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Without fail now, for four good rounds I’ve sat down to write our anthology introduction and find myself talking in circles. What new ways can I express wonderment at what pulls forth from our women? Not only the words, but the explorations, excavations and celebrations. I am slapped in the face with awe at what occurs on the page when spirit is unleashed, when the community asks for ultimate realness, when we are rewarded for being so brashly and boldly ourselves. This round’s writers hailed from Rio de Janeiro, New Mexico, Philadelphia, Ohio, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Malaysia, Australia, Oakland, Illinois, Utah, Long Island, New York, Queens and as always, Brooklyn. For each participant, of course, the journey is different. Some loosen up creatively, fill a notebook with new pieces. Some lean into dark stories and release their fear or burdens. Some connect and develop lasting friendships with women around the world. Some channel their strength into new projects. And let’s be honest, some don’t finish the journey but get one shining poem jewel and the start to a few new nuggets. Each orientation is valuable, valid, affirming and worthy - and the

differences in expression AND take-aways are what make the ride interesting time again. The women in this round, as you’ll read, certainly are armed with their souls, as J. Malaika Beckford writes in her poem, There is no resolve for this. The tremendous breadth of voice included in this collection is astounding - from terse and tight to meandering and rolling - their words are weapons, fields, brushes, baths, anthems, lullabies, and there is a mirror in here for everyone. I know somewhere in here your reflection is waiting for you. The one note I ask is that you read with care and an open heart. These poems are largely unedited. They rushed out of the course still warm with blood. And I love them for this precious, raw state - the sharp arrows they form and cut right through the heart. But I also promised a disclaimer: unedited! (Alive!) And to my women, well, you aren’t really MY women, are you? You belong to yourselves so fantastically, so righteously, and these words prove it. I am proud to know you, to write along side you, I am comforted we share the same air. Keep pumping along on these tired wheels, the world needs your resilience, color and shine! You perk up this gray landscape. You dance all over it. In love & poems, Caits Meissner Course facilitator & poet

PS. Join us for the next 30 day course journey by visiting:

TABLE OF CONTENTS 1. Untitled, 1 & 2, Nicole Fineman 2. Going Home, Nicole Fineman 3. I know, J. Malaika Beckford 4. There is no resolve for this., J. Malaika James 5. Rebirth ,Raidah Shah Idil 6. Nenek, Raidah Shah Idil 7. Palm roll back to Africa, Qumyka Rasheeda Howell 8. Mint and Chamomile Tea, Qumyka Rasheeda Howell 9. Untitled, Ivy Meissner 10. Kept Apart, Jacqueline York 11. Goodside, Jacqueline York 12. East Oakland, Kimerie Green 13. A Hymn For Birmingham, Kimerie Green 14. A Mint Julep and a Straight Solo Cup of Old Crow, Emma Caterine 15. Without Apology, Katie Issel Pitre 16. A Sister, Katie Issel Pitre 17. Did my first taste of pleasure cause you pain? Taylor Stasulas 18. My Only Girl, Taylor Stasulas 19. Reality, Dior Vargas 20. Papi, Dior Vargas 21. When You’re Running on Empty, Alison Parks 22. Swimming With My Eyes Open, Alison Parks 23. She‌ Is, Shalay Kimberly 24. If you know nothing else, Shalay Kimberly 25. Housemother, Melanie Laura 26. The Cost of Constructs, Melanie Laura 27. The portrait of yes, Eunice Alejandra 28. Shoot You Down, Eunice Alejandra 29. s e e d s o f T R U S T, Mariama Rafetna 30. Asian girls got that good hair, Renee Floresca 31. In Essence, Renee Floresca 32. For the constellations they made for us, Aisyah Shah Idil 33. Give Praise, Aisyah Shah Idil

Two Untitled Poems Nicole Fineman Kitchen ghost smells sweet at all hours. We loved you selfishly until you were all gone. --------------------I am strong, in place of quick. I know things because they are etched in my clay. My fingers feel and learn. I caress the soft broken lines that spill out of my clothes where babies once grew. I shift shapes and powers and bend to touch my toes, still me. My mind porous like refined corral holds only what matters. I take extra care to feed on beauty for breakfast daily. I trust that this will work it out for better or worse.

Going Home Nicole Fineman A parade still runs through this ghost town flowered mamas being carried in boxes by white gloved uncles, bringing us down to the river casting catfish lines that sink us deep down south. Baptized in tears, healed by squeezing hands on soft shoulders, drunk laughs and corn bread pies. Let me write you down before I forget your name and face and where your story came from. A name handed down from a time when we were all strong and round and full of history. Now who can hold the thread stitching us in place and time making old things like new.

I know J. Malaika James I’m a disappointment. my young and bright penny face has rusted blotches where sunlight used to be I recall that girl, with gumball crystals hanging from perfectly twisted hair. I locked the door on that dollhouse time. Swallowed all cartoons and dreams hid them in my center. I know I will die like this. I tried for twenty-six years each time failed. Remember we would lap the track in matching sweatsuits. I should have been more serious then. When I go to the gym I am out of place as I am when I come to the beach I didn’t want to come here. bicycles sweep wind down a slim path my slow round disturbs the line & I feel it I am the plastic lump

in seagulls throat still, they stretch their wings fly low & land on waves while the lifeguard sits & looks into beyond

There is no resolve for this. J. Malaika James lost are the stories behind photographs of Sepia toned migrations red dust on white lace dress & socks. Stern faces in black overcoats look straight into the camera. Determination. to leave a past behind only to find, it always catches up to you. it always meets you there. Finds you when you are most free and not looking. Or, when you’re looking for work Your hope rode the fresh waves of freedom whet your mouth for only a moment. like a crack high for the first time. makes you steal out mom’s Sunday purse while she’s at church on a Wednesday evening, when all the old junkies come to get reformed. She can recall the stench of burning bodies lynched scent riding on the wind today, when her son comes around she can smell the same thing riding his veins rotting his brain blocking his way. Somewhere in the code of our genetic memory An alabaster man with a porcelain heart watches over us with gun, whip, bible in hand

ensures work hard, secures the investment of flesh on fields before the machine skin & ligaments refined the earth our arms swung metal into ground with lazer precision when we focus and repeat ourselves all day under the gentle antebellum threat of being mauled, dismembered branded, tied between two horses who get sent off ruuunnnnninnng. SNAP! Goes the grandfather who never got a chance to see how his children’s children would react to this. We wear a heavy load armed only with our souls light whispy things inside of us that can only be free in heaven. All we have is the invisible current. The mandate to make things up by listening to the quiet stream of voice that runs through our core. We create small makeshift cultures to carry us through difficult moments. The moments become our lives & we die from tired rundown overextend And we find out money don’t solve problems. And we find out our little problem can’t be solved.

Rebirth Raidah Shah Idil I sit upon my throne of dragon’s teeth gold-flecked glistening each one carved from conquered memory I tamed the banshees howling through me harmless now, as they swim in pools of starlight adorning my mind never forget, my brave one the pain which birthed you strengthened your titanium spine and helped you swallow the stars

Nenek (maternal grandmother) Raidah Shah Idil I was twelve and an ill-fitting shoe in my new country of vegemite and Uncle Toby’s I, child of chicken rice and noodles when Nenek died Mak flew back with Aisyah I wish I had gone too to say goodbye I lost your blue-stoned ring, Nenek, forgive me. it haunts me how careless I was while I grieved for you, refugees were shipwrecked drowning trying to enter the country I waltzed into “There are no children in detention centres,” said the national lie as more and more babies were born into a cage in Melaka, you were both at gunpoint Datuk told the soldier, “Shoot her first. Then me.” Nenek, you fled the communists on a leaky boat with Datuk

like so many around the world dark night, full moon swallowing the sky risking death by drowning but you survived carved out new life in Singapore birthed countless children showed them the ache of life served tea to Datuk even when you could barely walk Nenek, I am comfortable now calm, grounded, married you would have been so proud I have returned to country you fled from lifetimes ago you paid for this, in the terror of your night-time exodus huddled next to your husband reaching for an uncertain future you have secured mine.

Palm roll back to Africa Qumyka Rasheeda Howell Fist fights and tears has traveled from my crown to my soul. A journey of unwanted privilege and unspoken heritage I search me for you. One drop and metal slavery brans my skin as I lay under Caribbean sun to restore a sense of African heritage. The breeze wisps my dougla hair limp and straight. Not a curve or a wave resonates. So I fist to fight as I palm roll my way back to Africa just to remember you.

Mint and Chamomile Tea Qumyka Rasheeda Howell Silently listening to words unspoken after each sip we take of tea the mĂŠlange of mint and chamomile resonate tenderness shared. Haze instead of words escape as your lips part. Merriment and careful banter hold time still. I hold my cup finding comfort in its warmth. Hair golden, soft to the touch. I chase affection a notion in your eyes and find stories of your beloveds. Innocence chronicles The Indian ocean. A sea of children await to witness you. On bended knees, my heart smiles, through salt and ache I pray my love to never come back.

Untitled Ivy Meissner Callused hands. Warm eyes. Leathered Skin. Together, we would peel oranges at the breakfast table. Each morning. And once I wished, I could peel back you skin. Unleash your guilt. Allow you to be pure. Grief would line the creases of your eyes. We would speak the same language. Not as mother to daughter, But as equals. And I will help you in your garden. Work through your weeds. Your sister left your life for twenty years. And it pains you. We’re real not so different, You and I. Caretaker, Relinquish your post. You need care.

Kept Apart Jacqueline York The myths have settled themselves into your skin after repeated etchings and you are one with twisted truth And so you fail to remember fists, belts, palms, hangers against skin skulls against walls screaming screaming so much screaming You do not remember screaming so much, you say You forget rats in my bedroom rats in the kitchen garbage garbage fucking garbage and broken glass me swept behind the couch shoved in the closet waterfall cascading off of every surface Then there was the time I insisted on living as thin plates patterned with circular bronze border a ring of daisies and chrysanthemums

You balanced me high above your head carried me on tip-toe and if I’d fall or if you’d drop me each slivered piece would be carefully collected kept apart kept in old mashed potato tins kept in tupperware kept in Ziploc baggies sometimes you’d carry them in your purse each time I managed to glue some of myself together you’d carry me higher higher and higher I started to wonder why you ever wanted me Maybe you imagined me as a kitten wide-eyed and nuzzle-headed but I came out howling growling day one lion, tiger, teeth Maybe you were expecting something else

Good Side Jacqueline York The mirror is the sun setting over Bayberry Bay or is that her face? Translucent shallow waves and stones on the beach. She can’t see you anyway. Not from beneath this starless sky. Not carrying a clearing in the forest, carrying blooming breasts like white flowers with pink rims She is druzy drawn in chalk she is valleyed and hilled terrain beaten path bending, winding down; there are fruit trees beneath the surface. She pulls from them compulsively. Lacking the desire in her arms to resist Tattooed arms Secret arms, behind long nights beneath three-quarter moons. She hides lion’s teeth, too behind kitten lips And because her bones are strong if she turns the right way She will consistently strain neck swan

title head arch brow She will consistently search watery mirrors for the sun’s angle.

East Oakland Kimerie Green You don’t know us you couldn’t color inside our lines our dreams we don’t need saviors sashay in with your pearls and pomp try to explain your diagnosis we know this shit better than dirt knows bones we are scattered like broken glass precious stones, concrete our dreams we hear the songs and weeping liquored laments church choirs and bean pies it all sounds the same to us we carve our name in memories we know we aren’t forgotten in our dreams.

A Hymn for Birmingham Kimerie Green Cousin Hassan traveled Birmingham to Detroit to St. Louis to New Orleans and back again, playing his sax, humming Naima while carving turkey, greeting each of the men in whether Muslim or not, As-salamu alaykum. Daps and hugs, he still calls Dad young blood like back when pops almost burned down the apartment in St. Paul playing with matches, like how he ran away when shit hit the fan, then strolled on back as if nothing had happened and pops didn’t know the super had already called grandpa, let him know about the mischief, let it be a reminder, there are no secrets in this village. Laughter. The adults talk about Birmingham: You know your grandparents went to the same high school as Sun-RA? And Angela Davis was grandma’s childhood friend, she held your pops when he was just a baby, they’ve told the story a million times. the trees and grass were covered in white coldest night of the year she wore a heavy sweater, drank tea her afro was a brown halo glistened next to soft flames spilling from the fireplace your dad was dreaming she wrapped him in quilts But later, when alone,

I watch Angela on film, lamenting her death. This is the story of Birmingham we never talk about. September 15, 1963 a quiet, sacred morning one of four babies, my cousin Carole, turned to blood, bones blasted brick, shattered stained-glass dotting the pavement children are supposed to be safe here and the church shed its skin drowning in black smoke hoping no one would ever see its shame. I watched my cousin’s mother explain she knew who your murderers were living free. Never paid until wrinkled and halfway to the grave. My classmates asked what it’s like to have family who was a part of history and I am not sure that’s an accolade I want to receive. Do any mothers who lose their babies ever want to be a part of history? Hassan finishes carving the turkey. Grandma tells another story: When he was three, pops sneaked out the house to ride his big wheel

around the block at 2 AM. Laughter in everyone’s bones.

A Mint Julep and a StraightSolo Cup of Old Crow Emma Caterine Women sing please don’t take my man You took my man or you gonna take my man I ain’t never really understood it And I tend to understand a whole lot of what Miss Dolly Parton feels but I didn’t understand her Pleas against Jolene until I met her. Her hair isn’t better than mine: It is what I’ve always wanted mine to be. Like she stole it from my dreams and Decided to wear it the day we first met to gloat. This girl is automatic supersonic hypnotic And utterly new to me. I thought women like her Stayed in movies where they belonged. Where Their man-stealing was reserved as poignant story arcs. That there’d be some bittersweet end scene Where she has been left alone and it slowly zooms out. But her smile is pure happiness that she will let anyone share And the way she floats around a party makes you serene Like when a car disappears on some lost highway In this life of sin the girl had certainly paid her cost yet The devil doesn’t even keep promises he makes to pretty Girls who should be in movie worlds, even when she made Them on a crossroad with the pain of sacrificed childhood that Tears so many asunder. Satan took her man cause Satan is an ironic dick. Grieving is hard in a digital world. We still talk up Storms about those who don’t do it the right way But expect them to meet every obligation and turn and pirouette. And Bessie did them all like she was programmed. I remember William telling me about it. I knew then that I would lose him to her. I could hear it in the way his breath shortened even when he

Complained about her bugging him. But when I saw them together with Bessie a star again The devil undoubtedly shaking his fist in our Southern imaginations As their contract goes up in cinders I doubted again the bitterness or fear of having your man “taken.” Loving him was just another thing she does better than me And I just collect postcards from Paris until I feel like a movie star too. Whiskey will eventually make you cold if you nurse it for too long But I feel myself losing my ties to romantic alcoholism and settling For being a lead and beer woman with a bad back Who has a tendency to break her heart like it were made of The stories we tell each other after every loss or defeat. That ain’t so bad though. As a fellow Southern babe once told me “Fall in love while you can hon, fall in love while it is still Bringing you down hard.”

Without Apology Katie Issel Pitre San Francisco fog opened its old hand and fingers uncurl down a pastel painted block watering the kitchen window of my father’s childhood home with its grey ocean Saturday, Grandma Mary bent over the high lipped kitchen sink her gold cross swinging gently from her neck cold white porcelain grazing her elbows a yellowing apron tucked beneath her heavy breasts peeling Anjou pears one by one their juice slips between her fingers the flesh becomes alive with movement she has trouble handling them, as sweet as they are her son is riding his tricycle up and down the halls wooden wheels against wooden floors, a pressing together of pine on birch clacking in rotational rhythm, ankles and knee caps, wrists and fingers burn that energy down, she tells herself, burn it down to the nub where the wax meets the wick until all that’s left is smoke and a puddle I can clean that up, she tells herself, I can manage that kind of energy Saturday, my father waits on the edge of the circle, watching, they came to celebrate his daughters life He tucks his smile behind his teeth, his arms behind his back, his thoughts behind his eyes They stand cleanly within their space bubble bending and nodding gently at the appropriate moments wind through the grass a gold cross gently swaying, knocking against glass buttons he listens, waiting for them to leave A photo from my 4th birthday party I see myself jumping off of a chest high tree stump in someone’s backyard towards my father the photo caught both us with our eyes closed barreling towards one another without looking where we were going

arms outstretched, reaching and the impact, like the blunt edge of an ax that knocks the wind out of you pounding wood on wood, heart to heart clap into his chest I land with outstretched arms and open hands without apology my body screamed love me love me love me the way I am

A sister Katie Issel Pitre Your light is a babbling brook that laughs its way down the sloping hill of life a divine destiny magnetically pulled right where it needs to be your hands rest open like eternal fall leaves for searching souls to press upon you listen but don’t hold them, so they don’t hold back thriving and giving without keeping, teaching and empowering without owning your power is deep red lips laughing truth out loud no matter who is listening your audience will be found your power is buzzing bee static tea kettle whistle, bright, alive and hot you’re effortlessly sexy feminine, strong, elegant and persuasive a magnetism of style and individuality your choices always internally inspired and personally validated “who gives a fuck” “I don’t” “(right on)” cause that’s real talk and when I really talk you listen you’re a sister on the back of my coin you reflect back a shiny copper strength no one can bite through

and all of your fabulousness is generously shared I feel better abut myself when were together that’s real loving friendship that’s deeper than water’s blue heavier than anchor on sea floor fluid and strong like a fifteen foot sea weed tree nothing binds us together but love so blessed to share it so grateful to feel your radiance so lucky to hear your song and join in with harmony

Did my first taste of pleasure cause you pain? Taylor Stasulas Like a snake I want to shed this skin, Stretch this sore muscle, Undo this tight ponytail. I want to speak the same language. Will you understand? I was only an orange, Being squeezed into juice. My seasons were changing. Trying to make it past Winter into Spring. I see you now Innocence is not lost. Many have followed this path, Unlock the door. Join them in the open field. Sleep cycle is ending. Stomach ache is fading. Disembarking after a long flight. The sun is rising.

My Only Girl Taylor Stasulas flower uprooted the record keeps playing used coffee grinds have no taste leave return leave return driving a country road with no lights stranded in the ocean, I bite my nails until they bleed leave return leave return under my bed, space expands this ride spins too fast, this ride spins too fast, my world a blur leave return leave return and then the camera flashes, a new image develops Leave! showering after the beach, tan lines remain but I wash away the sand this lemon is sour but the color is bright I hear my grandfather’s laugh the smell of fresh laundry roll down the windows

and let the breeze tangle my hair each year spring rain returns roots grow stronger forgiveness grows

Reality Dior Vargas Day after day after day Never to escape Perhaps some short moments of release But this is never-ending In constant need to defend Feeling my anger reddening my face This face that bears the marks of my frustration Breath heavier So close to never being a spectacle again Nothing in life is easy You don’t know what it feels like The harshness frigidity of this environment Locked in this being This place with no exit Nothing to comfort you except death May you never know this feeling

Unless it’s your reality too

Papi, a poem for my grandfather Dior Vargas Working ever since you can remember Manual labor Anything to put food on the table to provide for your family But this started even before you had children of your own Tienes que trabajar muy duro para todo en la vida Inadequate clothing for the cold weather You do what you have to do Your pores emanating agua de florida Blessing gifts with holy water Que dios te bengida y te acompa単e Praying to God for what you want Stopping everything to hear Walter Mercado What does he say for geminis? What does it mean, papi? A guide of sorts to keep you going and what might come to you Velas by the front door St. Michael the A rchangel Pray Believe

Have faith Work and prayer Seems like all you we can do to survive and we continue to

Swimming With My Eyes Open Alison Parks Stand with your side to the mirror Now, the other. A full rotation to take it all in. Inhale and dive in. Stare at the sun from below the water’s surface Float there until my lungs burn. Inhale! Rejoice in the oxygen that fills my lungs That feeds the blood that feeds my body. The sunlight, a flood, spilling over this body which has broken free A good day ... I see it all.

The completeness: Swells like the waves of the sea that carries me Skin that reflects sun like the milky surface of a pearl Sprawling scripts adorn the curves. Looking in and seeing love. Looking out and seeing beauty. Taste the saltwater on my lips. Remember: Foods they’ve tasted, Words they’ve sung Bodies they’ve graced with their presence. Insides feel nourished, awake, alive. Guard this feeling with my life. Physically, Strong. Mentally, Stronger. Self-love only grows where you let it. Eyes, so blue and so dark.

Depth so profound, it is known only by those creatures who dwell along the ocean floor, Take inventory of this body, This body that is mine: Face with a smile that sparkles like the Eiffel Tower ever hour after sunset. Hair, yellow as a marigold and curling like the tendrils of a jellyfish. Knees graced by the hem of my favorite dress. Give one strong kick toward shore No more struggling to stay afloat. Push aside self-loathing. Embrace self-love. Embrace myself.

When You’re Running on Empty Alison Parks You’ve still got: Stoop-sitting in a sundress on Saturday Broadway songs that make you cry on the Subway (“For Good” reasons) Impossible hues visible only when the setting sun hits the tops of those building just right Enough knowledge of Minecraft to impress a nine year old Bags of Clementines and Cool Ranch Doritos (I know) to keep you writing through the night “Smooth Criminal” on repeat and pots of and pots of coffee Queer Theory Hot Professors Peas and Plush Friends A love for your life, and for all the people in it. A mind that got you this far, and will keep you going from here.

She... Is Shalay Kimberly Hair flowing in dark dancing ribbons across delicate shoulders daring to kiss the small of her back. She stands so tall on the inside it’s almost impossible to recognize her actual stature. The only thing petite about her are those honey colored hands long and slender adding hints of grace to the simplest movements. Washing dishes Braiding hair Carrying baskets of laundry Holding tiny hands She weaves life effortlessly in her breath and her laugh, and in her tears we become whole. Her cheekbones carry ancestral secrets sitting high and proud atop her soft face, so ageless yet so wise. Her skin will never tell her age but her eyes speak of other times, and far away places. She who has been kissed a thousand midnights by youth will always wear like silk the parts of her that are barefoot in Zuni and soaked in Hawaiian suns caught in an angle of happy. Never adorned in gold she sparkles in silver cascading a light all her own. Proud nose. Strong Back. Resilient spirit. Oceans of heart, Mother, daughter, sister, Woman. Laid full in claim of herself so she walks that Goddess walk on earth that rises up to bless her feet.

If you know nothing else... Shalay Kimberly Dearest Shalay, How is it that you’re able to breathe with your heart painted blue? You miss her don’t you? Is that why you cry at night rocking yourself to sleep grabbing at the pain you push away during the day? Beloved you can’t wish to color your world with slit wrist. Open your heart and let the poems bleed truth. You love the birds that sing outside your window on Sunday mornings, and the Opera singer that practices each afternoon. How does she bounce her voice between buildings? Love him hunny, and let him be the curve in your spine. You do know it’s quite alright to let go in the name of curled toes and belly laughs don’t you? Best friends do not fall from trees, they do however slip down sides of the universe. They see you with their hands... “Ti Ti I like your earrings” that are now tossed about your room so carelessly yet with such effort. Love blooms in their smiles. Your babies are the ones that love you anyway and always. You are whole becoming whole. You were never broken, hold this close when the rainbow is enuf. Tell yourself that you are enough. You always have been. Take center stage, burn sage, dance naked on your hard wood floors, be all of you and none of them, and each day ask yourself how can you love you... better.

Housemother Melanie Laura panes cracked open I peaked out my window and saw you laying there shaking there with no yells or bells just your naked vacant self unconscious on your twitching shelf and I said welcome to my glass house don’t let my skin touch you it’ll cut your glass mouth you called out for my mother then banged on my shutters and I’ve spent all these years wondering if I too am some kind of shaken other I used to pace around the glass blown hallway praying that the cuts and cracks would give up and stop following me but you caught me again in the see-through door begging please will you help me devour this hard wooden floor? I remember when you cracked my stained glass eyes I remember when I became the scratched up stranger you came home and slammed the opening and closing with 15 year old angsty anger said I was to blame but I was just the audience if this is how goblets are to play the game

could you please make it more obvious? I’m 33 now, scratched up in my fluted shape I don’t go in dishwashers barely go on dates you’re all better now your house is sturdier but mine just got older, messier, dirtier so I’m sick of being stuck in stuck I’m sick of getting sicker I’ve drank myself empty now I’m all tears and liquor you cracked my cracks and openings but I’m still taking all the blame the wooden floor still reeks of your creakiness now I’m just broken window pain.

The Cost of Constructs Melanie Laura I have no interest in naming your Kinsey but whatever your scale, your interest is different I am not the woman you thought I was and you should know you left a gash when you slithered up beside me with your careless selfish ask body buried in mistaken case I wish I could just say honest mistake but instead I keep thinking about the curve and shape of my face because what you are saying is that I don’t measure up aside from the implied masculinity what you are saying is that I’m not enough at first I hid you in my poems in part one, they thought this was about a fuck or a take or a grab but there is more to consent than physical negligence and I was never asked so now I’m full of lips words poking through like wounds hands chasing after own body but please do not pray for me pray for your own hands hold vigils for your misogyny and before you attempt to address another woman’s femininity you should know that it’s never ok to ask

so fuck you for asking when all you really wanted to know is whether or not I came with this so yes, I’ve always had these breasts these ovaries this clit but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to ask if I’m interested in your dick I wrote you down so I could climb out of my courage no longer held up in hidden I am naming your name Jamal, I woke up one day and realized it had been years tied up and tangled in these Black man fears story leaks through skin with wounds releasing I will keep what you taught me about constructs and isms your ask made me look at my own ideals my own scared scarred beauty but I am bleeding you out now take this cut, take this projection I was yelling inside the voice that got trampled but I am not available to be your sample I know you may not be the last I may always be an awe and an ask but I will not stay buried in borrowed I will own my own body so take your honest mistake take your sorry take your cracked mirror, your gash I am not who you thought I was or what you thought I was good for I will not be your ask.

The portrait of yes Eunice Alejandra I was never happy with my breasts. But just last night I became thankful for their sensitivity like southwest mountains yearning for moisture, taking it in pleasantly. So aware, so present. Looking back, their eczema and stretchmarks are reminders of the years, the pain and the adventures I forgot all about their itch as the map of my body was explored with grace. Brave, I am my own landscape of beauty. My stomach, soft like my grandmothers skin I can feel her even though I am not near her, as if through my womb and my heart she had a warm place of eternal motherhood that one day I will let someone occupy. Grudges that I am carrying on the inside begin to become like blurred lights that I pass on the highway, until they have been resolved out of my mind. I am not heavy but rather strong in essence light at heart, like morning rain cleansing my spirit thank you, God. A lot of appreciation to my legs, shoutout for taking me everywhere when my heart is not in shape, you still don’t give up. All the other women seem to have it together, am I that strong?

We keep it together, from the soul to the mind to the body Woman. Red lips, loud voice. Mentally unbreakable protected by a barrier of pacific fog, like the ocean. Self-love. When I was 10 years old I hated my body. I am asking myself for acceptance. I need to accept my beautiful, disorganized mind, rambling like a city, body of a woman. I am no longer ten years old. I am stronger than my coffee the sandy plains of my body await the rain and I am reborn every day fertile land of enchantment.

Shoot you down Eunice Alejandra You shot me down. Higher than any volatile cloud and I came down into your long brown arms like ropes around my neck breaking my porcelain frame You plucked my strings harder than your guitar’s tearing a muscle although just once rhe light I saw in you against the dim night in the Japanese restaurant became saturated with your rotting essence You made the house cold, anemia ridden nights complemented by feverish eyes hate kiss under the moon reflecting the light of our sunshine you flooded our days with your dark guilt resentment like the hardest police beating I would ever get Officer, This Is The Way Love Works I am crying in your arms again mourning the death of us and after the initial months

of wearing black, make-up running, escaping the scene of horror I shot you down I said this was the last apology I plucked the strings to the song of your ego and decided it sounded better with my voice resounding in it, repeatedly reminding you I was human I was worthy I had once been your woman, your friend a chorus louder than any song you’d ever wrote I cradled in my mother’s arms and came back only to say goodbye in the dim light, dilated eyes searched for the end the end a jazz band was playing during my triumphant exit out of the hospital and sunflower fields were golden with redemption and my soul was lighting like sparklers on new year’s eve in the dark of your heart I was the only light and I left you blind, just the way you were when I found you

seeds of TRUST Mariama Rafetna i woke up, floating. “i’m just going to work, today, i have no time for ‘friends’,” i said. “what’s the point?” i said... “i need to make this money,” i said. “i wasn’t meant for happiness,” i said. “some of us are happy some of us are sad” and maybe, im just the latter and maybe thats all i was meant to be. and that reminded me of something my mother said when one of my spirit-sisters took her life at sixteen, that she felt scared when she was happy that she couldn’t enjoy it, knowing it would only unleash a countdown for when trouble would come hurling around the corner and the good times,

they never last, she said. that somehow everything would fall apart like it always did. “im tired of being tricked,” i said. “im going to believe,” i said… i will keep going, always, i decided. standing there in the mirror staring at my hands i wondered if i really had power? if i really had magic? “i’m happy to be alive,” i said. “i am thankful for all that i have,” i said. “i trust life to be wonderful,” i said. “i believe in happiness,” i said. looking both ways

i crossed the street bright-white-lights came rushing toward me. “this is is it,” i said “i’m going to die,” i said… opening my eyes, heart racing on the ground hands throbbing nails bent back bag broken boots ripped but i was alive. phone ringing she asked if i was okay if i was hurt. she asked me what i needed. “i don’t want to be alone,” i said. and she came to see me.

Asians got that good hair Renee Floresca She touches my hair and says: Girl, you got that good hair What’s good hair? I say As she braids my hair like hers, like I requested She says: It’s yo’ hair.

Like no naps. Like you ain’t even got to brush it Like all you Asian girls got that GOOOOOOD HAIR.


I’d rather it curly, like curly fried like Shirley Temple, like nice, gentle blonde hair like big blue eyes

I’d rather have Hair. Like yours You don’t like Like you hate Like you dye And twist And braid And cut And fade She says: You got cute eyes, too They ain’t small like all ‘em otha’ kinna Asians I say: Nothing. Cute eyes.

like tap dance cute.

like little white girls like The Bluest Eye like Pecola like Asian girls wearing blue contacts or green contacts or purple contacts but not their eyes can’t see from their eyes their eyes are not my eyes I’ve been told, but... But my eyes are Asian, too Aren’t I Asian, too?

She touches my skin and says: Girl, where you from? I know you ain’t Chinese— You too DARK to be Chinese. I say: I’m Filipina. She says: Oh yeah, Filipinos is like the blacks of Asia, right?

And When I step outside

Right? Dark like night Dark like close to the equator Dark brown like Ilokanos Dark like the pygmies who have inhabited our islands less than 2 percent of For centuries my genetic makeup But. They are a part of me, too Aren’t they a part of you?

My nanay tells me, “Don’t go to the sun, you’ll get black.” And When I come home from college My grandma tells me, “Renee! You’re getting FAT!” And When I see friends I haven’t seen in a while—they ask Why are you so skinny? Have you been eating? Are you doing that anorexic diet? And everyone laughs except me. Maybe I wanted to Watch the sun kiss My melanin, my thinness My black hair, tangled in its own way Mangled and damaged on the ends from flat irons, curling irons I watch my ends split from lack of conditioner and the desire to dread What locks of love I have left without listening to another breath of air From every other person who wants to comment, dialogue and reframe My beauty.

In Essence Renee Floresca Because this poem will stand alone A million years from now this one—will be on its own This poem has quieted dark embers to hush Made flowers un-bloomed—blush Always asks questions with a polite, still tone A million years from now this one—will still be on its own Embedded in every book worth reading Uplifted every child who has not been eating The seeds of literacy—this poem will be their food Her similes will carry her opinions and moods Intertwined with beats of drums, from ancient roots she has grown A million years from now this poem—will be on its own Consuming only the warmest, wisest thoughts Formulating boundaries for her, rejecting patterns bought She will leave and breathe in every poet’s soul Mark of humanity will leave audiences whole Without the wish or hope for a worthy home Tomorrow this poem—will still be on its own This poem goes where she is celebrated, Will keep afloat the oceans of writing—elated Breathing, beating, singing, writing Dreaming like all poems do Challenging, trying, crying, fighting Her pen has purpose—and wishes all do, too

Because this poem will stand alone A million years from now this one—will still be on its own

For the constellations they name after us Aisyah Shah Idil Dear, When the barista asks what your name is You take the pen from him And say, ‘Aisyah. Life. A name of scholarship and of strength. A name for the women before me, And those who will come after. The ay requires your rapt attention, the shah is your breath out. Take care with it, and give us what we are due.’   I am life-giver and life-singer and memories collect like gas and dust. The ache in my chest must be a supernova someplace else because in this collapse must come brilliance. It is so easy to forget this. But baby, baby, baby never try to erase your whole from him. Thought. Love takes work. This is what all the writers say. Love outward, and both inward. Epiphany. You are not so different, sweetling, from your husband. The love you have for yourself cannot be that different either. Breathe deep. You are the choice of kindness. You are every crack where the light shines through. You are my second sunrise every morning. You are a woman with a fine name. What more could you ask for?

Give Praise Aisyah Shah Idil Praise the tender heart, that fist Of warm wants, unashamed and glorious Praise the soft line on warm palms between sun-kiss and skin-kiss Praise the bright reds that run Like warhorses onto plains of earth-skin Praise the oak leaf that kisses timber, Rests easy when it meets grass Praise the home that creaks and groans, Praise the laugh that begs for freedom, praise the cheeks Ripe and full for kissing Praise the love, overflowing and abundant; baby, praise the sacrifice Of shy lives intertwining, Praise the touch of warmth on skin hungering Praise the curve between shoulder and neck, Warm and sweet like cinnamon curls Praise the wide eyes that trust, praise the Strength of words, honest and true Praise the life, the growth, the passing of time Into colours named and not that spill into bumpy weaves of thanks, And give praise to the ache of more, the reminder of souls whose journeys are not over yet. --

Profile for Digging Deep, Facing Self Course Anthologies

Armed With Only Our Souls  

A Collection of Writings From the Digging Deep, Facing Self Course, April 2014. To learn more about the course visit

Armed With Only Our Souls  

A Collection of Writings From the Digging Deep, Facing Self Course, April 2014. To learn more about the course visit