“We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist” — James Baldwin
Table of Contents Poetry: Pg. 3 My Son’s Eyes Pg. 17 The Arson Set by Mrs. Anderson Pg. 19 S.T.E.M. Field Frenzy Pg. 21 If Tupac Lived Pg. 23 Nomenclature Pg. 25 The Old Property is Destroying the New Property Pg. 30 Flightless Pg. 37 Self-Portrait as an Unnoticed Object Pg. 58 Ode to Indigo Pg. 59 George Floyd, Our Son, You Called Out to Us Pg. 63 “Where There Is No Law” Prose: Pg. 4 Nicks and Cuts Pg. 6. Welcome to the Neighborhood Pg. 13 Served with Mashed Potatoes Pg. 26 Norton’s Pg. 31 Anytown Pg. 38 Black Opera: Singing Over Ourselves Pg. 45 Bertha’s List Pg. 52 Windows
Visual Art & Photography: Cover: Not For All 2020 Pg. 2 The Future is Black: Forbearance Pg. 28 The Future is Black: B is for Black Pg. 29 Celebrating Alice Walker @ 76 Pg. 43 The Future is Black: Are You Ready Pg. 60 Beauty vs. Brains Pg. 62 Black Lives Matter Pg. 64 Black Lives Matter Pg. 68 Black Lives Matter Audio: Pg. 51 Gossamer’s People: Wounded Dog Pg. 44 Gossamer’s People: May-December Blues Pg. 65 Burn
Preface This zine is in solidarity and allyship with the Black Lives Matter movement. It is a vehicle for black voices to speak to the black experience, highlighting how racism affects their lives. Each individual piece and the entire zine, itself, is reflective of the feelings and emotions of members of the black community with their diverse identities and experiences. This zine touches on topics that some may find heavy or disagreeable, though it is important to listen to these views to think critically — and in some cases, it may not be meant to be agreeable. The overall narrative threaded in the order of the works is meant to be ambiguous — for the reader to come to each piece and the zine in its entirety through their own experiences and engage with it in that way. One can consider the zine as a whole, each work individually, or with works paired with one another. If the reader would like an overarching narrative: We propose that the works speak to the ideas of how knowledge is power and understanding one’s identity (who they are, where they came from, their family, their history, and themselves) is empowerment. The narrative flows from the eyes of a child to an adult, being black and growing into that understanding that racist systems composing our world affect one’s life and how others see an individual. Knowing this — knowing what’s wrong — means that there is capability to change, and to fight for that change.
The Future is Black: Forbearance Jay Grider
My Son’s Eyes Martin Wiley
My son’s eyes at six years old are wide, wide like rivers and wide like singing woods at dawn, and they blossom, they blossom like sunflowers shimmering in early morning’s dew, they dance, they dance because they are, because they are sparkling comets gleefully traveling lightyears just for a chance to gently kiss your smile, your heart. They are joyous volcanoes, they are joyous volcanoes overflowing and melting everything they see. They are brown, they are the color of my soul, they are brown and they are alive and I have to search inside his eyes, I have to study, I have to watch, watch for that ticking, for that twisting, for that silent unmarked shifting, for that moment when this world no longer notes the soft brown tones in his eyes, only the angry brown tones on his skin. 3
Nicks and Cuts Pauline Binder
I came to America from Jamaica in October, 1964. I was to have eye surgery at Lenox Hill hospital where my aunt worked as a nurse’s aide. Everyone was nice to me, the doctors, the nurses, the floor cleaners. I was so happy there, frankly, I did not want to go home to the Bronx where I lived with my aunt. I wondered where was all the racism I had heard about? After all, my doctors were white, most of the nurses were white, and they were universally good to me. The building where I lived on Nelson Avenue was pretty integrated. We soon moved to Morris Avenue and that building was even more integrated. The neighbors, blacks Hispanics, whites, lived in harmony. As a matter of fact, when my other aunt arrived from Jamaica one afternoon and we weren’t home, a white neighbor saw her standing in the hall with her suitcase and asked why she standing. My aunt told her what had happened. The neighbor invited her in, offered her something to eat, and they chatted until we got home. But then I started seeing strange things on TV that I found alarming. Blacks were being beaten, water hoses and dogs unleashed on them for trying to exercise their right to vote. Crosses being burnt on black people’s lawn, and them being killed by whites. It is as if these events were happening in another country far away. Here I was, a black girl living in the Bronx with people of every hue and had no fear of being attacked. My aunt was a hardworking woman. Apart from her job as a nurse’s aide, sometimes in the evenings and on weekends she would work as a server at fancy parties for rich people. She noticed that a lot of them served a liqueur named Cherry Heering. She wondered how it tasted. One day she and I were passing a Liquor Store in the Bronx and there in the window display was Cherry Heering! With a gleam in her eye she declared, “I am going to buy it.” We walked in and since there were no prices on the bottles on display, she asked the proprietor the price, he looked at 4
her and said, “You can’t afford it.” She asked him the price again and this time in a rather gruff tone, he repeated, “I said you can’t afford it.” This man did not know my aunt or her income and based his judgement purely on the basis of her skin color. My aunt said nothing but walked out of that store seething and humiliated. I could see it in her eyes and even her gait. I wanted to go back and punch him in the face for what he had done to that proud black woman. That was my first experience, that I was aware of, with racism.
Welcome to the Neighborhood Lisa Braxton
They stepped out of front doors, proceeded down spacious brick pathways to the foot of their manicured lawns, and with the precision of a military unit, pivoted to face us. All of them were white—men and women—homeowners in a leafy enclave in Fairfield County Connecticut suburbia anchored by raised ranches, Dutch Colonials, and split-level homes. All eyes were on us—my mother, father, sister and me— as the realtor led us down the front steps of a well-appointed three-bedroom, three-bathroom house with a two-car garage that she’d just shown us. It was around 1969. I was 8 or 9 years old at the time. My dad was carrying my sister, who was a toddler. I remember my parents’ stride toward our car slowed as they realized that we were under surveillance. The members of our “audience,” consisting of about a dozen people on both sides of the street, were expressionless, motionless, arms hanging at their sides. Their body language was unreadable but their presence screamed volumes. I don’t recall what the realtor said to my parents as she took in the scene, but I remember that she was flustered, apologetic, and tripped over her words. It was a moment that she had apparently not anticipated—the visceral reaction of white residents at a black family being shown a house in their affluent neighborhood. At my age I didn’t think deeply about their demonstration, but I did find it odd that all of those adults were standing on their front lawns, their eyes on us. As my father put our car into gear, I scooted to the edge of my seat in the back to eavesdrop on my parents’ conversation as I often did when we were on car rides. My mother leaned toward my father, and in a hushed tone said, “They don’t want us living here.” After a moment, he gave a slight nod and said just as quietly, “I know.” I slid back on my seat, my eavesdropping undetected. 6
At that age I knew a little bit about prejudice. I had a classmate who made a remark when we were in the 3rd grade that stunned me. My class was lined up at the water fountain after coming back from chapel at the church next door that operated our parochial school. She blurted out angrily, “I wish all the black people would go back to Africa!” When I came home upset about the incident my parents sat me down for a talk and said that most likely she’d heard that remark from her parents and was repeating what they’d said. A child in my neighborhood with whom I’d spent countless hours having pretend picnics and competing on who could swing the highest on my swing set made the statement one day as we played near the fence that divided our yards, “White people are better than black people.” With indignation I retorted, “No, they’re not!” My naïve childhood self didn’t understand why anyone would think something so ridiculous. I felt that the idea of white people being better than black people turned logic on its head. How could one group be better than another? After we ping ponged our positions on the matter for a while, I ran into the house to tell my mother about my friend’s unfathomable pronouncement. I still remember the pained look on my mother’s face. At the time of the silent front lawn protest, I didn’t know that this was but the latest racial indignity my parents had had shoved in their faces. They came of age in the early 1950’s in the western section of Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley region, known generally for its picturesque, bucolic nature, but also for an ugliness manifested in hostility for many African Americans. Because of Jim Crow laws, my parents attended segregated schools. They told me that whenever they came close to approaching a white person on the sidewalk, they had to lower their heads and step into the street. Taking a bus involved going to the “black” section in the back and standing if there were no seats, even if there were empty seats up front. Dining out involved going to the back door of a restaurant for takeout. My mother re7
counts saying nothing for fear of reprisal when white individuals would cut in front of her at retail stores when she was in line to pay for a purchase. And when she did get to the front of the line, she’d count her change to make sure she wasn’t being cheated. My parents shared these accounts with me, and later, with my sister when she was old enough to understand, because they wanted us to have the best life possible. They wanted us to advocate for ourselves and understand that people would not always have our best interests in mind. They didn’t want us to be held back by people who used race as a means of control and disrespect. Both of my parents knew that because of the racial climate, growing up poor in the South with only high school educations and not having connections to anyone with any level of power or influence, their prospects would be limited if they stayed in Virginia. Like a massive number of African Americans from southern rural areas during the middle of the past century they made their way North. For my parents, “The Promised Land” was Bridgeport, Connecticut, an industrial force at the time. Once they’d arrived, they realized that they hadn’t escaped racism, but encountered a subtler form of it. My mother would respond over the phone to a classified ad for an employment opportunity, be encouraged to come to the location to fill out an application, and then be told once she walked in the door that the job had been filled. My parents discovered that there were only certain apartment buildings in the city that would rent to them and moved into one housing African American and Latinx renters. When they purchased their Cape Cod-style home in early 1961, they were the only non-white family on their block in the working-class neighborhood. A neighbor later told my mother that after she and my father bought the house, a man who lived around the corner from them went to every house on the block and “warned” them that a black family was moving in. She was told 8
that one family put their house on the market in response and moved to the suburbs. It was common knowledge that at least one property owner, in possession of a large parcel of land in the neighborhood, would not sell homes to African Americans. By the time my parents looked at that house in suburbia—one of many like it that they were shown during that period of time—my father had moved up from a machinist at the General Electric plant in Bridgeport to foreman. My parents were opening up a business, a high-end men’s clothing store. They had me enrolled at the parochial school and my mother was considering pursuing a bachelor’s degree and possibly law school. Mom and Dad were invited to join some of the African American professional charitable and civic clubs and organizations in Bridgeport. Moving out of their starter home to suburbia seemed like a logical step. My parents chose not to pursue that house. Most likely they were concerned about hostility from the neighbors in light of the demonstration. They probably worried about my sister and me being subjected to racial taunts and remarks from neighborhood kids and classmates and also thought we’d feel isolated. Every so often on car rides near that neighborhood I’d overhear my mother, her voice catching in her throat, go back to that day and say to my father how terrible it was for “those people to come out onto their front lawns like that.” Mom and Dad stopped looking at houses and made improvements to the Cape Cod. They had the roof raised on the back and the attic upgraded so my sister and I could have separate bedrooms. By the time I reached my early teens, I noticed significant changes in the neighborhood. My white playmates had moved away. The white families whose homes flanked ours were gone. I heard that the property owner who refused to sell to African Americans had passed away. The neighborhood became more African American and Latinx. Recent immigrants moved in. A dramatic level of white flight occurred not just in my neighborhood but throughout the city. The white families most likely 9
moved to the suburb where my parents went house hunting all those years earlier or to another Fairfield County suburb. In 1958, political scientist Morton Grodzins identified that “once the proportion of non-whites exceeds the limits of the neighborhood’s tolerance for interracial living, whites move out.” Grodzins termed this phenomenon the tipping point in the study of white flight, the sudden or gradual large-scale migration of white people from areas becoming more racially or ethnoculturally diverse. Economists attribute white flight both to racism and economics. In the 1960’s and ‘70’s, “There goes the neighborhood” became a popular catch phrase, most likely originating as an expression of concern by a homeowner that a newcomer would lower property values, and, in many instances an expression of fear among white homeowners when the first minority family moved in. Undoubtedly, thoughts of property values deteriorating was on the minds of the silent activists when we visited their neighborhood. Some of those residents may have lived in a Bridgeport neighborhood at one time and escaped to the suburbs when the racial ratio reached the tipping point. Our presence may have symbolized a nipping at their heels when they thought they had outrun us. Black flight is a term applied to the migration of African Americans from predominantly black or mixed inner-city areas to suburbs and newly constructed homes on the outer edges of cities. In some ways their goals have been similar to those of the white middle class heading to the suburbs: newer housing, better schools for their children, and attractive environments, what my parents had in mind in their house hunting. I couldn’t help but think back to that “front lawn moment” in the mid-1990s when I had a realtor helping me look for an apartment in the coal region of Northeastern Pennsylvania. I had accepted a news reporter position at a television station there and had driven to the area ahead of my start date for a weekend 10
hoping to secure an apartment. Toward the end of the Saturday, after not finding anything I liked, the realtor suggested that I look at an apartment that was in her building. It was a charming corner unit in the heart of the downtown and had large, old-fashioned windows that let in plenty of light, decorative moldings along the doorways and ceilings, and walls of mirrors that had me reminiscing about visiting the hall of mirrors at the Palace of Versailles when I was a high school exchange student. The apartment was less than a block from the TV station. I’d be able to walk to work, the bank, the library, church, and just about everywhere else. I knew the moment I walked in the door that I wanted to rent it. The realtor got on the phone with the owner to let him know that she had a renter. I noticed her jaw tighten in reaction to whatever he was saying on the other end. She glanced at me and said a series of “no’s.” into the receiver. I knew what was going on and was incensed. He was asking her about race. She next responded to him with a “yes.” Then after a pause, she said, “If you won’t rent to her, she’ll do an investigative report on you.” When she hung up, her tone was apologetic. She stated that some people in the community were narrow minded. She added that the owner wanted to meet with me before deciding whether or not to rent the apartment. I looked forward to it. I wanted to meet this man who decided that because of race I shouldn’t be rented the apartment and only reconsidered under threat. After my meeting with him, the realtor handed me a rental agreement. I had mixed feelings as I signed and dated the document, but the window of time for me to find another apartment was limited. Sociologists are finding that now that more minorities are moving into the suburbs, white flight is happening all over again. Samuel Kye at Indiana University has documented an exodus of white residents as more minorities have entered the middle class and established themselves in healthy suburban neighborhoods. Kye discovered that white flight was particularly pronounced in areas with fewer high school dropouts, strong home values, me11
dian income levels and large numbers of professionals. Low-income whites didn’t have the means to leave. His conclusions are in line with those of other academics who’ve done similar research. The expression, “There goes the neighborhood,” may have gone out of fashion decades ago, but the mindset persists, in spite of all of the conversations this nation has had in recent years about race through town hall meetings, academic forums, college classes, debates, discussions, special reports in the media, speeches by politicians, lawsuits, and informal talks among friends and colleagues. Memory works selectively. We hold onto certain memories and others we disregard. What I experienced all those years ago during that house hunt was a moment I didn’t fully understand at the time but never forgot. I held the memory deep inside and developed an understanding of the incident as I matured. It echoes through experiences I continue to have of biased treatment and outright racism and reminds me that this country still has so much work to be done in terms of racial justice.
Served with Mashed Potatoes Trista Hurley-Waxali
He was so big we couldn’t join him in the teacup ride. It’s a popular ride at the carnival so I watched as kids waited patiently for the ride to finish and for the extra cup to become vacant. Lira didn’t have to worry about buying extra tickets because her father ensured her more than enough to redeem on her ticket card. She told me, “dad didn’t want anyone left out.” She took my hand and his leash towards the roller coaster. The attendant saw him and couldn’t say anything about how there’s a weight restriction. He started telling people how they would have to wait for the next trip to lighten the load and secure the loop. Lira didn’t seem phased by the request but rather sad that the attendant placed him in a car near the end. I assured her with the promise of seeing the photo at the souvenir stand. She liked that idea as we went over the hill. She bought the photo for me as I couldn’t stop laughing at his snout being pushed up by the force. A pig’s body was never designed with aerodynamics in mind. I thanked Lira for the picture before she grabbed my hand angling for the games. I watched as she focused on throwing the ball to curve into the wooden basket. The pig sniffed the ground by her feet. It only took a few throws before she got the technique on how to spin for a win. The attendant said if I landed the next throw that we could get a large toy. I followed her lead and released the ball at the same place. We cheered as she pointed to the cow. Lira shrugged her shoulders, “Maybe it’ll look familiar to him.” I reminded her that a pig raised in a house had no idea about a farm. She laughed and asked if maybe the memory could be passed to him like his tail. She looked at the time and said it was getting close for our ride. She tugged at the leash and the pig followed us to the parking lot driveway. As we waited for her carriage, the pig grazed a small patch of grass. We were both surprised it wasn’t fake and looked at his 13
tail curl with pleasure. When her driver arrived the horses saw the pig and snuffed away. They showed too much pride in carrying a pig for pleasure. She didn’t pick up on that as her driver put out a stool to help us into the carriage. She used it to first push on her pet. I went in last and closed the door. The driver gave a sigh when we all settled into place and announced he was beginning the passage home. Lira warned me about the risks of traveling with the pig. That if a group of people ambushed the carriage we were to remain calm and give over the pig. She said it’s never happened but it’s only a matter of time. ~ We stepped out of the carriage and went to the back of the house for the pen’s entrance. She picked that room because it had a door to the yard. The pig flopped on a pile of hay lining the wall opposite to the interior door. She told me he was hungry, that we should fix up a plate. We went to her fridge that looked like a wall. She placed her hand on a panel that confirmed her fingerprints before sliding out the handles to open. The crisper drawer was full of what she called scraps and she said, “It’s odds and ends from salads that I had the staff keep aside for the pig.” I looked at some of the colorful pieces and wondered when was the last time my mom had a salad. Lira asks me to go and find a large plate so we could bring them to the pen. I opened a cupboard above the counter with a surface so clean I could sleep on it. I see a large dish with handles and brought it over. Lira laughed saying it was a platter and I must be in the mood for fancy. I got red because I wasn’t sure what a platter meant. The dishes we used at home were thin and had scratches from use. Mom always said she wanted better dishes, that she’d get a set with her tax money. But then our car broke down leaving decor lower on the list. Then one weekend I bought a set from a yard sale. Mom cried for hours in her room. I told her I was sorry but she said she was sorry. We ordered Chinese food and made sure to dirty each piece of the new set. Mom laughed at the bright blue colour in our plain brown kitchen. She 14
said this would have been on trend when she was growing up. I told her it felt like the sky was serving us, heaven itself. Lira asked me to sleep over. I texted mom and she asked if we ate. I looked at the pig sleeping and smelled our dinner in the oven. I wrote back that we did. I had two scoops of chocolate ice cream that tasted like it’d never been in a freezer. My friend laughed at how my ears got blue when my brain froze. I told her she was lying but she took a picture on her phone. The quality of the picture was clear enough to show some ear wax at the top. In the shower I scrubbed my ear before changing into my department store pajamas, a set mom insisted I keep in my bag. Mom didn’t want Lira’s family to think we were too poor for pajamas. Lira chose a movie on her television and then asked if I wanted popcorn. The maid was unpacking the dishes from the washer when we put a bag in the microwave. I watched as she dried her hands on a towel before removing the hot bag to pour it into a bowl. Mom showed me how to open the bag so it could remain as a bowl. I felt embarrassed that I knew that and couldn’t show Lira as she pressed the warm bowl into her silk pajamas. ~ My stomach had difficulty settling down from the meat. I laid for a while feeling the bamboo leaf fan move the air. I sat up from my sleeping bag and watched Lira digesting with ease as she snored. We met while shopping, we both reached for the same sweater. I knew I couldn’t afford it but I wanted to try it on. Lira said it looked better on me and insisted she buy it as a gift. I told her it was okay if I could treat her to a milkshake. She had an air of confidence that none of the girls in my class could carry, molded like custom gadgets for her home. I went downstairs and saw no one was awake. In this darkness Lira would be running into objects but I’d gotten accustomed to keeping the lights off, adjusting to using any shape of moon. I opened the door to the pen and watched the pig sleep. I 15
thought of all the families who were wide awake trying to figure out where they were getting their next meal. I knew that feeling more than this shame of indulgence. I opened the rear door and stepped outside. The air was crisp and no alarm was going off. I came back inside and left the yard door ajar. I said goodbye before going back into my sleeping bag. The next morning there was a note slid underneath the bedroom door. Lira read it and sat back down on a bench by her bed. She told me that her staff were looking for her pig, that “It escaped.” I told her, “I’m sorry, I’m sure they’ll find it.” She shook her head and told me that “It’s fine,” her dad warned her about this day. “Freedom is their instinct.” I nodded and knew this would be the last time I’d be in that house. There was never enough in common to give what we had the title of a friendship. I looked around and realized there was nothing she would ever ask for in life. She would never know why her pig was hunted.
The Arson Set by Mrs. Anderson Lester A. Batiste
In your eyes, the confidence that sailed the ocean blue is where your privilege hides. Where you think my weakness glides under umber tones you see. Your name, Anderson, gives you power when you think I have no idea how to set up a classroom without Chuckâ€™s help. Chuck is apparently the most gifted kid that can do it all by himself, so by the time I Walked into the room, Just after fourth period, there you sat pouring gasoline. He can read, write breathe, and bleed, so why in the hell does he even need. A teacher, With one degree from Master, and another soon titled Masters For Assimilation.
No matter how many degrees I have, you still don’t see What your child truly needs. Cotton swabbed hands throw Freshly lit matches “Oppressor of Knowledge, Inept at teaching, The principle is going to hear about this, Why did you come, Liar!”
S.T.E.M Field Frenzy Lester A. Batiste
Want a grant? Write about abstract number! What you know about sedimentary rock? Ask geologists who huddle in flocks, but older rocks go lower to slumber. What color is math? Green for the moneyâ€” I suppose, black for numbers, and red for signs Why in the fuck is this world obsessed with lines? And gadgets that flow money gold and funny. But what bout the poet, what bout the line that links lives? What bout the story that asks could the engine? What bout the picture that makes Lisa moan a cry of joy ? What about Shakespeare noting much to do? May the sons of every nation know their math. To add up all the sins against men forced to learn division, To subtract all things learned from mistakes and multiply every genocide that has repeated itself in history by 1. Whatâ€™s the product? May the daughters know their science, so that they confirm global warming is real. So that I may finally drown in Bde Maka Ska as my body floats to find a sedimentary grave away from the rampant rising ocean waves. May the engineers be fruitful in creating a time machine to take me forward to the 27th century. To be a black poet 19
minding my own business, writing words which wet lips and lines. May my poem spit venom? May my verse expose the fetters on the minds!
If Tupac Lived Sibylla Nash
If Tupac lived Who would he have become? He was a man child raging itâ€™s me against the world Prescient, he knew he would die young I just wonder If Tupac lived What amazing things he could have done Would he have channeled his energy and charisma into championing a cause Would he have faded from the limelight Overshadowed by Weezy and Drake Or would he have uttered the battle cry free Breezy, free Bobby, free fill-in-the-blank of the next artist needing freeing because he remembered the time he did time If Tupac lived Would he have remained on top Or would he have abandoned hip hop Kind of like how Will Smith did with rap He became the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and never looked back Would he have become a writer, director, producer, or congressman Would he have won an Oscar or an Emmy Instead his potential was snuffed out like so many Would he have stood on the senate floor Spitting hard truths wrapped in rhyme Creating a filibuster to kill time Straddling two worlds - gangster and artist Artist and gangster He was a flashpoint of rage If Tupac lived Would he have found a way to get the youth engaged What would he think about Suge getting 28 years? Would he say you set me up but I ainâ€™t mad at cha? 21
As he settled into being an elder-statesmen in the game like Jay Z Trading in on his fame for more money to shill vodka or clothes, trading up from those girls he met at clubs Would he have married, settled down, found a wife Attended PTA meetings, created a college fund, passing on hard earned lessons to his daughter or son Instead heâ€™s canonized in his tats, forever repping Thug Life If Tupac lived Would old beefs be bygones? Would he apologize to Faith, mourn Biggie, collaborate with Diddy, march for Trayvon, for Eric, for Sandra, and all the countless others who died too soon for no reason Like blackness is a sign for hunting season Black and blue, blue on black, black on black, blackness is under attack Would he take a knee in solidarity with Cap Would he rep a tee with Black Lives Matter on the back If Tupac lived to be 30, to be 40 to today, who would he have become Man, I just wonder if Tupac lived, What amazing things he could have done?
Nomenclature Lassiter Waith
I have nobody, no body It belongs to the black mass I am brown man in black face I am a wounded brain, the skull of something White hands pour tar down my collective, symbolic throat. We all the children pray to wake up before school To find that it’s a snow day To find that all our many shades of brown Have become balloons and flown away White at last, white at last! I cannot be the everyman Because every man but me is white But I can be the noman Human-Now-Beast Six million hands in chains Six million bullets to the brain. I become the everycertainman whenever an everyman says so Two white fingers snap Quick as a whip “This is what they’re all like” and my body is a placeholder, it no longer belongs to me It is the universal body now “This is what they’re all like” My Our-Face on an eternal target Teeth shattered by a planted smoking gun “We’re all red inside” Have you ever seen your red? I see mine everyday 23
It paints my streets and haunts my shared nightmare Black man died of culture shock Culture attended to funeral, said: “What a tragedy, he ruined my life. He wasted a bullet of mine, pay it back.” The funeral started 1619 I want to go home already. We all the children see ourselves in death tolls and funerals “There I am! There I am!” 60 million bodies nameless Or are the names ever-changing, ever our own?
The Old Property is Destroying the New Property Jordan Charlton
Read this as the headline you wonâ€™t see. As why their outrage makes more sense. As a tweet. Read this and laugh out loud until you cry, cry until you remember the source of those tears. Laughter. Read, joy. Read, thing we have to fight for every day. These days especially. Remember that your body needs that release, too. Remember how much your body carries stress between your shoulder blades. Breathe deeply. Tilt your head and rotate. That sound? Is grief. Is sadness. Is the hurt thatâ€™s grown inside you. Laugh until the tears fall slowly, then slower.
Barbara Park My mother was a white woman who felt the weight of raising a Black daughter. When I was a one-year-old child my mother fled from my father in Chicago with nothing but me, a suitcase, and her best friend’s credit card. After a long few months winding our way through various women’s shelters, we settled in Madison, WI and she prepared to build us a life. She had next to no resources so her first order of business was to steal my culture for me. It took her over a week to plan exactly the right way to sneak Norton’s Anthology of African-American Literature out of the local college bookstore; the entire time she was terrified of being arrested and leaving me with no one to care for me. From the moment we got home, she made it a daily task to fill my mind with Black voices. My bedtime stories were written by Phillis Wheatley and James Baldwin. She cut herself off completely from a family that didn’t know how to love a Black child and she moved us into Black neighborhoods. She made conscious and purposeful choices so that I could build my life on a foundation of pride and self-knowledge. My mother was often surprised at how these ideas took root. In my teen years she was frequently annoyed by my passionate love of Hip-hop, perhaps not realizing what her voice murmuring “the revolution will not be televised” to a sleepy child in her crib had the potential to create. By then my mother had been forced to move us to the relative safety of Wisconsin to the isolation of Carson City, NV. I had gone from being surrounded by Black faces and being widely accepted as a Black child to constantly explaining my skintone and defending my race. In one conversation I tried to tell my mother how Hip-Hop made me feel. How filling my room with the sounds of Black anger made me feel safe and calm. How I missed the rhythm of Black speech. She rolled her eyes and responded with her usual pith “No revolution can be built on another’s back. Those men hate women.” 26
My 14-year-old self had no words to express my defiance and anger so I sucked my teeth and went to my room, where Nas would tell me about the world he ruled. If we could have that conversation now I would be more equipped. I would point out that there is not a single square inch of this country that has not been watered with Black blood. I would ask if she would even have the education required to criticize these men if their ancestors had not died for white comfort. I would mention the hypocrisy of wagging her finger at Black artists while she read Woody Allen books weekly and had maintained her passionate love for Roman Polanski films. How was she able to defend John Lennon as “a complicated man” when it was pointed out he beat his wife? At 14 I couldn’t understand what it meant that her disdain reserved for the few men in my universe that made me feel safe, seen, and loved. At 29 I think I am starting to understand. It means that she was immensely wise. I can’t fathom what it felt like for my mother to look at her infant child and know that she could never understand my experiences, that no matter how much she loved me, her very nature meant that she would fail me someday. My mother was the kind of remarkable woman who was strong enough to step back. She read to me in the voice of my ancestors and not her own. She joyfully became the minority, wherever we had the choice, in order to connect me to my heritage, sacrificing familial connections in the process. She put in work every day of her life so that when she failed I would have the strength to see it, understand it, and not be crushed by its weight.
The Future is Black: B is for Black Jay Grinder
Celebrating Alice Walker @ 76 Kevin Brown
Jasmine Reyes If I were not told, I would have thought I never had a mother. And in the ways that mattered, I did not. If I were not told, I would have thought she was an Ibis bird. Grey winged, rich with freedom. I imagined her hiding in wispy clouds, or roaming the sunâ€™s edge, catching crisp fire kisses. Feeding on the wind. I wanted to know the sky like she did. The silence, a flurry of withered leaves slowly settling.
Anytown J L Higgs
Hands gripping the steering wheel, Gabriela leaned forward, straining to see the roadway. In the moonless night, the unforecast rainstorm had turned torrential, wiper blades fighting a losing battle. Fog had rolled in further reducing visibility. Finding a safe place in the night had become a priority. A pair of high beam headlights struck Gabriela’s rearview mirror, blinding her. Where had that car come from? She didn’t recall seeing it before, and under such treacherous conditions, it was much too close. A glance at the dashboard clock showed it was 1 am. At this rate, it would take well over an hour to get home. Since childhood, Papi had told Gabriela to go to the police if she was alone and felt unsafe. In America, unlike their country, people could trust the police to protect and keep them safe. Though that was sound advice, she was driving in an unfamiliar area and had no idea where to find help. Before she left home that afternoon, Papi had asked Gabriela if she felt nervous. She had lied and said no, adding that tonight was only a presentation and book signing at a small-town library. He’d dismissed her remarks with a wave of his hand and told her how proud he was of her for what seemed like the zillionth time. Gabriela’s book, The Dreamer’s Story, had started out as a paper written for a college course assignment. Her professor had been so impressed, she suggested Gabriela expand it to be the full story of her life. Taking up the challenge, Gabriela had written the story and been shocked when the university’s press expressed interest in publishing it. Even more surprising had been the phone call she’d received from the Memorial Library’s community coordinator, leading to tonight’s presentation and book signing. Though the book’s promotion materials described it as 31
a young woman’s memoir, Gabriela felt it was actually Papi’s life story. He’d immigrated to America with her after her mother was killed in a shootout between two rival drug gangs on her way home from the market. Leaving his homeland had not been easy, but Papi had done it willingly so his one-year-old daughter could grow up in a safer environment. Upon reaching America, he’d found a woman to look after Gabriela while he worked menial jobs like fruit picking and highway maintenance. Though laboring in the blazing sun often left him physically exhausted he never complained. At its core, Papi’s immigration story was not that different from those of other immigrants in America. Except for the descendants of Africans brought to the country in chains against their will, most everyone had come fleeing violence, persecution, or poverty and dreaming of a better life for themselves and their children. Before Gabriela left for the library, Papi had recited his list of reminders, the AAA card in the car’s glove compartment, keeping her phone charged, and using the GPS to avoid getting lost. Joining his recitation, she’d laughed as they ticked off the last item. “It’s not a very long drive,” she said. He’d eyed her sternly. “I know,” she said, kissing his cheek. “You just want your only daughter to be safe.” For most of the trip, the GPS performed flawlessly, but it froze when she entered a tunnel. That caused Gabriela to miss her exit and arrive at the library 10 minutes late. As they met for the first time and the librarian greeted Gabriela with a warm and affectionate hug her pulse quickened and muscles tensed. But once the older white woman told her how deeply she’d been affected by her book, Gabriela’s heightened sense of alertness started to subside. Barely a quarter of the meeting room was occupied. Still, 32
the presentation had gone well despite Gabriela’s disappointment that not a single face had been brown like hers. Though the white-haired ladies there had been attentive, to Gabriela, their empathetic expressions belied a familiar passivity typical among those who never denounced or confronted injustice displayed by friends, family members, or acquaintances. Like most white people, nothing was more important than convincing and reassuring themselves they were good caring people, Christians, etc… when in fact their failure to fight against injustice that did not directly impact them only confirmed their hypocrisy and complicity in enabling injustice to perpetuate itself. Following the presentation, Gabriela chatted with the women while signing copies of her book. One expressed admiration for Gabriela’s work ethic: waitressing and working at a nursing home while writing her book and attending college full time. Several just wished her well after grad school. Having signed all the sold books, Gabriela began packing the rest in cartons. It was then that a woman who had lingered after everyone else had departed approached her. “Do you think it’s fair for DACA people like you to be allowed to remain in America?” asked the woman. Gabriela stopped packing and stared at her. How come no one ever asked if it was fair to deport people who’d lived in America their entire lives, to countries that were literally foreign to them? Places where they might barely speak the language or not at all? What about dangerous places or countries where America was hated and the possibility of being killed was exceptionally high? And why were immigration restrictions exclusively targeting non-white, or non-European people? Gabriela had never broken a single law, not even received a parking ticket. Like Papi, she worked hard and posed no threat to this woman, her life, or lifestyle. America was her home as much as this woman’s, yet only one of them was now being hunted like a fugitive. Was that just? Coming over, the librarian asked, “Can I help you carry 33
those books to your car?” “Yes, thank you,” said Gabriela gratefully as the other woman turned and walked away, unwilling and uninterested in hearing whatever Gabriela might say. While the parking lot behind the library emptied, Gabriela and the librarian stood talking until only their cars remained. Before getting into her car, the librarian gave Gabriela a parting hug, thanked her again, and promised to stay in touch. Alone in the deserted lot, Gabriela climbed into her car and turned the ignition key. The car responded with three loud clicks. After a few unsuccessful attempts to start the car, she called AAA. 45 minutes later, a white truck bearing the AAA logo pulled into the lot. It parked alongside Gabriela’s car and a young man, who looked about Gabriela’s age, got out and strolled over. “Car won’t start?” he asked, loose strands of blond hair poking out from beneath his ball cap. “Pop the hood. I’ll take a look.” Following a cursory look, he went back to his truck and returned carrying a flashlight and a few other items. Hands moving around the engine, he hummed while checking its parts. Then, reappearing, he came back around the side of the car. “See this,” he said, pointing to a set of numbers printed on a strip of paper. “A couple of your battery’s cells are nearly dead. It’s not generating enough volts to start ’er up.” Lowering the driver’s side window, Gabriela asked if he could fix it? “Yeah. I’ve got a replacement battery in the truck.” “Fine. Let’s do it,” she replied. The young man installed the new battery and asked Gabriela to start the car. As it roared to life, he gave her a thumbs up. Then, clipboard in hand, he came to her window to get her signature on the final paperwork. “Gabriela,” he said, looking at her signature. “That’s a pretty name.” 34
“Thank you,” she replied. “What’s yours?” “Tom,” he answered with a shrug. “Just plain old Tom.” “What was that you were humming before, plain old Tom?” His face turned red. “Sorry. Didn’t realize I did that.” “No, it sounded good. What was it?” “Nothing really. Just something I’ve been playing around with on the guitar.” “Well, you should definitely keep at it. It sounded good.” She smiled. Returning her smile, he reminded her to reset the car’s clock and any preset radio stations. “Nice meeting you, Gabriela,” he said with warm sincerity. “Drive safely and have a good night.” With the road’s surface becoming slicker, Gabriela gently braked. Flashing blue and white lights from the trailing car then lit up the inside of hers. She guided her car onto the road’s shoulder, unsure whether or not to feel relieved. With her car parked, Gabriela recalled Papi’s instructions. She took out her license and registration and set them on the dashboard. Then she placed both hands on the car’s steering wheel where they could easily be seen. In the rearview mirror, she watched the police cruiser’s door open, and a large shadowy figure emerge. As the figure approached, Gabriela’s heart began racing. Breathing rapidly, palms sweating, she stared ahead into the darkness beyond the windshield. Hearing two raps on her window, Gabriela pressed a button, lowering it. She turned to face the open window and was immediately blinded by a high-intensity flashlight. “License and registration,” came a voice from out of the gloomy night. Keeping one hand on the steering wheel, Gabriela slowly raised the other so it remained in view while she retrieved the documents. As she did that, the flashlight scanned the interior of 35
her car. Hand trembling, Gabriela handed over the documents. Then, taking a deep breath, with extreme politeness, asked why she’d been stopped. “What’s in the cartons?” “Books. Copies of a book I’ve written.” Acting oblivious to the rain, the looming figure went back to the police cruiser. Gabriela’s mind ran through every reason she might have been pulled over, but came up empty. After what seemed an eternity, the cruiser’s door opened and the officer made his way back. “You live in this area or neighborhood?” “No.” “What are you doing around here?” Motioning toward the cartons of books on the back seat of her car, Gabriela said, “I gave a presentation and did a book signing at the Memorial Library. Now I’m on my way home.” Without another word, the nameless, faceless officer shoved her documents at her and strode back to the cruiser. The flashing lights were snapped off, and the car raced out into the forbidding night with a squeal of its tires. Breathing deeply, Gabriela tried to calm herself. Why had the officer pulled her over? The more she thought about it, the angrier she felt. Despite the dense fog and torrential rain still obscuring the road ahead, she started the car, determined to do whatever it took to be safe at home.
Self-Portrait as Unnoticed Object Jordan Charlton
You could have been anything. I kicked you in the dark of night and you felt heavy against my foot there in the middle of two rooms. I wasn’t expecting you there because there had no name before I saw you. Neither did you. I switched on the light and to my shock, there you lay, quite larger than I’d imagined. You were the picture I hung the day before or maybe two. Dust-sized glints of light burst around your body, clouding the scene. You looked perfect otherwise, all your jagged shards still in the frame, and really, who’s to say you didn’t find me? If I were to fall like you did, I’d want every piece of me on display. I would not go bump in the night. There would be no thud, only glass. And blood. And bits, so many bits.
Black Opera: Singing Over Ourselves Emmanuel Henreid
I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, often called “the Whitest City in America.” I’m a Black opera singer, dancer, actor, composer, musician, and educator. I strive to weave all these worlds together and bring culture and diversity to my listeners. When I was around seven years old, I turned on the TV one day and saw my first opera. It was on the only channel that came through at the time. I sat down, and I started to recognize the grand gestures of 1990’s Marvel superheroes. Many may think opera is a stuffy thing, but for this seven-year-old’s eyes, it was full of villains, people cheating on one another, hearts being broken, death, betrayal. Fascinated, I ran to my siblings and to my stepdad and said, “I want to be an opera singer! Oooo-ooh!” I hadn’t hit puberty yet. I had this high soprano voice, and I was singing around. Little did I know, years before I was born, my mother also wanted to be an opera singer. She auditioned and was accepted for the Portland Opera. Then someone came along and told her that she couldn’t do it because she had three kids. She gave up that dream and never told me until later in life. When I was ten years old, my father passed away, and there wasn’t a lot of conversation around his death. From that moment on, I went mute. I was quiet that entire year, except for when I made music. People didn’t have a chance to get to know me. One thing I held close was music. I would sing over myself. I’d weep and cry. I would sing hymns from church. Songs would comfort and console me. Music was a real, tangible thing for me. My whole family sang, but I didn’t have any training. They told me I should probably never sing. As my aunt said, “the gift wasn’t given to me.” I accepted her judgement until the day, on my way to church, I had a fateful encounter with a dog. The dog ran straight toward me and into a fence, knocking it down. Without time to 38
think, I used a big, grand voice that commanded the dog’s attention. The dog stopped and looked straight at me, and in that moment I realized a voice did live inside me. This voice was convicting, honest, and authentic. It had power. I wanted to cultivate these qualities through my voice, so I began to study classical music for three hours a day in my garage. I began to compete, and eventually I became the number one high-school-age baritone in the state of Oregon. I was told that I should not sing classical music because my voice was “soulful.” It was implied that the Black color of my skin was connected to a different type of music. I was told I should stick with what I know. I also made gospel music, and I tried to keep both worlds very separate. I toured with Josh Groban. In his song “You Raise Me Up,” I noticed gospel backgrounds interweaved with Groban’s pop music, and thus found my niche. Today I use the same technique. I write original music that combines soul, indie, traditional classical music, and Black gospel music. My EP, Livin’ in the Light, is a fusion of all of these traditions. On my first day working as a professional opera singer, I met a Slavic woman who was the opera building custodian. She greeted me, and we had a brief conversation in Russian. She told me that no one had spoken to her in weeks because her English is broken. She appreciated me taking the time to talk to her. I went down to rehearsal. Then the artistic director, who had briefly noticed that conversation, approached me, “So, your last name is French?” I said, “Yes, it is.” She said, “...but you speak Russian.” “A little.” She said, “You also speak French?” “Yes, some French.” At that moment, she looked me in the eye, and there was a full pause. She said, “What are you, a part of the witness protection 39
program or something?” We both laughed awkwardly. Then she looked at me again. I realized that if I said that I was a part of the witness protection program, it would be more believable than the truth that I was an African American young person who also had the skill set that everyone else in this room had. All opera singers are linguists. You have to study three or four different languages to sing in the opera. But it was inconceivable for me to be in the same space with non-Black artists and simply love the same music. I realized, from that moment on, that all eyes were on me, questioning why I was in the room. This came in the form of persistent questions: “How did you get here? Why are you here?” No matter what, I had to pay attention and show up. Despite any difficulties, I had to learn my music, figure it out, and do my best to shine. I was featured on Oregon Public Broadcasting, and then other doors began to open up. Still, it was odd and lonely. I have felt like a poster child. I dressed up, played the part, and then went home to a world that looks nothing like the opera. Opera audience members see me as a part of the story the opera is telling, but they don’t necessarily see me as a person outside of that. African American men face two stereotypes: either you are overweight and funny, or you are a muscular sex symbol. These stereotypes limit and suffocate our individuality, and every day I face the work of breaking that mold. In activism, speaking, singing, and living, I encourage other nonstereotypical creatives to know you are not alone. I wonder, after performing all across the world and learning to sing in five languages, is that enough for me, as a Black man, to belong here? After investing more than $150,000 into my training as a professional musician, is that enough? America, is that enough for you to see me in my complexity, in my multitudes, and include me in your future vision? Why are Black men 40
taxed by this, as a prelude to belonging? I grew up in the ghettos of Portland. There were ghettos here, believe it or not. One summer, there were six killings—people didn’t happen to die; these were murders. To grow up in an environment like that, and then to arrive and work within an opera community, singing week after week inside auditoriums with predominantly white audiences, is quite a tension, quite a dichotomy. I address that tension by using my voice in public. I sing in clubs, bars, churches, on street corners, anywhere I can reach people with the unique joy of making. Classical music is a mostly European, white form of music. Right now, I’m in a Black opera with an all-black cast singing about gentrification. Most African Americans come from a soulful, gospel style of music, or a jazz or rock and roll background. Our culture is the genesis of those genres. To end up in an opera about the history of gentrification in Portland, which was initially founded as a white utopia, is wild. I was not ever necessarily wanted in this city; my family was just allowed to be here. White planners and bankers created ‘red lines’ to restrict us to living in certain neighborhoods, using zoning and lending practices to keep us out of white areas. Real estate agencies as well as individual landlords often refused to sell or rent to Black families. To navigate this history artistically and honestly, and for all races to now be doing race and soul work together, is exciting. I encourage every artist to use their voice to their advantage by helping to educate others, both in history and in love. And of course, to continue to be students themselves. We’re losing the power of the voice in many ways. This began way before COVID-19. We’ve designed a sanitized society in which we’re afraid to advocate for ourselves and speak out about right and wrong. We’re addicted to texting and social media, usually silent forms of communication. We have to wonder why it’s so scary to sing karaoke in front of even our closest friends. There’s something vulnerable about using the voice. The voice is very telling. Now is the time to reclaim the voice, prefera41
bly in public. Artists, not politicians, will be the ones to envision, collaborate around, and organize around whatever our future reality might be, especially post-COVID. The future is our potential, our right, our responsibility. I invite all artists across America to respond to this cultural moment. Please harmonize with me. Letâ€™s continue to show up and engage with the crucial questions of race, class, and equity that face us now.
The Future is Black: Are You Ready Jay Grider
Wounded Dog Loretta Moore
The blues helped me from there to here…. But the memory b’tween is always near… Won’t much I could do when my woman left me… So with a broken heart, I made me a new start. But whenever I went I had my song, night and day It went along….. I sang the blues, I sang the blues, I sang the blues…. I sang the blues, good or bad news, I sang the blues.
*To listen, scan the QR Code or visit: https://youtu.be/ wdUYsxyqUQA
Bertha’s List Linda Trice
Bertha Hudson was in a hurry. Why was there never any paper around when you need some? Finding one of the standard rejection letters Winston sent writers, she turned it on the blank side, folded it in half, and jotted down the names and addresses of her appointments for the day. Her first stop was her appointment with Abe Smith, the lawyer who handled all her family’s finances, even before father had turned over the reins of Sable Magazine to his son in law. Father had the misguided idea that a woman’s place was in the home. Bertha was ushered into the lawyer’s gloomy office. Purple velvet drapes covered paned glass windows letting in little light. Bertha sank her large hulk into a heavy chair that was covered in black leather. A secretary tiptoed in and set a silver tray on the lawyer’s immense oak desk. She silently poured coffee into two porcelain cups and left. Bertha pulled the list out of her large, black leather handbag that went with her everywhere. She angrily pressed the list down the middle, over and over. “Winston said things aren’t going well in the publishing business and money is tight.” Abe Smith drank without pausing then set the empty cup back on the tray. “My dear Bertha, whatever made you think that money is a problem? You and Winston are doing better financially than ever.” Bertha was so angry that it was moments before she could speak. “Winston said that we didn’t have enough money to send the twins to college.” Abe roared with laughter. “Not have enough money? You have enough to send four children to college.” Bertha remembered the diamond pin that had belonged to her great grandmother. Winston sold it as well as the cameo 45
she had inherited from another great grandmother. Bertha’s heavy black brows knitted. Her fury was mounting. That wimp of a husband of hers sold her engagement ring last week. All she had left was her wedding ring. She fingered the simple golden band. She was angry with herself for allowing her husband to deceive her. First father for turning over the magazine his grandfather had founded to Winston the Wimp, now Winston lying to her about their finances. Men! Disparaging her. Lying. Abe Smith poured more coffee into his cup. “Now my dear, I want you to make an appointment to see me about a different matter. The twins are of age now. You need to write another will. What you and Winston have is a ‘mirror image will’. If one of you dies, the other gets the complete estate. If, heaven forbid both you and Winston were suddenly to pass away, the twins will inherit nothing. Winston is coming in next week to remake his.” Bertha sat back and sipped her coffee. She had no cause to be angry with Abe. But what was causing Winston to lie to her? “You’re right. Of course. I’ll make an appointment on my way out.” “Before you leave my dear, tell me, who is Mohammed?” “The founder of Islam?” “No, a live person named Mohammed.” “I don’t know anyone named Mohammed.” Abe flipped through the file on his desk and said, “I see one of my young associates has made out some papers. Your husband has taken a new life insurance policy. He’s named this Mohammed person as the beneficiary, not you or the twins. Very strange. Strange indeed.” He closed the file, a worried look on his face. ~ Bertha’s final stop of the day was lunch at the Metropolitan Hotel with Imani Tinubu, the Editor-in-Chief of Sable Magazine. Imani was excellent at recognizing outstanding talent. 46
They had almost finished eating before Bertha confided, “Imani, Winston told me that the magazine is dire financial straits. Is it?” “No. This is the best year the magazine has ever had. Sable Magazine is still the leading Black literary publication in the country and one of the best in the world. Writers know that publication in Sable assures them a place in Black literary history.” Bertha was bewildered. She poked at the limp broccoli spears on her china plate. They were cold now. A striking woman whose skin was the color of espresso coffee strode in and was shown to a distant table. She wore her thick, luxurious hair long. A lady simply didn’t wear her hair free flowing like a horse’s mane. But judging from the Chanel suit, the distinctive shopping bags, a blue one from Tiffany’s, the tan one from Gucci, the exotic woman was a lady. The woman turned her head. She looked familiar. The cover of a fashion magazine? A ball at the country club? Bertha gasped. The lady resembled Latoya, her former cleaning girl. Latoya hadn’t worked for the Hudsons for very long. Winston hired her. He said she came from Palmetto, Florida. Bertha didn’t like her from the start. Latoya was volatile and couldn’t clean. Bertha fired her. “That woman,” Bertha whispered to Imani. “She looks like a cleaning girl I once had.” Imani looked across the room. “That’s no cleaning girl. That’s Nevis Mohammed. She comes from some rich family in Trinidad. They run the island. They own everything. “I shouldn’t talk about things like this but it is your father’s magazine, God rest his soul.” Imani lowered her voice. “Nevis is used to getting whatever she wants. Right now what she wants is to get published in our magazine. But it’s not going to happen. She can’t write. Everything she submits is worthless.” Imani finished the rest of her Chicken Divan and pushed the plate away. She leaned over and in a soft voice confided to Bertha, “One day one of the assistant editors told Nevis that she 47
had a comma in the wrong place. Nevis went berserk and started throwing things around the poor girl’s office. Papers, books, magazines. I think she even threw the girl’s extra pair of shoes across the room. The girl ran out the door, looking for a security guard. Luckily for Nevis, Winston came down the hall then. I guess he calmed Nevis but the assistant quit Sable immediately. I don’t think she ever came back.” “Latoya had a volatile temper,” Bertha said. Imani shook her head. “A cleaning lady from Florida and a rich woman from Trinidad do not have anything in common.” “I’m not so sure,” Bertha said. Imani ignored Bertha’s doubt and said, “What Nevis needs to do is to forget about writing and go on back to Trinidad and run her family’s business, whatever that is. Bertha, you should see the junk she hands in. It’s terrible! I don’t know why Winston took her under his wing. I insisted he tell her the truth this week, and in person. You know the kinds of rejection letters he writes. They always say the same thing.” “But he writes them by hand.” Bertha wasn’t sure why she felt the need to defend her husband. Habit perhaps? “He says the personal touch softens the blow more than a form letter.” “But they don’t. They always say the same thing don’t they?” “Yes,” admitted Bertha. Imani signed the bill with a flourish. “Don’t worry about it, dear. The company account,” she reminded Bertha. “Stay. Have dessert. Got to go. I have a magazine to run.” The waitress poured more coffee into Bertha’s cup. Bertha didn’t touch it, still shaken by Imani’s revelations. Winston came into the restaurant and walked directly to Nevis, kissed her cheek and picked up her shopping bags, one from Tiffany’s and the other from Gucci. His arm around the woman’s waist, the two left the restaurant. Bertha was stunned. By the time she got up and followed them, they were in an elevator. As the doors closed, Bertha saw 48
her husband passionately kissing the would be writer from Trinidad. Bertha stood still, staring at the closed elevator doors. Finally overcoming her shock she went to the front desk and demanded the number for Winston Hudson’s room. The clerk didn’t hear her. A couple with screaming babies had his attention. He found the couple’s reservation, handed them their keys and tried to tell them about the amenities of the hotel over the screams of the little ones. “….the number of Winston Hudson’s room!” Bertha demanded loudly. The clerk looked up and possibly mistook Bertha’s big, black bag for a delivery but before he could ask, the couple with the babies were back. “We didn’t …” they said, then the babies started crying again. Three more people came to his desk but the clerk couldn’t hear their request either. He was flustered. “I need…” Bertha insisted. The babies screamed louder. A couple with two barking poodles asked for their keys. The clerk told Bertha without thinking, “Mr. and Mrs. Hudson are in their usual suite — Number 2020.” ~ Bertha took the elevator to the twentieth floor. She’d confront them and then what? She wasn’t sure. She wanted to sock her husband in the mouth and throw the tramp off the balcony. Arriving on the floor she saw the hotel’s maid pushing a cart out of the suite. “I’m Mrs. Hudson.” Bertha ordered her, “Leave the door open.” Bertha entered and closed the door behind her. The suite was empty. She walked onto the balcony. Manhattan’s asphalt sidewalks were twenty floors below. Bertha came back inside, leaving the balcony doors open. She saw shopping bags on the bed, one from Tiffany’s, the other from Gucci. They must have deposited them and left 49
for the opera or dinner. Who knew when they’d be back? She sat at the desk intending to wait and confront them. Time passed then Bertha decided to leave them a note. She opened her purse and took out a pen. The only paper she could find was her list. She’d write something on the blank part of it. What does one say in a situation like this? She didn’t know. She folded the paper, over and over, trying to figure out what to write. She couldn’t think of anything. She still pictured socking her husband in the mouth and throwing the tramp off the balcony. Bertha sighed, tore the note in half, stuck her pen back in her purse and left. ~ Two days later, Bertha sat in her nicely appointed living room. A kindly policeman in the navy blue uniform of the New York City Police Department sat opposite her. He’d been talking to her for more than thirty minutes. It was finally beginning to sink in. He explained again, “Mrs. Imani Tinubu made the identification at our morgue. She asked me to tell you personally. Your husband Winston Hudson jumped or fell to his death from the balcony of the Metropolitan Hotel. I’m sorry.” “No one else was in the room?” Bertha asked. “No, Ma’am.” “There was no sign of a woman?” The officer shook his head. “He wasn’t pushed?” “We looked into that. There was no sign of foul play.” Bertha thanked him and showed him to the door. “I almost forgot,” the policeman said a bit shamed faced. He handed her a brown envelope. Stamped on the outside was, “Property of the New York City Police Department.” The officer said, “The suicide note’s inside. Again, please accept my sympathies on your loss, Mrs. Hudson.” 50
Winston was buried on Sunday. The lawyer, Abe Smith came out on Monday, offered his condolences and helped Bertha with the necessary papers. The magazine would revert to Bertha and the twins. The money, all the money they needed would be theirs. After the lawyer left, Bertha sat at her kitchen table, her coffee getting cold. Something nagged at the back of her mind. She looked at the note again. She was sure of it now. It hadn’t been a suicide note at all. It was what was left of the rejection letter — the note she’d torn in half.
can’t go on Give up It’s hopeless. Death is preferable
Bertha recalled the entire letter: “You can’t go on writing this drivel and expect to be pub- lished in Sable Magazine. Give up the idea of a writing career. It’s hopeless.
Death is preferable to reading this nonsense.” THE END
Chyina Powell Silence but for the sound of tea leaves being sifted into an old Brown Betty. The smell of damp leaves wafting in from the open kitchen window reminded her that autumn was well on its way. Sighing into the tea, Ebony concerned herself with sugar cubes and cream, a small respite from her thoughts, thoughts of gourds and crunching leaves, smells of pumpkin pie and apple cider. Instead she dutifully washed an apple, sliced it on her bamboo cutting board, a gift from someone special, and made her way into the sitting room. Filled with soft music in a language she couldn’t understand, the sitting room was where she’d taken tea since moving into the house. A tray covered with all the requisite dressings in her hands as though she had guests, but she had not entertained in some time. Yet the routine soothed her and thus she kept it up every afternoon at one thirty. While music played, she took note of her belongings and herself. Today she chose to focus on a decorative egg purchased by some relative and regifted until it had finally reached her hands. Hand-painted horses and orchids gazed up at her from its cream façade, asking her why no one had wanted it. In truth, Ebony kept it simply because it was a gift, proof that someone still thought of her, even if these thoughts didn’t amount to much. She’d never understood the purpose of such knickknacks, impractical, space-consuming conversation pieces. She’d rather spend money on food, utensils, clothing, tools. Every item the woman had ever purchased had purpose. Utilitarian. That was the word for it. The egg sat on her mantle, second item from the middle, and it stuck out against the dark wood that came from an old boat made by an even older man who’d seemed to put Shou 52
Sugi Ban, the Japanese art of burning wood, to use whenever he could. In fact, the egg stood out from most of her belongings. Colorful as they were, it was clear that Ebony did not possess much white, cream or eggshell. It was not due to the color showing dirt easily or because she favored color so immensely. She simply hated white. How everyone assumed white meant a blank slate she couldn’t comprehend. White was empty, lonely, unknown. It was lack, not potential. Sipping her tea, she took a deep breath. Lemongrass and clove pervaded her nostrils, an herbal blend bought from a farmer’s market. The tea was quickly becoming one of her favorites. The sound of the apple crunching in her mouth, the long crescendo of the harmonies in the background, this was her world. A world where shelves only held the useful and where leaves should never crunch nor the air smell of pumpkin and pine. In her world, summer turned into winter with nothing in between. Tea was always at the same time, books were always arranged by how enjoyable they were, and all the homes had gardens. Strange to think that her world was not the same that most lived in. To think that there, in their world, people had white walls in their homes, drank apple cider and craved the scent of multicolored leaves on a cool autumn day. Somehow, her apple had lost its flavor and as did her tea, but she drank it still, as routines were not to be broken. The cream egg had been a gift, one she’d readily accepted. Every item on her mantle was a treasured present from someone. The oldest was a small hand-carved box that she’d received when she was a child. Her father had always been crafty but she’d never received such a treasure from him. Instead, it came from a kind old man who’d ran a bakery. The children called him Mr. Bread, his clothes forever covered in flour, his eyes always as warm as his oven. She’d been fourteen when he died. She’d been ten when 53
she got her first ever present. His present. Her thoughts distracting her, Ebony spilled tea onto her tan slacks. It was hot, but it didn’t burn. And it wouldn’t stain so she simply sopped up the excess with a napkin and continued to entertain herself with thoughts of the past. The past when things were still good. Autumn had just begun that year, leaves were falling majestically off trees only to have children jump into them. She’d been beautiful then, her smile wide and her teeth white, lips full. There’d been an art festival in the park and Ebony had attended. She had always loved seeing what others could do with their hands. From paintings to clothes to food, the world was full of smiling people all enjoying the wonders of each other. She’d attended with a few of her closest friends. They met up at the entrance and planned their day. They had agreed to leave after the concert and go to dinner but that didn’t happen. Ebony had been wearing a lavender sweater and matching cardigan, one of her favorites at the time. She drunk hot chocolate and giggled at the jokes of the various vendors. Ebony could recall how she and her friends had danced on the grass, danced until they were out of breath and laughing in the face of exertion. They’d all been too tired to continue their evening and so they said their goodbyes with promises of a next time. Ebony could recall it perfectly, she had yet to move into her current house, had yet begun to cling to her status quo. Shaking herself, Ebony stood. Dwelling on the past in such a manner would never be useful, it would only dredge up regrets and wishes best left forgotten. Turning off her music she sighed and picked up her tray. On her way to the kitchen, she took notice of the blank spots along the hallway, lighter than the rest of the wall. Some oval, some rectangular. Perhaps she could scrub the walls to even the tone or maybe she would paint them. 54
They wouldn’t be taupe as they were now, perhaps a pale orange or a light grey. There were no such pale spots in the kitchen however, and she gladly washed her dishes. First the knife and cutting board, then her cup and saucer and plate. Finally, she cleaned out her beautiful Brown Betty that had held her tea for as long as she could remember. Once again, the scent of leaves and rain tickled her nose. She’d met that person on a day much like today. She had been rushing home to read a book that she had been neglecting and had stumbled across him, much to her horror and dismay. He refused to accept a simple apology and had demanded lunch in return for ruining his shoes which had been a dirty blue color. At the time, she thought that they were the shoes of a man who didn’t have much of a personality or too much of a bad one. They had gone to lunch and then to another and another. She hadn’t gone to lunch in years. Now when she went out, it was only for necessities. No festivals or dancing or picture taking. The man had loved taking photos, one to commemorate each day. He even had a dark room set up in his basement. He liked the smell of the chemicals and being able to watch the pictures slowly come into existence. She couldn’t stand the smell but loved the pictures just the same. He’d frame them and there were dozens of albums of the photos he’d taken: people, sunsets, landscapes, her. Hundreds and thousands. Some had been gifts, others he’d published. And she, she began listening to music from around the world. Maybe she wanted to learn another language or maybe she had wanted to appear more cultured, that was something Ebony could no longer recall. It was funny how the mind could keep some information and purge what it thought unnecessary. She could remember what he’d worn that autumn day when they met but not what she had worn. Ebony could hear the sounds of album pages flipping in her mind but not the words to 55
the songs she had listened to. Ebony finished her dishes and made sure to place everything in its proper place. It was time to tend to her flowers. As routine dictated, she attended her indoor plants first, watering them, checking their health, the amount of sunlight. And then she donned an old leather jacket. It wasn’t a present, more of a hand-me-down but Ebony treasured it just the same. No, in truth she loved it more than any gift. The sun shone on her face as she wordlessly slipped through the back door and walked towards the side of the house. They didn’t dance or drink hot chocolate, but the flowers were her friends. Meticulously, she checked for weeds, she trimmed, she watered, she thought of only the flowers and making sure they were as beautiful as possible. Lastly, she checked the patch. It had sprung up the year after she determined she no longer enjoyed the season between summer and winter, the year after her coat had lost its owner. It was almost magical, a small patch of wildflowers. At first, she had decided to either cut them or replant them somewhere else, but days went by and for some reason she allowed the flowers to stay. The next year she began watering them. The year after she built a small fence around them with stone. This year the patch was as it ever was, full of diverse colors and heights. She watered the flowers and gazed down at them. This year she would dry some and use them as potpourri. The wind blew, making her shiver in the oversized coat. Somehow, time had gotten away from her. She’d stared at the patched until three forty-five. It was practically time. The house was warm, but she kept the coat on, as was the norm, and headed upstairs. There were more blank spaces on the walls, more walls to be repainted. Ebony found what she was looking for on her dresser and gazed at her reflection in the mirror. Brown eyes that had lost some of their color, brown lips in need of balm. She took measure of her face and swallowed 56
hard. Once. Twice. Thrice. Then she ran her hands over her head, she’d shaved it all off almost two months ago. She hadn’t wanted to, her head was a bit large, but it wasn’t her choice. The uneven patches of hair disgusted her. She was still getting used to her new reflection, couldn’t come to terms with it yet. Ebony sighed, lay down and tried to remember how the coat used to smell. When it was new the soft leather smelled faintly of the treatment they had wiped it with. Later, it smelled like its owner, of photo chemicals and warm food. That smell had persisted for so long until one autumn. That autumn had ruined everything, and she was forced to adapt. Time passed, and the coat smelled less and less like its owner, yet it did not come to smell like her. It smelled like the color white. But white had no room in her world so she descended the stairs and hung the coat up where it had always been, third from the right in the closet off the kitchen. Clouds were beginning to cover the sun; the days would soon grow colder and autumn would come. She walked into the kitchen and closed the window.
Ode to Indigo Jasmine Reyes
I recall warm night breezes, how easily the scent of rich soil soaked into my taut skin. White oak leaves tickled the back of my neck, glistening in its season, that just-touched pink skin shone in the springtime. But it hasnâ€™t been spring for years. No, the indigo blush under my fingernails whispers it is another winter. Impish thumbs twiddle in my lap, but I am worn now, ashen skin matted. Stretched full over scraping bones, echoing in the wind like empty hung bottles.
George Floyd, Our Son, You Called Out to Us Davida Kilgore
when your cries fell upon a deaf ear, and your life pleas were sadistically ignored, you offered up your last prayer … “momma, momma” and our nipples leaked, ran red, our wombs convulsed, the pain bearable because death is but change from being … to being … while your earth mother … mothers … grandmomma … nanas … sistahs … aunties … grieve, our arms opened, we received you, forever holding environments, we will never let you go … we are your familiars, your protectors even then, now, into the future, we are: Aberewa, Amma, and Asaase Afua, the African goddesses, also Mbaba Mwana Waresa, we are: Oshun and Oya, the priestesses, many know not of us, but we knew you before birth; we have always had the power of sight, we, and our sisters: Maman Brigitte and Erzulie, have prepared your place with oils; and we wrapped our arms about you upon your arrival as we were never able to swath our own, we are: Shalon and Kira and Amber Rose, we will nourish and sustain you; we heard your prayer, sweet George, and standing among the lilacs at the gate, breathed life back into your nostrils, the singer was correct, there is an afterlife when we die, and your mother … your mothers … … your grandmommas … your nanas … your sistahs … your aunties … left behind will avenge you, as black mothers, in one profound way or another, always have. 59
Beauty vs. Brains Tavi Bennett
May-December Blues Loretta Moore
I gen’ly sing ‘bout pain and sorrow….. Just like there ain’t no tomorrow…. But today I’m givin’ joy all it’s dues….. While I sing about the May-December blues….. They might not reach some oasis….. But they done found themselves some right places ….. Happiness is what I’m talking of….. I’m speakin’ ‘bout their May-December love…. May-December love… May-December love … May-December love … May-December love … May-December love … May-December love ………..
*To listen, scan the QR Code or visit: https://youtu.be/Rz75hf9cg9Q 61
Black Lives Matter Richie Bednarski
“Where There Is No Law” Jordan Charlton
There is no need for cellphone video There is no need for validation There is no need for three officers There is no need for an autopsy There is no need for third degree There is no need for nationwide riots There is no need for boarded up windows There is no need for a state of emergency There is no need for buildings to be protected There is no need for clouds of tear gas There is no need for rubber bullets There is no need for the national guard There is no need for military presence There is no need for all these speeches There is no need for getting back to normal There is no need for any memory of normal There is no need for a right way to do or feel There is no need for making anything of this country There is no need for a knee on a person’s neck
Black Lives Matter Richie Bednarski
Zac Brooks Only got one life to live You should make what you believe When you open up your eyes Are you happy with what you see? Ya dreamin’ If you’re wanting ya know what’s real Dreamin’ Can’t ya tell we don’t have no feelin’s People Every shade, every shade, every size of you Have faith in me god in you If the words run over got truth Oh Made in the image with immaculate vision, Yeah One with the universe, got to be human first Yeah Made from the universe what cha think humans’ purpose is Got the keys to world peace If ya heard what I speak practice what I’m preachin’ I can tell this ain’t reachin’ And I pray that we make it But life ain’t cheap We done paid with our lives and still ain’t free Take all my taxes Kill me dead in the street This American dream Got me running for sleep I guess the cousin of death I’m just dying to live And if my last breath 65
Is singing these rifts Then I’ll accept it But until then I refuse to be oppressed or abuse, To even amuse that notion I got ancestors in the ocean We’ve been bent, beaten and broken I need my phone because it’s M.O. Singing til you feel it in your endorphins, Imma blow up in defendin’ an ocean Turning pigs into bacon in motion I need every single penny ya owe me Takin’ it from the police, Takin’ all that money and pour it in poor streets It’s a figure of speech but I’m smokin’ police Touch me or mine Imma realign the entire spine, Fist first Fuck the system til my dick hurts Turn the Crown Vic to a hearse Put some gas on it Watch it burn Watch it burn Watch it burn
~ *Editorâ€™s note: This piece was transcribed by ear and lines may be incorrect or missing in the written version, so please listen to the audio for the full submission*
*To listen, scan the QR Code or visit: https://youtu.be/ZxgG1hCVtc0
Black Lives Matter Richie Bednarski
Special Thanks The Brushfire Team would like to express our deepest thanks to Jody Lykes and Kle Boyd for taking the time to meet with us and for sharing their voice. Kle devoted hours of her time to reviewing and discussing the artworks that comprise this Zine with us. She also played a major role in helping us identify central themes and shifts of tone which direct the flow of the narrative. Jody was there for us from day one to help get the word out about the zine, and he also provided critical feed back during the drafting process, aiding us in the effort to fine tune and develop the overall aesthetic and flavor of the zine. Of course, we would also like to express our gratitude to all of the artists who contributed their work to the zine and who kept in contact with us throughout this process. You all are the beating heart of this project. Without you it would not have been possible â€” thank you.