Issue V May 2018
TABLE OF CONTENTS: William Evans [Featured Poet]
Subjective Pain Scale
Listening to Billie Holiday After the
They Find Your Body in Another City, &
Text Me a Photo
Auribus Teneo Lupum
The Boys Ran Past and the Flowers Never Grew Back
It’s Tuesday And We Didn’t See Any New Shootings Of
Judges 4: 17-21
Black People By Police Today So It’s Possible We Are
Ode To The Bruise I Left On Your Shoulder
Fucking Tonight, Maybe
The Homeowners Association Won’t Let Us Grow
Blackberries in the Backyard
ii. dance moves
iii. nigghazal (prophe-see)
iv. the old head verses (ecclesiastes) 37-44
Rachel “Raych” Jackson
Pantoum for Derrion Albert from the plank
Kelli Russell Agodon
How To Fold a Paper Heart
The Torturer’s Daughter
The Memory of August
Tending a Fire
Rooted Crown For My Murderer
William Evans William Evans is a writer, instructor, and performer from Columbus, OH. He founded the Writing Wrongs Poetry Slam in 2009 and appeared on seven National Slam teams from Columbus collectively. His work can be seen online in Radius Poetry, The Legendary, Joint Literary Magazine, and other publications.
Auribus Teneo Lupum William Evans
The archway above the door of my daughter’s new school says something in Latin about hard work and leadership but nothing about the tuition fee required to walk through it. The school is only new to us as it has stood without us or people that look like us for decades, and this is what my wife and I do with our hard work and leadership; a ransom we have secured, we grease the rails for our daughter. This is what you do when you are Black and at jobs where you suffer through being the minority, you send your daughter to the better school where she will suffer through being the minority. But they love us here. They love the shirt and tie I pick as armor to wear when I leave my daughter with them. They love locks that twist down my wife’s back like taut rope they can point out to investors. Your family is adorable, would you mind posing for this picture, you know we are remaking the flyer, can we put you on the cover? Give us your daughter, she was too smart to stay wherever you came from. See the community we’re building? See how we have tamed the wild dogs, I bet you haven’t heard one bark since you got here. We can’t guarantee they won’t get hungry if you leave.
Jasmine, Wherever (previously published in Winter Tangerine) William Evans
the girl who can’t sit still, can’t let the beat drop, can’t let the night fall upon us without a fight that invades bedtime asks me, almost daily if we can have a dog. And her mother? Not much help. She pretends that I am the one pulling the drawbridge on her best ambitions, but no, it isn’t like that. I just remember the last dog my family had when I was younger when we didn’t know how fractured we were and my sister loved on Jasmine every could
day, feeding muster until
her as much
Jazz ran away and never came back because who wants to be in a building where the residents pretend to not from its windows is light has had
the flames bursting until everything and every water
so I say something if you can settle down for bed then maybe I’ll think about it even though I think about not wanting to be abandoned again almost every day why would I have my only family now if I didn’t fear the opening of my veins and nothing pouring out from them or the docility of my body on the floor of a vacant house like a man that has watched history invite itself into the man’s home and take up all the chairs
bone as we
The Boys Ran Past and the Flowers Never Grew Back William Evans
say a prayer for my father who art not in heaven yet who wore an afro like a life vest in service of the akron flood. It claim a family every summer, every day in north ohio be a coming of age story be the beginning of a blood oath you redeem in another part of the lower forty-eight. praise be the zero year, praise the artist that gets your baby hair just right on the cover every black boy gets a grand exit they don’t all get origin stories, unless you count the first time they got called a nigger. first time their name is split over the molars of a man in a uniform and spit out like church wine. we hitchcock, shoot our love scenes like murders, and who among us ain’t dreamt of their body draped in lights and making a beautiful exit wound to a paying crowd? they say all the brothas round my way are great storytellers. no, we just remember every color of the thing that tried to kill us. want to hear a joke: nobody I know lost their virginity on lover’s lane blvd, but the crips used to set up shop there, until someone decorated the street with kevin’s body. left him in the weeds until the roses fermented around his head. not funny? maybe I gotta work on my timing. give me death or give me death where my mama doesn’t have to appear on cnn. we just boys in the snapbacks, got just enough spanish in our throat to flirt with rosa up the block or tell rosa’s brother how the security guard at the mall groped her when they said she stole something. maybe a body without puncture is too big of an ask. maybe we start smaller; maybe we just want somebody to see us without imagining a future without us. guess our love scenes stay murder. rosa told a boy he was fine like denzel and she never came back from the party. guess the flood can claim anyone, guess I still ain’t funny. still alive though. still working on my timing.
It’s Tuesday And We Didn’t See Any New Shootings Of Black People By Police Today So It’s Possible We Are Fucking Tonight, Maybe William Evans
I kick my daughter’s / stuffed animal / out the damn bed because it ain’t / the first transgression / on our heavily scripted / Tuesday night which doesn’t / hold any real significance / against any other / night of the week except it’s / the night my daughter / fell asleep early, so maybe / my wife and I might / actually get some alone time / tonight and by alone / time I mean neither of us / will be too exhausted / to do what gave us a / daughter in the first / place, but we got a long way / to go considering we / can’t stop laughing that we got / a goddamn toy chest / of my daughter’s lack of clean / up under the covers / and my wife may have rolled / over on some cookie / crumbs too, the ones I didn’t even / tell her that I gave / our daughter before bed and she / look at me like I / hid the launch codes from her and / I have been laughing / for five minutes now, so my wife / puts her hand over my / mouth because if I wake up / our daughter now, my / wife may never let me have sex / again, so we / forgo the bed because we don’t / know what else / lurks there and instead / opt for the floor until / we both land there hard as / reality and we both / look at each other / in horror as we await the fruit / of our recklessness / but not a sound comes from across the hall so / maybe we’re in the clear / except maybe it’s too quiet / now and my wife / just wants to check / on her and I roll my / eyes even though I was thinking / the same thing, so both / of us try to find our clothes / which ain’t hard considering / we didn’t get very far taking / them off to begin with / and we slowly open the door / to my daughter’s room / who couldn’t be more asleep / and unconcerned with / our shenanigans but my wife lays / next to her / and rubs our daughter’s back as if she / might disappear if she stops making contact / and I lay behind / my wife, my face buried / in her back because I am /always tired and there’s a / chance that I might / snore and wake them both up at least they’ll know / I’m still alive
The Homeowners Association Wonâ€™t Let Us Grow Blackberries in the Backyard William Evans
but I remember the summer when my voice buried the boy I had been and I spent suns in three acres of thorns at my grandmother’s home, where the blackberries visited each July just like her cancer. I held my weathered and woven basket, the splintered fangs invading my palms. My grandmother never allowed me to pick the berries myself— If the berries be red or purple, you just leave them be. They ain’t ripe yet. and I knew she meant that I was done hanging with the older boys who lived around the corner, their car loud and alive, a thicket of smoke rising from the doors. Grandma knew the blade of me, knew if I could not tongue the seeds from my teeth, I would find something sharper. Once, one of those boys disrespected her, and she let the pies burn in the oven while she went outside to mark him, her palms still stained with the morning’s pickings. That September, the cancer dragged grandma to new hauntings. White men showed up to her home in bulldozers and their engine smoke swallowed the years. When they poured the concrete over the fields, I knew it was a tomb for the man I might have been, for the fable that what we own belongs to us, and even the splinters I held, were not mine to keep.
is a 20 year-old student at Vanderbilt University. She was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio and writes mostly about her experiences with race and identity. Lauren is studying mechanical engineering, but writes and performs spoken word poetry every chance she gets.
Rachel “Raych” Jackson
is a Chicago native who earned her degree in Elementary Education at DePaul University in June of 2013. As a Golden Apple Scholar, Rachel teaches in the Chicago Public School system (since 2013). She plans to build her own school within the next fifteen years. Rachel prides herself in her current weaving of social justice and higher ordered thinking curricula in schools throughout Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. In addition to being an educator, Rachel is a poet and playwright. The subject matter surrounding her works ranges from character driven fiction to the recent delve back into poetic verse exploring her personal struggles.
Kelli Russell Agodon
is a poet, writer and editor from the Pacific Northwest. She is the cofounder of Two Sylvias Press and the author of Hourglass Museum, a Finalist for the Washington State Book Awards and shortlisted for the Julie Suk Poetry Prize. Her second book, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room won for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Prize for poetry. Kelli is also the Co-Director of Poets on the Coast, a yearly writing retreat for women that takes place in La Conner, Washington. She is an avid paddleboarder and hiker who has a fondness for vinyl records and hammocks. - www.agodon.com / www.twosylviaspress.com
studies poetry at Elms College, where they have also been awarded the Blue House fellowship. Their poetry appears/will appear in Empty Mirror, Five:2:One, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, North American Review, Penn Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, and elsewhere. Short fiction forthcoming from The Binnacle. They can be found on Twitter @sagescrittore.
is a Canadian citizen and Visiting Instructor at the University of South Florida. Her first book, Thaw, was chosen by Allison Joseph to win the National Poetry Series (University of Georgia Press, 2017). Her chapbook, What Bodies Have I Moved, is forthcoming from Madhouse Press (2018). Her work can be found in The Sycamore Review (Winner of the Wabash Prize), The Southeast Review (Winner of the Gearhart Poetry Contest), Water~Stone Review (Winner of the Jane Kenyon Prize), Colorado Review, Cincinnati Review, and Gulf Coast, among others.
is a graduate student in the Creative Writing program at the University of South Florida, where she is the poetry editor for Saw Palm. She was second runner-up for the 2017 Spoon River Poetry Contest. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in CALYX, The Pinch Journal, The Blue Heron Review, among others. She holds a BA in Creative Writing & Literature from William Paterson University and an MLS from The University of Buffalo.
is a creative writing student at the University of South Florida and has previously been published in Hobart Journal.
lives in New York City. His work is nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and is featured or forthcoming in the Massachusetts Review, BOMB, Apogee, Gigantic Sequins, Booth, and elsewhere. He is a 2018 Adroit Journal Summer Mentor, and alongside Karisma Price, Kwame is a founding member of the Unbnd Collective. Find more of his work at kwamethethird.com, and catch him on Twitter @ kwamethethird
Darren Demaree’s poems have appeared, or are scheduled to appear in numerous magazines/journals, including Diode, Meridian, New Letters, Diagram, and the Colorado Review. He is the author of eight poetry collections, most recently ‘’Two Towns Over’ (March 2018), which was selected as the winner of the Louise Bogan Award by Trio House Press, and is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry. Darren is currently living and writing in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.
has been a community activist, alternative newspaper writer and editor, criminal defendant, delivery truck driver, courtroom bailiff, private investigator, PR flack, and college professor. He was a co-founder, writer, and editor of the Columbus Free Press in 1970 and a founding member in 1984 of The Poetry Forum, now Ohio’s longest-running poetry series. His poems have appeared in dozens of literary journals as well as in several anthologies, and he has seven poetry collections, most recently a full-length collection, A Green Line Between Green Fields (2018).
#FREE _____________ Lauren Saxon
During reading time this nigga whispered he was gunna buy me a grill. Leaned over & announced that he was gunna be a rapper & I was gunna be a star in his music video we were in 4th grade. & this nigga said my grill would be gold & his would match & then he smiled & it was already blinding. Already overflowing with promises & dreams too big to be kept secret. I told my mama who told my hair dresser who laughed as she set my scalp on fire. My hair dresser ran out of breath from mama calling me a video vixen & my scalp was burning & so were my ears because yes I like-liked this nigga & wouldn’t admit it. We got older & he got cooties & taller & earrings & in 7th grade he wore skinny jeans while dancing like New Boyz & this nigga’s pin drop was smooth like sunsets & butter. High school came & we weren’t close cause he was still black & I was still trynna be white but I liked how big his fro was getting. I was a point guard & he was a track star & sophomore year when the girls had to ask the guy to the dance this nigga’s name popped up. Mama liked him cause he was cute & daddy liked him cause he was driven & I didn’t ask him to the dance & halfway through college a white girl asked me if I had seen the news. If I’d seen his mugshot for attempted murder & suddenly everyone was laughing as my heart was breaking. They teased & tweeted & I cringed at the way they called him a wanted ‘man’ like he wasn’t 19 & still growing out of shoes & t-shirts & bad habits. He’d fired a couple shots behind a burger spot & was running from police who love shooting black boys for no reason but they arrested him & didn’t kill him & they arrested him & didn’t kill him they arrested him & now his survival is the only proof I need to know God exists.
Pantoum for Derrion Albert from the plank Rachel “Raych” Jackson
In September 2009 Derrion Albert’s murder was caught on tape. The video spread through the world quicker than the Southside of Chicago could be gentrified through the Olympic bid. Killers are shown kicking Derrion in the face and smashing his head with a wooden plank. His hands were soft on my hips. We were brown together. How often does that happen? Wooden individuals shaped and dyed to look the same as them. Brown like the next. We all look the same to them. Brown like the next. Sturdy. Wooden individuals shaped and dyed to look the same as them. Brown like the next. There are many uses for a snatched tree. Easy to be broken and passed around. Each ring tells achievements of sorts. Sturdy. He needed a capable dancer. There are many uses for a snatched tree. Easy to be broken and passed around. Each ring tells achievements of sorts. A partner whose spine can bend with the grace of politicians tongues built on corroding law enforcement. He needed a capable dancer. I’m someone that will sacrifice my body spreading through skulls. A partner whose spine bend with the grace of politicians tongues built on corroding law enforcement. We danced to the music made that day. A slow melody assembled from the dull connection with heads and shrieks carrying his name. I’m someone that will sacrifice my body spreading through skulls. Admire me. Focus on me. I beat them all. We danced to the music made that day. A slow melody assembled from the dull connection with heads and shrieks carrying his name. We all look the same to them. Brown like the next. Admire me. Focus on me. I beat them all. His hands were soft on my hips. We were brown together. How often does that happen?
How To Fold a Paper Heart Kelli Russell Agodon
This morning, life is a jar of paperwhites leaning off the counter, and I am a paperheart leaning out the window searching for meaning in the coyotes and the baby coyotes roaming my yard. Right now I pray the neighbors have kept their cat in, pray the small rabbit living in my hedge smells the scent of canine, the scent of blood from the young fawn the coyotes caught earlier this morning, and stays hidden. Here is my life in between radio news and killings outside my window, between school shootings and watching a sparrow picked off by a Peregrine falcon. All of it has me talking to God a lot more and telling her thereâ€™s only so much loss I can handle. But she laughs, almost howls, then whispers: That is why I sent the coyote pups into your yardâ€” look closer, life is everywhere.
Crown For My Murderer Sage
this was never about you, but the boy after you. i drift on april’s tide from room to room and i can point to every floorboard where it hurt. it is a fist. it is a purple knuckle. it is skin swollen at the seams expecting stitching to do its part. these days, i don’t know how to lick my wounds without tasting the salt of your indifference. i say i am not the sum of broken parts, but a whole unto myself and you like to kiss the chewed cuticles of my fingers, tell me no, and show me once again the quiet rage. i’ve writ myself into a corner and i will do it again. there is no strange way to talk of grief, it is too present. when we grieve for injury and injurer, we come upon the violence we do ourselves, and the monsters we let in.
Crown For My Murderer Sage
the violence we do ourselves, and the monsters we let in, can be forgiven once we slice the spurned obsession from our veins, slip the wind-thin knife into the arteries of life -bringing blood, cut out the plates of wing-rendered oil and the coins from a dead-man’s purse—collected at the last morning before the very last morning, night’s slick darkness sliding over the grass and water—but isn’t it enough to desire you? isn’t it enough for me to chew your wants between my teeth like sacred bread? my own are left to dry and curl in morning light with the dew on the banks of the lake. i don’t exist without your little finger curling over mine, the warmth of your palm a domestic myst -ery everybody but me seems to grasp. lovers tangled up in blue consumption, their starving bellies screaming Gone.
Crown For My Murderer Sage
in blue consumption, their starving bellies screaming gone is our marrow and gone is redemption, they place their water-beaded foreheads to the red bricks of the grain silo-turned-incinerator. the sky is not the blue of a sky but the blue of smoke. i have no room in me for the old angers, i make a bed of salt into an alter for my joy. in those days, the queens rain down like small towns in a manâ€™s smooth throat blue-grassing his way to New England-sized freedoms. and when the hills are gray whales breaching the golden sky, i return a piece of myself to the wind. all this to say, you will never find me here. in those days, we found a mound of nothing after searching through the firmaments for a boy. all this to say, i will never find you there again, waiting for me at the edge of the bed with the belt in your lean hands, knuckles purple from another mouth, not mine, not even yours. certainly, someone will peer through the windows and see this madness. certainly, a hand will reach down and pull me, screaming, from the dark.
Lockdown Drill Chelsea Dingman
Keep thinking of the dead babies the dead babies the dead so like the babies at the ends of our fingers the babies that will grow to leave too fast if they live long enough the babies that mothers once held inside like secrets they promised to keep safe—keep thinking that no one is safe if not the babies if not the near-visible bones we grow to outlast us keep thinking nothing lasts while the sun sinks below the late winter horizon the hours of daylight getting longer but only by seconds the bones grown away from us like the babies so close to being the only evidence of angels the babies that moved through the world just yesterday & now move in the dark beyond the windows beyond the glass lake of memory keep thinking there are reasons for everything but do not find a single reason for a bullet to enter a baby like a wind that opens a door it can’t close keep thinking we’d do anything to deadbolt the doors to shut out the wind to put breaths back in their bodies to give them a new history a new exit strategy a world where hate is not a bullet where dead babies aren’t snowflakes fallen to rest under our feet where the babies that live at our fingertips are what we hold instead of what we could be holding when to hold them is never enough is never enough is never enough
Subjective Pain Scale Chelsea Dingman
Every second, a woman is killed. The news are filled with women who were someone before they were lost. A monster is not always the creak on the staircase, the stray man in a white van parked at the corner store. Iâ€™ve been told so many truths that I wear like tacks in my back to remember how it is for women to be raped, strangled, spit on, groped, stalked. How to be left penniless. Childless. Or child-sick for the left child. How to make excuses last as long as the vowel in a name. How to forgive the tongue, the fist, the spit. Stake me home. Stake each woman in my heart. Stake their voices to the wind like scales played on the keys of the piano. When called to testify, guilt is a second heart -beat tucked in the deserts of so many wrists because, sometimes, even with hands over our hearts, a small lie is easier. The bleached curtain of the body, not yet broken. Not blessed. No, not. Not yet.
Listening to Billie Holiday After the Shootings Chelsea Dingman
The piano. Her voice. The dark outside. A thousand branches, but no wind. Not tonight. The broken world, drawn in indigo. The world, broken by all that is living & not living. The phone has wrung all day. All day, the voices. On the news. At the schools. Now, I need to hear the dead sing as if a gone daughter was once real. As if she sings from inside a chrysalis. As if, from inside this night, she might sing home the bodies, failed by so many. I hear the piano again. Her voice. My heart slows for a second. There is no explanation for this kind of fear: the wait for what goodbye brings. The lie that is stillness. How long can a woman be so sad? And this blue world weâ€™re offeredâ€”how long can anyone survive this?
The Interview Chelsea Dingman
Dear convict wind, lying about the girl. The cigarette left beside the woods. How no one stops by the earth’s gravitational pull— to her. He was the door whispering hush, the dog barking couldn’t hear the wind, the traffic in the thin trouble of his body. A vessel, she doesn’t belong in this story. No girl does. The story that is the hiss of the cherry, a daughterhouse. Where did you last see the bones? Did she cry for her mother, on the local news? O culprit: in the woods, we wait for you to make anything rise.
low in the pines—: I want to talk in the thicket. The road for strangers now. The moon, caged a man was there, but he didn’t belong to the house she ran from, her mother in the dark cloak room. The man rushing past. He couldn’t sleep stale with cigarettes & whiskey. And the girl: The story that wends through the woods. on her cheek. The fire that tore through her? Did it hurt when her skin fell clean off her mother, crying come home as the pines stand silent as witnesses,
They Find Your Body in Another City, & Text Me a Photo Chelsea Dingman
“The dead do not cease in the grave.”-Srikanth Reddy, Voyager
Of all of the things you used to say we harm only ourselves is the truth here, alive. There is little truth in disappearance. It’s still raining. You were alive last week. Another town is ravaged by rain in Texas. In Florida, rain is prayer. Sacrifice is knowing the end will come, like the credits, & not turning away, but moving toward the dark where I can’t find you. Maybe love is movement. I’m not sure it matters. Our history is the patterned sky. The slow deaths of the palm trees. The lives we’ve given up when we didn’t have to. The ways we know harm by touch. By excuse. By this silence that replaces sex. Or lust. Or language. Too soon, the truth will be that nothing lasts. Not memory. Not time. Not the hands cupping the rain. Warm & alive.
Ephemera Erika Goodrich
At dusk, months after the last funeral I unearth boxes of papers & polaroids, play LP’s on the antique Crosley & listen with my lips. Against my back, the moon’s bonewhite light slides across floorboards like fingers in search of something just beyond its reach. I drink scotch & dig through old photographs. Faces stare at me like dandelions dying in a field. Inscriptions of name & dates, faded. And now there’s no one left to tell me who they are who I am. My hands cup the flame of a lighter. I look up: stars pinned to the night like butterflies in a shadowbox. But doesn’t night end? Doesn’t everything resurrect? Even fields rebirth without bidding. Still, tonight, bands of moonlight wrap the necks of live oaks, pines & palms. Still, I want to know the names, the faces. For breath to be more than escape from a feral body.
Judges 4: 17-21 Haley Morton
I have loved three men more than god: my father, my grandfather and the psychologist who convinced my grandma to leave him. My grandfather, who forgives me for not being at his funeral, an addict as much as any winter in Wisconsin, all his alcohol forgotten and forgiven by his son’s heroin, his wife’s pills, their eventual divorce. I love him because of the doe my sister became. The way her legs splintered she broke into bipolar disorder like a color of her eye. I have loved every woman more than god-- my grandmother’s silence in the spots like brail on her skin how she never thought to forgive my grandfather for it. How she left him, and left him and he stayed left until his death. How little she loved him. How she watched his shaking break like a fever into Parkinson’s and she ironed the tremors out of his clothes, with winter everywhere in Wisconsin just like every year since Moses brought snow down from the mountaintop with the commandments and now I hold that distance from god in my boots when I walk home from any hospital. I walk and the sun smothers its face and I remember the women’s voices singing me to sleep as a child, songs I never know, like the strangers that scratch the trees outside home.
Ode To The Bruise I Left On Your Shoulder Haley Morton
that looks like Idaho, but I’ve never been to Idaho and neither have you. We exchange a look like clothes hanging out to dry and fall asleep with that blueberried blade of shoulder. I have never made anything out of another person. You tell me you made a cauliflower out of the boy who touched your sister. You marooned-up your knuckles and bulged up his eyes, ears, nose. I had never made anything out of another person. But there it is, midnight fog, threat of blood. There it is: tooth mark or thumb print, tie dyed to your back that I don’t remember leaving. I swear it winks at me sometimes when you’re steady-breathing and I’m sweat-drenched and panting from the window heat. It winks like cats wink at you through house windows. It winks like I am outside and you are inside. Or you are inside and I am outside. You say it doesn’t hurt. I wish it did.
i. prophe-see Kwame Opoku-Duku
an old creole man approaches the pulpit/ slowly/ wearing a baggy three piece suit/ white hair in cornrows/ he acknowledges the congregation with a gesture of his hand/ removes a handkerchief from his pocket/ wipes the corners of his mouth/ says/ now i call this prophe-see somebody that can see i can see everybody can’t see & if you can’t SEE well you gon get tripped/ (YES LAWD) you see WE WERE SLAVES/ (OH YES WE WERE LAWD/ MMM HMM) & that graveyard back there/ that was OUR graveyard/ (YES LAWD) my AUNTIES are in that graveyard/ my GRANDMAMA is in that graveyard/ & when i die/ GODDAMMIT/ i’ma be up in that muthafuckin graveyard/
you SEE? I KNOW WHERE I COME FROM/ (YES LAWD) i can SEE/ (YES JESUS) YOU UNDERSTAND? (MMM HMM) I’M TALKIN HALF & QUARTER NOTES/ (YES) THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN BOUT/ THEY NOT BOUT THAT LIFE/
(NO THEY NOT LAWD)
TELL ME WE AIN’T PRODUCED NOTHIN/ (*low & steady moans*)
ii. dance moves Kwame Opoku-Duku
the old heads say the world is burning, watching youngins
i am so scared i want to die with my eyes open. i never turn my back
milly rock in the streets, bodies engulfed by the glow of their
on anybody, never trust without power. the devil preys
blackness, no fucks given, ain’t got time in these streets.
in liminal spaces, uses pebbles instead of boulders,
and it’s true, really. the world is burning. at its core we’d evaporate
talking plenty slick, like he’s the only one who could
like an orgasm in the night sky, have our souls flown
really know God, who could really love Him.
to heaven by God’s benevolent birds. i used to be a youngin.
and you’ll say it’s more complicated. it’s always
i used to wild wilder than the wildest. i’ve watched young
more complicated. i say, lord, take everything but my dance moves.
men of color spontaneously combust. these days,
i submit myself to your will. your grace
i evangelize like a dime store preacher, scrutinize the suits
a pashmina in the crisp new york air. i’ll lay myself
of other preachers, envy the humility of those more favored.
prostrate and pray for more heat.
iii. nigghazal (prophe-see) Kwame Opoku-Duku
the old creole man stops for a moment/ he has forgotten where he was/ looks down at the pulpit, looks up at the congregation & remembers/ WE tell our stories/ we have a lot history/ a lot of black history/ because we black/ they have a lot of white history/ because they white/ & our histories are intertwined/ there are some good white folks out there/ we wouldn’t be free if it wasn’t for those white folks/ a lot of white folks died so we could be free/ & none of this will change the fact that we are niggers/ but if in this world/ i must die as a nigger/ i’ll be glad i got to live as a nigger/ i was MVP of my high school track team and outran the other teams’ fastest niggers/ pops said to be humble tho/ the white man wants you to be an ‘in the streets/ assed-out nigger/’ they say/ in order to speak on my behalf/ you got to become a pastor-type nigger/ i get tight when people tell my brother to pull his pants up/ they don’t know/ that’s my nigga and no/ it may not elevate the culture/ but i love a girl who’ll smoke grass with a nigga/ i play pris’ners in plays and dope boys on set/ but i’m just happy when they cast a nigga and that’s real talk
iv. the old head verses (ecclesiastes) 37-44 Kwame Opoku-Duku
37 i walked through years of fog/ before i felt the breath of the sea on my face/ the lonely moon framed/ soft against the black night/ 38 i tried to remember my hardest losses/ what is a man/ after all/ if not a vessel for his fears? 39 what are fears/ but a reminder of what he loves? a photograph of his slaves and a dog/ his favorite sports team and intoxication/ 40 when i was a child/ & comfort was measured in warmth/ by the spoonful/ we tilted our heads to the side and sang happy family/ 41 i am reminded now of all the family i will never know/ 42 but i can’t seem to remember pain/ no matter how hard i try/ 43 memories ain’t worth a damn if they can’t pay the rent/ 44 it’s true/ i had heroes/ before i saw how the sausage gets made/
UTICA, OHIO Darren Demaree
There is a metaphysical assumption that transcendence begins in the mind & I have risen many times that way, but in Central Ohio it takes a little extra to be lifted above the diamond cutters & small-town politicians that you know were forced to leave the church deacons because they were watching girls change in the basketball locker room. It takes good, hard drugs to believe that you have the ability to range into a naturalness that feels as large as the world & I find no fault in those that take drugs to escape, but I miss so many people that never came back to me.
Shells Steve Abbott
By that time her house was nearly empty, white gingerbread trim repeated on dollies etched like bleached tattoos on arms and backs of the oversized chairs and overstuffed couches, only scattered pieces remaining. Each room resonated to footsteps, vacancies amplified by everything that had fled her pieces at a time, removed for safekeeping when she could no longer function alone. At the nursing home, others brought only distress or annoyance, claiming to be daughters or nephews, most looking—for all her squinted effort— like faces in a stranger’s photo album. Sometimes she just nodded, features foundering in the swells between an embarrassed smile and anxious eyes, as if agreeing she understood nothing she saw could be trusted, nurses and visitors refusing to admit they were grandchildren or childhood friends, the man in the blue jeans claiming, I’m David, your son. Doctors discussed a woman not in the room, gone somewhere else: She’s healthy as a horse, but… She floated in that contradiction. Remembering how water’s surface remains placid even as every molecule frantically collides with surrounding molecules, billions of times a second, I watched her eyes dart like light between ripples, alternating serenity and terror at having been cast up like this on a foreign shore where everything wavered— definition, fact, belief, sequence, past and present swirled into waves that break her into colorful shards, scattering fragments in the backwash, no hint of who she’d been or the maelstrom dragging her down, refusing to drown her. I shivered at the eels of doubt and rage I imagined rolling her brain, and when she asked for the third time, who I was, I hesitated, remembering the hint of mothballs and the odor of age, and efforts to cover them—potpourri, air freshener, mildew cakes in closets— that clung to her house like a shroud as I walked
its rooms, heirlooms and valuables vanished with the stories she’d told about them, touchstones for memory’s juggle of beauty and pain. Few houses are sadder than the almost empty, the lone shoe and crumpled dress revealing what’s gone, remnants outlasting spirits breathed into them, hollows a reminder of this body I’m in. On a nighstand I found a fish bowl shaping a collection of seashells culled from both coasts: umber fading to white, speckled fans in pink and purple, the whirlpool blues and grays staring like parrots, burnished sundials going to gold, spirals winding stairways of abandoned castles, graceful architecture exquisite and barren. I turned one tiny alcove in my hand, praying its iridescence would reveal something of the anatomy of loss. Nothing. When I carried it to her, she studied the globe like a child, frenzied beyond containment of a miracle. Her fingers traced the open face of the jar as she named what seemed parts of her own body: scallop, mussel, cuttlefish, cowrie, limpet, retrieving a vanished litany trapped beneath the barnacled surface of her own voyage, its years. A familiar grace in the transparent world lifted her, dove-shell and angel’s wings a visual mantra only she could hear. Then her eyes floated up jellyfish in the glass, the reflection wavered as if in water, fluid wrinkles dissolving certainty. She sank back into herself with shipwreck eyes, the moment retreating like a riptide where she floundered, wandering refugee in ghost towns of the sea. At low tide she wander the wrack line, asking the daily question of when her husband, a decade dead, will arrive to touch her cheek. Our eyes go to the horizon as Anna pats her hand, coos the promise: He’ll be here tomorrow, Ma. Johnny will be here tomorrow.
The Torturerâ€™s Daughter Steve Abbott
When he gets home, he’s taken off the gloves. Inside them is a softness her hair releases in his hands, and after her bath he slowly combs the strands matter to her neck. The smooth strokes are whisper into another place, into the face of a blindfolded form strapped to a chair, jaundiced light refusing to brighten the chill smeared on walls. He bounces her on his knee and sings an old folk song, a mountain tune she hums quietly to herself, twisting her doll into a dance. His fingers clench and relax as the melody brings into focus the room where they call a scream the song, a spasm of shrieks the chorus, where splintered arias invoke passive gods with weeping that fills the gaps between questions. Slipping from his lap, the girl takes the comb, tugs it through the yarn hair, still learning pressure and release, how to measure each pass of plastic teeth so the doll isn’t torn beyond repair. She cradles the cloth form as he tuckers her in bed and whispers love until she’s so still he can’t tell if she’s breathing. In the morning, after potatoes and eggs, he kisses her, opening the door to a yellow courtyard and what he does to hold their shared world in place.
The Memory of August after fiber art by Zhao Dandan Steve Abbott
Light is finding its way across the undisturbed surface of things where you and I move, isolated flakes gathered as in a blue boat, its prow parting the insistent cold with hope of something to knot us together. In this drifting, the air between us muffles sound, insulates us from a world awash in anxious blips, the beep and buzz of machines, our sacrifice of touch. And this reaching, its inability to grasp how mysteries accept attention in the absence of understanding. Somewhere here is a memory of August, a slowness that exposes an eternal stillness, like snowâ€™s quiet merging of pieces. In this white and silent distance from the sunâ€™s low arc across the sky I feel its indifference to my blindness to how a wheel moved by a constant treadle sharpens me to this invisible edge.
Tending a Fire Steve Abbott
When the creation that warmed and fed has consumed itself, collapsed into pulsing fists, the spaces poking creates are slivers of another life. An opening becomes uplift, updraft that draws wraiths of smoke along charred edges. What appears vacant between logs is where a future rises, first as ripple of heat, then movement that becomes flame finding its way upward, pulling me with it, pulling me in.
Rooted Steve Abbott
A fish in a water world, I swam in the place I was born, knowing nothing else. One deep season merged with another without ripple. The equation simple: I was in the place I was. Breezes speckled me with shadows. Snow came and went, cityâ€™s clay bowl a place warm as I could want. Every day the broiling south called itself better, a smooth road offering myths of eternal sunshine and no hint of melanoma. An old song claims the west is the best, and Iâ€™ve glided its blacktop threads across deserts, cracked terrain crumbling like ancient pottery. Back at home, the expanses opened inside remain vast in their chronicle of roots, sharing the stillness of trees in Greenlawn Cemetery, what their patience reveals. I awaken defined, comfortable within horizons, each morning shaped by a wind that holds me in place.
Poetry from Ohio's capital city and around the world.