door where her perfume sang.
Her husband’s worn dress shirts
crumpled in a corner, cooling.
We’ve never met the concrete dives,
skidded across rubble, or polluted
rivers. No sand left behind
in the grooves where we remember her.
Instead, we sank into the start of myth,
stretched to the form of her filed feet.
We’ll sing our emerald beauty,
try to forgive the chorus of slap-
slapping around us, rubber slippers
drowning out our staccato, our
foreign tongues beating out an island
of our own.
Band-Aid Yourself into a Better World
Find yourself a telephone booth
Then tell everyone you’re making your face
Wave a pad of blotting papers from your aging hand
Blurt something about your mother’s Suzanne Somers
Then skip singing En Vogue pretending salon perms
and avocado scrubs
When you’re indeed alone
or in the Lorac aisle of Sephora
inhale the small bed of wounds
a dog’s earthy fur
a screech from the screen door interrupting
a quiet day
and now it’s even harder to breathe
The time you watched the neighbor boy
drown a broken-beaked bird
in the shallow gutter
And you thought
you can’t save anyone
But even then
the branches scratched something shriller
Rachelle Cruz is from Hayward, California. She is the author of the chapbook, Self-Portrait as Rumor and Blood (Dancing Girl Press, 2012). Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Bone Bouquet, PANK Magazine, Muzzle Magazine, Splinter Generation, KCET’s Departures Series, Inlandia: A Literary Journey, among others. She hosts The Blood-Jet Writing Hour on Blog Talk Radio. She is an Emerging Voices Fellow, a Kundiman Fellow and a VONA writer living and writing in Southern California.
i got my teacher pockets
full of golden tickets,
a crumpled paper airplane,
unfolded; blue and green
a pen cap, black,
a chewed pen, blue.
there’s always juice-
from the bus ride home.
i got back pocket pencils
point end down, for prevention,
they always end up broken.
i take home scissors,
repossessed for reason.
string, yarn; that day we made
masks from paper plates.
like mardi gras,
their perfect black faces
outshone bright glitter and beads.
Gideon Young is a native of Connecticut. His poetry has appeared in Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora and The Long River Review. He earned a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from North Carolina State University and Bachelor’s in Literature from the University of Connecticut. Gideon lives in Efland, North Carolina with his wife and their two cats.
Fan Letter to Spiderman
~after Lucile Clifton
You were on TV last night, saving folks from falling
to their deaths when that giant lizard tossed cars
off the bridge. You must hate the way those villains
assume it’s your job to clean up the mess they leave behind.
The tabloids said you showed your face to the little boy
you rescued so he could see you were just like him—
human and scared—but his father said he’s too young
to know what really happened.
You don’t want everyone to connect the man
to his good deeds or thank you for doing a job
none of us want to do. You want to be left
alone to carry the burden all by yourself.
I wear a mask too, but in the daytime to guard
against a world that wants to pound me into my place.
Your mask gives you a freedom I will never know
because underneath it, the spider’s bite has changed you.
At night, I lose all superpowers and go back
to being just a woman—black, bleeding red.
Can you teach me how to do what you do? Balance
your life on a thin thread, hanging upside down?
Pam Taylor is a Cave Canem Fellow. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She recently created a blog for poets with non-literary careers called, A Poet’s Double Life at http://www.poetsdoublelife.com/. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in …and love: Poetry Anthology, The Best of the Fuquay-Varina Reading Series, 2012, Cartographer Literary Review, Mused: The BellaOnline Literary Review, and Revista Fórum Café.
I put you in between my legs and breathe
into your mouth like you’ve
swallowed too much of me
and now you might die
you trapped in your skin
all by yourself, too proud to
tell me to squeeze the
suffering from your lungs
this is always a poem for you
we are interchangeable
in some ways, the stars
started falling out of the sky
and we forgot which
direction we meant to say
in the first place
take me out of your eyes
and i will place you in the armoire
with the glass doors, next to the good
china, instead of in my chest
up under my ribs
next to the longing
Joy KMT is a 2011 Macdowell Fellow as well as a recipient of a Heinz Endowment fellowship. Her poetry has appeared in Check The Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Emcees and Poets, Amistad: Howard’s Literary Journal, and bloodlotus. She has performed at Cave Canem Pittsburgh Readings, the Ujamaa Marketplace, Words So Fly and the Shadow Lounge. She also produced and performed in the interdisciplinary poetry and art show Her Voice: The Stories, Tales and Myths of Women of Color which premiered as a part of the Sunstar Music Festival at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in 2012.
One Poet in Chicago
This city is scary and supreme.
Its shiny lakeshore with white yachts
and seagulls and herons tilting
quietly upon the marble waves.
The hard-blowing wind
licking the rind of the imposing trees.
Those crazy and beautiful people
walking up and down the streets,
as the Sears tower pierces the alabaster sky.
A long time ago, in some small house,
Carl Sandburg was writing his dreams.
Not too far away, Hemingway learned
his way with the shotgun.
This city of butchers, gangsters,
and sky-drinking poets.
This city of uncertainty
and misunderstood simplicity.
This city of fondness
and knives leading to oblivion.
But it is still early…
One of these days when you wake up with words
in your head transforming into money–
unallowable poet’s dreams…
God did not give His permission to each and every scrivener.
Cup of coffee or the unsolved color of the whiskey–
which absurd will the poet pick and choose?
This city will take care of it!
Back in the day, you could see the little Gwendolyn Brooks
skipping rope with the words forming in her head.
Now, the slam joints are full of screaming typesetters.
This is your place under the sun. City of destiny!
Do not leave it…
The stones of the ruined city wall
will never say: Goodbye!
Peycho Kanev is the Editor-In-Chief of Kanev Books. His poetry collection Bone Silence was released in September 2010 by Desperanto. A new collection of his poetry, Requiem for One Night will be published by SixteenFourteen in 2013. His poems have appeared in more than 800 literary magazines, such as: Poetry Quarterly, Evergreen Review, Hawaii Review, Cordite Poetry Review, The Monarch Review, The Coachella Review, Two Thirds North, DMQ Review, The Cleveland Review, Mascara Literary Review and many others. Peycho Kanev has won several European awards for his poetry and he’s been nominated for the Pushcart Award and Best of the Net.
pronunciation of her name
found in Toni Morrison’s Sula
each time she said the word me
there was a gathering in her
where all sorts of people dropped in
or read you a dream
there was a gathering in her
like power, like joy, like fear
or reading, a dream
oh jesus make me wonderful
like power, like joy, like fear
but on the other hand
jesus, make me wonder. full?
she knew exactly what she meant.
But on the other hand
all sorts of people dropped in
she knew exactly what she meant
each time she said the word
Ask Lani Guinier
A double bop for Clinton after Morrison’s Jazz
where is the black
in that Arkansas grin
in that smooth talking jowl
in that slave fattened chin
in the make up we help him
swab over his sin saying
hit me but don’t quit
ask Hillary ask Lani Guinier
what it takes to buy coons
in election year
at convention time
happy darkies all cheer
kiss on the cheek
does it smear
nobody does me like you do
Bill is a name for a teenage law
that might make it through
a shackle built building
that don’t care at all
and don’t want you to survive
hit me but don’t
and a Bosnian war
and a heated intern
and the march into workfare
what didn’t we learn
from not asking not telling
and Lani straight burned
is it drawling or diction
that still makes us yearn
nobody does me like you
what is it
about a white southern man
that makes slime seem so sweet
and critique seem so bland
that the daughters of slaves
would fall for the scam
like nobody does
Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a prayer poet priestess with a PhD in English, African and African American Studies and Women and Gender Studies from Duke University. Her poetry appears in several anthologies including: Does Your Mama Know?, Leaving Home Becoming Home, Growing Up Girl and Encounters and a number of journals including Make/Shift, Everyday Genius and Turning Wheel. She also has poetry forthcoming in Kweli, Vinyl and Reverie. She is the founder of the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind Community School and the Mobile Homecoming Project, an experiential archive project amplifying generations of Black LGBTQ Brilliance.