Kinfolks: a journal of black expression - Vol. 1 / Issue 2

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a journal of black expression

Cover Photo: Brittney Sankofa Design & Layout: Eve L. Ewing

May 2014 Volume 1, Issue 2

kinfolks a journal of black expression Volume 1, Issue 2 Joshua Bennett Founding Editor & Poetry Editor Eve L. Ewing Managing Editor & Visual Arts Editor Jerriod Avant Poetry Editor & Photography Editor Desiree Bailey Fiction Editor Aziza Barnes Poetry Editor Sean “Mega� DesVignes Poetry Editor Safia Elhillo Poetry Editor Nate Marshall Poetry Editor Lauren Yates Poetry Editor Meredyth Grange Assistant Managing Editor

Kinfolks: a journal of black expression is dedicated to thinking about blackness in its infinite permutations by publishing the work of established and emerging black artists. The journal’s ethos is centered around the notion that black creative life and the cultures of the African Diaspora provide us with models of collectivity, commonality, and kinship that have been and will be central to the story of our world.

table of

contents [cover] Pop Smoothe BRITTNEY SANKOFA [2] Adaeze Dreams of a Name IFE-CHUDENI A. OPUTA [3] Minotaur, 16, Enters a Convenience Store [5] Family Reunion KEITH S. WILSON [7] (On the 4 train: an erasure of a passenger’s lyrics) JAYSON SMITH [8] When leaving is best MARY ANNE ROJAS [9] Wilderness NATASHA SHOMPOLE [12] Clarissa Vanishes MARIAN CANNON DORNELL [13] Carla ANGELA GRACE

[15] Etiquette HAYES DAVIS [17] To Sasha, Malia, and Bo. OBEHI JANICE [20] Job Placement / Home Care NICHOLAS NICHOLS [21] The Shop Washington Built CYNTHIA MANICK [23] Last Will and Testament [28] C’mon! ROSS GAY [29] Sun Ra Speaks to Gucci Mane CASEY ROCHETEAU [31] Freddy and the Sunset MARTIN RUGEMA BALTZER [33] Prometheus Explains Genocide DEONTE OSAYANDE [35] Mixed Blood [36] Blade Speaks at Career Day AMANDA JOHNSTON

[37] daughter (sung as a broken chord) CHARLEEN MCCLURE [38] The Third Kind of Silence EMILY RUTH HAZEL [41] Why Persephone should be a Black name TERI ELLEN CROSS DAVIS [43] From Malibu Canyon ROSE M. SMITH [42] Soul Looks Back EMILY RUTH HAZEL [45] Contributor Biographies

Ife-Chudeni A. Oputa

Adaeze Dreams of a Name

They run, the chin-chin sprung from the rubber tree. They chase me along, down, near Victoria's bosom, skitter like ground squirrels, chitter: Gini bu aha gi? Crisp shells still sizzle, fresh from the frying pan. I'm up the palm in two shakes of an ishaka. And there is Mamanta balancing plaintain in the bowl she stole from the top of our stove. She is all teeth and gold, and asks for a hard boiled egg: Gini bu aha gi? The palm is all sneezes and the chin-chin are gone. I land in a land of agbada. Oh, how they roar for the soul of a kola nut. And when I ask, Okpu-Ododo tells me There’s more than one way to skin a rat without shedding its blood: Gini bu aha gi? Dig until you find your teeth.


Keith S. Wilson

Minotaur, 16, Enters a Convenience Store This is Minotaur—by name, by race— brazenly alone. Left, right, left, right, left—there is no amazement in finding himself shadowed by a clerk in the catty-corners of the store. (or is he being too sensitive?). Swollen suddenly with hunger, he holsters the heft of his phone. His pockets bulge under the breath of the worker, bearded, who stocks beside him. Minotaur knows a man is always ready to take the good dare of a life. As simple as a pop, so effortless to pilfer as a carton of milk or O.J, a man’s blood courses. His fingers prick. More than anything, Minotaur wants to feel his fingers tingle. The moment a child disappears is never caught on camera. Only black and white— only another, another evening, artful even, punctuated just by the silent hammer of a man’s fearful eyes. Look-here-boy. Minotaur can pull the hammer back. Look here. This is his hot 3

breath, giving soul to the cooler’s glass.O Asterion, try to live. Here, boy, is his heavy lead. Here is the gap in the hood of a savage jacket. even the jacket wants to live. Maybe man is deadlier in fractions. Minotaur carries the 9, makes himself full.


Keith S. Wilson

Family Reunion Left Side The grass greens when Minotaur kneels, keeps his strange accent to himself, rolls holy in the glade with his cousins, catches the Frisbee. He is not— but he feels—alone. He spectacles himself by fingering windfall through the fence with his tongue, the laughter round about him as the seed in his date. It is surely in bad taste: both sides of the family commune on the same tight end of a snigger. All is please and thank you. He wonders over courtesy and taste—self conscious of his smallish tongue, the spongy-ness of his hooves, his alien points of reference. Television is not enough to smooth him. On days like this, when the light is checkered by fences, he feels every facet of his frame. He stretches, all eyes on his labor. But it isn’t his labor. He kneels on one knee, nerves crossed in his awkward horns. Every intersection of mishandled shoulder


bone tingles like religion. Fast as ash weds day. Fast for the prey. His stomachs moan. Right Side Men eat steak in droves. Come solidarity, come shoulder cries and Coca Cola, come impassioned tales of free-ranged Angus. This is charcoal, BBQ, the ecstasy of Lays. Heritage at stake. They beware the season of Minotaur, his big, sensitive ears and loud, invasive face. He is a nesting doll in a larger doll’s belly. The lost colony of Roanoke, swallowed. Au poivre Minotaur, always a performance. Forget the stomachs, he is atop sears tower, hands frantic, clutching his peace against his chest. This is him growling. This is her knowing how to scream.


Jayson Smith

(On the 4 train: an erasure of a passenger’s lyrics)

Dark side with them named frames / hats up my nigga gang bang / will feenix let a nigga slide up on me no way / we get fly and money all day / we strapped up aint shit change / young nigga getting old cake / its sunny but still gettin money off snowflakes / nobody seen who shot him cold case /rest in peace to my nigga Tef / he was known to hold weight Dark side with them named frames / hats up my nigga gang bang / will feenix let a nigga slide up on me no way / we get fly and money all day / we strapped up aint shit change / young nigga getting old cake / its sunny but still gettin money off snowflakes / nobody seen who shot him cold case /rest in peace to my nigga Tef / he was known to hold weight


Mary Anne Rojas

When leaving is best if the world was to end right now / still stuck in all its questions and grace / i still wouldn’t move / i would wait / right before all light i know goes out/ and the only sound left is fear of never coming back to see the mess / to see if then was the moment i waited for / like the courage to open my eyes after my brother’s departure—he did not see it coming / like accepting i am daughter of all women who give me a plate of arroz con abichuela / like wondering where will I fall next / like moving on because that is what people do / would i then face the broken of me / the fallible/the disappointment / the delicate fractures of loss sizzling at the bottom of each tear / would i be as brave as a plate sitting under a broken faucet/ forgotten after everything was put away/ would i be a bubble instead / floating in some kind of gravity that exists just for the convenience of getting by / can i break any minute / wake up in the middle of earth’s dismissal / watch how uncertainty is brave and / how it makes love to disasters of life—how entertaining it is to watch a big mess happen while a plant is in the middle of one more inch / what can i offer to our planet’s last moment / a mosquito net skin daughter / a cucumber mouth / a hollow voice/waiting to release from terror/are bubbles naive/ do bubbles break or pop when the world ends / if the world was to end right now / i would leave like this / with all i got / still unprepared to shed / i would continue/like the memory of a bubble floating / before the mess / before all i could say is still unsaid/ i would leave unsaid— like a twitch / like rain against window while wearing a ripped dress / still six years old and dirty / i would leave young pretending to be old.


Natasha Shompole

Wilderness 1 Prayers of the damned Let the moon shine bright tonight Let the sun be warm Let the rains come early Let there be visitors bearing gifts Let there be honey for the wedding Let the cows come home Let my firstborn be a son 2 Your Mother The day she was born they spit into the ground and called her ugly, to ward off the evil eye Her skin was the color of that shiny tree bark, A brown so smooth it glowed in the sun Over the years she was known by many names in many languages Child of the sun The favored one Heart of my heart Beauty that closed the eye of the moon,


Your father was a blind veteran with a silver tongue He named her, Grace of the wind Gazelle in mid flight Savanna after summer rains Lion heart His gaze had never touched her face

3 The ripening We collected red bracelets the color of sunsets from our dead moters. We stacked them up on our arms and turned sideways in the mirror. We plucked sour words from wounds that had already started to heal.

II When the first star appeared in the sky by the rising moon we choose new names. Names that sounded like rivers running over stones, wind whistling over thorn trees, rain on cracked earth after three years of brutal sun and blood robbing heat.

III Our throats let out words that sounded like soft thunder, or a lion’s purr.


4 Lineage He left on the fortieth day The day your mother named you after the sun He carried secrets on how to speak to the wind, and how to charm bees with the honey of his voice disappeared across plains so vast they have no edges On his back, his fathers’ father’s name was written He took that as well So your mother kissed your forehead named you “my son without forefathers” You will remember that she carried you, bore you and raised you A son from a line of mothers

5 Spring Your mother’s eagle eyes knew your name was written on my heart before I said hello. Her lips where ice cold as she kissed my cheeks, and blessed our unborn children


Marian Cannon Dornell

Clarissa Vanishes Straw covers Clarissa pricking the length of her lying on the floor of Farmer Breitweist’s cart, its sickening sweet smell nearly distracting her from the bone-deep pain from riding over the bumpy path running along the Susquehanna; the wheels squawk so that Clarissa thinks this Amish man needs a good wheelwright like Jake, who used to work back at the place. She walked away this morning. Just walked away from the boiling soap pot, the fire under the cauldron dead or dying now, the dregs stinking up the buildings of the place in Fort Hunter: mill springhouse cabins barn tavern even the mansion on the bluff above the Susquehanna. Clarissa knows Mistress is screaming for the boys to run to the spot on Blue Mountain where she grew the herbs for her soaps. Scoldings and whippings Clarissa got for staying too long up there in the early days, but she did not wander beyond the green birdsong when it was still easy for her to climb up the steep brambly slope. Now, at sixty-nine and up for sale, she’s counting on these railroaders to get her up to Canada. Is the cart north of the Juniata yet? She’ll need to learn new herbs to grow and to find folks who’ll want the soap that pleased Mistress, the only thing that pleased Mistress, who, with the family money gone, said her world is coming to an end.



Angela Grace

Hayes Davis


After Yusef Komunyakaa

I am eight, sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table, trying to ask to be excused. My cousins Jennifer and Danielle stare at my open mouth, keep sounding out “Can…I…be excused” like I don’t understand what I’m supposed to say but they don’t know that “can” is one of the words I can’t say sometimes, like hello when I answer the phone, goodnight when my dad leaves my room, my name when people ask it. They don’t know that my consonants fly away sometimes, like birds when it gets too cold. I stare back at Danielle’s mouth, Jennifer’s mouth, Oma’s mouth


trying to figure out what makes talking so easy for them. Maybe my stutter will go away when I get older, because people at the supermarket on the bus and in the candy store are always telling me about their cousins and sisters and brothers who are older than me and once had stutters like mine. They’ve out-grown theirs, and I hope mine will disappear one day too, so I won’t miss so many cartoons after lunch.


Obehi Janice

To Sasha, Malia, and Bo. Today there is a picture of you that is trending on Facebook. It got 10,327 likes. You are standing real demure-like: Sasha, with a heel just an inch off the ground, the ball of your foot pressing into The White House concrete. Malia, your hand smoothing some hair by your right ear. Bo, you are wearing a festive red collar adorned with Christmas bells and your nose is pointing westward, away from the camera. It’s all very spontaneous but well-documented. Bo is hypoallergenic, right? I wish we knew about Portuguese Water Dogs when I was younger. My mother is allergic to dogs so she bought me a cockatoo. I named him Kramer. I had watched an episode of Seinfeld the week prior (without my Mother’s permission) and noticed that Kramer’s hair looked like the top of my bird’s white-feathered head. My Father killed him. Here is how. In Nigeria, animals don’t belong inside the house. They belong outside to chase chickens, hang out with goats, and, if it’s a dog, guard the gate against unwelcome visitors. If you’re wealthy enough, your animals can eat pet food, not the scraps and bones you leave after you’ve finished your meal of fufu, soup and meat. Owning a threebedroom house in the Upper Highlands neighborhood of Lowell, Massachusetts doesn’t change that fact.


Kramer joined our family when I was twelve years old. We put him in my room which I shared with my two younger sisters. His big white cage rested on the right side of my dresser drawers. He was the second thing I saw every morning, besides my face in the central mirror. But my Father thought that Kramer didn’t belong in our room. The bird was dirty. The bird’s poop smelled. The bird was loud. Did he, Victor, father four children or four children and a cockatoo? So one day I woke up to a very quiet room. Kramer was gone. I knew immediately where to look. I went to the garage and walked up to Kramer’s cage. I could tell he was cold and lonely. He couldn’t have any jokes in him if his cage was in a garage. The next week, Kramer died. “Of loneliness,” my Mother said. “Yeah,” I said. Chin to chest. “Your father…” she said, trailing off. And that was the end of it. Ladies (can I call you ladies?) I wish your Dad was President when my Dad was my Dad. Because if my Dad had seen a picture of your Dad walking Bo up and around the greenery maybe he would have seen how taking care of a living thing with a tiny brain actually makes your heart grow quadru-


ple size. You should have seen how Kramer lifted my heart. I would come home from school and just look at the dumb bird. He looked at me like I was the jungle. Imagine me, Payless sneakers sinking into the soft grass of 196 Florence Road. 1998. The twists in my hair askew, just all over the place, really. A purple tank top layered over a white short-sleeve t-shirt. Jeans baggy. I hold Kramer’s cage like a heavy treasure chest. His eyes look into the camera. It’s not spontaneous at all. It’s just sad. It’s funny, though. I inherited my Mother’s dog allergy. Maybe there was never a chance to hold anything that fluffy.


Job Placement / Home Care Nicholas Nichols


Cynthia Manick

The Shop Washington Built Wild Willie Washington

branded his two-toned laugh

on gold corn liquor

from warm copper pots.

He owned The Shop with three daughters,

a crowded hall of bootleg

crab and boiled turtle eggs.

Some say honeycomb cells

from bees who spoke Greek.

At sundown he’d wipe the bar,

hands flaps of hard ringed skin

and told small tales of lurid affairs

with Lena Horne and Ms. Ross.

Lessons on the proper way

to eat mushrooms, wear dragon

hide as a belt, or spell out

the word Mississippi m - i –

crooked letter - crooked letter -

Or his art of playing pool,

the sound of ball to cue


should be a low clicking

small round wings, cascading

magpies light as walnut shells.

When you played

he crunched on boisterous

chips, tapped his black booted

feet to a tune and stared you

down while you flinched.

During the summers you hear

his laughter ringing between

broken beams and marsh reeds

the size of two tall ships.


Ross Gay

Last Will and Testament You thought somehow you were off the hook, which was naïve if not dumb though I will not berate you given as this poem is in fact me on my knees to beg of you a small grody chore and though you may not know the ways my lucky body corrodes nor what stray bricks heaved from what stray roofs are headed my way—nor I yours— degrade I do and so am here to plead the lucky sod— lover, pal, niece, mom—Lord God, please not mom—charged with heaving my luggage to chuck the gore straight into the orchard. Beats me by dry flame or cauldron deep, by your granny’s mortar and pestle to grind my bones and teeth having flayed and woven of my flesh two or three mats of mulch; do the good work with your pick-axe or hack-saw, oh for god’s sake have a little fun


with this grave and grizzly drill and know I’m giggling too and feel nary a thing; and when you’ve lopped what needs lopping, (Oh use the hand pruners with the red handle; they were my favorite! Such elegant recoil! Such clean cuts.) chuck my at last acheless feet to the fickle peach; my hands upturned and open to the village of figs where the ants pray for fruit slather-faced; my jawbone yoked to its tongue planted as a small forgiveness of stupid, lonely, frightened Samson—and his stupid, lonely, frightened God—and as some meager balm to the donkey he defamed—give that to the black mulberry, tree of forgiveness, tree of bounty; lob my head and its vaults of perfectly useless mudge to the persimmon, where the bleak cold coaxes forth the sugars shining in the long dark, and my heart go ahead and tuck beneath some comfrey sprawling across the plum tree’s feet, so I might dance a long and loamy tango with my old man. Lord knows I don’t wish to go just yet, for the flush of flowers and then fruit blooms me into a cartwheel 24

that whirls for weeks, not to mention my knees’ little ditties are still mostly pretty, and good lord the funks I stumble over lust-drunk and hungry walking the streets of most cities and some days wake up tonguing the laminated pages of the world map— but when I do head out I won’t be like the old man who wept as he died, wheeled through his orchard the last time, whispering goodbye, goodbye, running his thin hands over the gnarled twining of vines, listening this last time to the wind through his lemons and oranges, the occasional thump of wind-fallen fruit, the night’s scarce light unspooling through the leaves, goodbye child, goodbye little one, he says, teetering out of his chair to clutch and rub his neck and cheek against the calloused bulk of the olive, which curls into him, the one lank branch cradling him, its thin leaves whispering— for some days I can’t wait


to sling my gangly bulk into the peach blossom’s sheer camisoles, or to become the frilly skirts of the pear which wind-blown heave the syrupy smell of semen and oh the joy I will be wafting into the noses and tongues of passers-by who will furrow their brows before, some of them, crafting their various rackets with their loves or themselves thanks in no small part to me or to shimmy into the pawpaw’s steeple where my rank bloom tongue kissed by flies puckers at the gorgeous world its brazenly human lips, not to mention, yes, of course, to be gobbled by folks the likes of whom I’ve never imagined, I’m saying I’m saying to the gift of my body some pure glee which, living, I don’t know that I ever did…except last spring distracting the neighbor cat just enough to free the hummingbird in its paws, or the ramshackle salsa my pal and I stepped at a café in Greece where the music was good and the white-aproned workers stomped


and howled and sent us off with bags of cookies, oh, and maybe another thing or two, but you get my point, friend, which, getting to, I know, was a long row to hoe, though I’m simply extolling your transubstantiative gift to me and whomever’s heart will be a little broke when I kick it, but if you think this was blabber-mouthed, you better buckle in when I kick it.


Ross Gay

C’Mon! My mother is not the wings, nor the bird, but the moon across the laced hands of the nest. The palm on a fever-dreamer’s brow. She was born a crab, waving the twin flags of her pinchers. That’s one of those poetry lies. Truth is my poor mom’s hands bruised on our butts, so that was the end of that. And when the monk slapped her ass, she didn’t kick him down the stairs, but slipped the saffron tale in her pocket. Truth is my mother’s brave as a bison. For years she dragged her hooves through the ash of her heart. Head down. Steam rising in ghosts from her pelt. Years where nary a blade of grass. Nary birdsong. But one day a small seed took hold. Then another. Soon, beetles and spiders came back, and then, and then, the birds were chatting in the new growth. And right now a family of elk crosses a stream and behind them on a hillside a galaxy of wildflowers shimmers. Shimmers and hollers, “C’mon!”



Sun Ra Speaks to Gucci Mane

Casey Rocheteau


Freddy and the Sunset Martin Rugema Baltzer

Deonte Osayande

Prometheus Explains Genocide My baby brother’s favorite pastimes are playing with building blocks and running. He starts putting things together and taking flight with his feet. Every race he starts by standing on his blocks. We make guns with our hands, point skyward and watch his feet ignite as he runs. We yell, we cheer, tell him to run as if his body is on fire, run until the flame disappears. I spent seven years hearing the gun ignite before I would run around the track, taking flight with my feet as if my body was on fire, as if my shadow was made of quicksilver. My younger siblings would watch, wondering what I was running from, unaware. In our neighborhood guns would ignite and we would flee, knowing cops suspected crack was on our blocks, so their guns would cock back, aim for black and fire. It was always believed we were guilty, our names known as if we were up for auction, waiting to become property of the police. When our running went noticed


guns would ignite in our direction. We would only get away when the city became a wildfire. We run and yell out fire as if the city is on fire, as if we are MOVE and it’s Philadelphia 1984, as if we are Black and it’s Detroit 1967, as if we are a church and it’s Birmingham 1964, as if we are Black Wall Street and it’s Tulsa 1921. We’ve been getting blamed for blazes for so long now, we yell help and it sounds like fire, we run for help and it looks like suspect. We don’t know how to build up our blocks anymore.


Amanda Johnston

Mixed Blood

for Eric Brooks

Son, do not think of it as a half life – this gift of sunlight on your face and fangs that never dull. Walk easy beneath a blue sky and fall in love with a warm woman who is not screaming. In the dark, do not fear your own shadow. These beasts are not your kin. Remember your place. Some people will call you out your name – nigger. Correct them – daywalker. Then feed them your blade.


Amanda Johnston

Blade Speaks at Career Day Out of respect for the no weapons sign posted on the front door of Double File Elementary, I leave my sword, modified shotgun, and other hidden essentials in the car. Today is for the children. I walk into Ms. Bennett’s third grade classroom and quietly take a seat in the back row of desks. Fred Thomas, a local carpenter, shows us how to bend wood until it snaps. Says, You have to break them to find their beauty. I remember wooden stakes hurled at my chest. How skilled the hands that tried to killed me. It’s important to know what you’re fighting for especially when the enemy looks just like you. The red-headed girl sitting across from me asks if my fangs are real and if she can touch the scar on my neck. This room of bright crayon and joy is so different from what I remember of youth. Ms. Bennett calls me up to the front of the class. I share a complicated smile of sharp teeth. One boy wets his pants. I say, Basically, I’m an exterminator and I love my job.


Charleen McClure

daughter (sung as a broken chord) if you ask for my heart, you ask for my father’s severed head the bones he buried in the back the nails bruised with mud i have forgiven him again even though it is not what i deserve it is my fault for holding my arms so wide for making my body a cry. i dance to the grave for him a girl he remembers before my skull snagged the skin of my mother’s tight face— i danced even though i had to use my nails to find his music in the soiled dark raining against me caked at the shovel’s lip, it’s dented jaw occasionally singing along with the dirty rhythm beating from his chest.


Emily Ruth Hazel

The Third Kind of Silence And she says, Do you know how long the shadows of silence can stretch between an angry woman and the man who provokes her? And he says, Farther than I can drive with a full tank of gas? And she yells across the distance, The gas is gone. Start walking. So he sets off into the desert toward the mirage of her smile while she cooks a hard-boiled egg in the palm of her hand and tells him he can eat crickets for all she cares. But once the buzzards begin to circle, she relents, meets him part-way, and he crawls into her arms, covered in dust. He apologizes with parched lips, and she erupts like a fierce geyser spewing out of hot stone. But he stays where he is, mouth open, because at least her words are water.


Finally, he asks, Do you know how far I’ve come? And she looks at him— measures his shadow with her eyes—and answers, Do you know how long I’ve waited? The questions crouch between them. For a moment, another version of silence wavers in the air. A lizard perches on the edge of safety. Then the man curses the lonely, blistering heat he has endured, and the woman snaps, Do you think I wasn’t thirsty? but out of nowhere opens up a wide, white umbrella like the first line of a joke. So they slip into familiar shade. Their bodies remember the miles, the sand still burning through their clothes. And since they are clearly avoiding it, the sun itself turns its back on them, says, Fine. See how you like the desert without me. (By now, they both know how the sun can be.)


When night comes quick to shiver, no woven blanket, only cold stars laughing in the sky, he and she sit shoulder to shoulder, talk a fire into lighting. After awhile the man leans in whisper-close to the woman and thanks her for waiting so long. Then he leaves space for her to speak, and she traces aloud how far he’s come. A night-blooming cactus unfurls, a firework of feather-white petals. Together they listen to the desert breathing in the dark, holding each other’s shadows, sipping from the same glass of thought: tonight is the kind of night worth fighting for. Tomorrow is a conversation yet to arise beyond the next red dune.


Teri Ellen Cross Davis

Why Persephone should be a Black name Crazed with loneliness, edgy sharp like pale skin, he breaks the earth apart for want of his own piece of sun—Persephone. Her mother, Demeter is all raging heartbreak. Bares her canine teeth, grieving bosom to anyone with eyes, to everyone’s eyes. Persephone in a strange land, strange man, stranger hands finds her chaste determination wrestling a new hunger until the girl is overcome and finds solace sucking the earthy pulp of six pomegranate seeds. A mother’s streaked pleas finally clears the path home for her only child. Persephone rises walks this path of dried tears, meets her mother, a changed woman. But even a mother’s embrace has a time limit. Six months for her six seeds of solace. For this she must return to the man whose eyes welled with a need she could never fill. Translation: but I’m sayin doe . . .some crazed dude rises from no where and grabs Persephone right outta her momma’s arms now her mom’s, Demeter, is pissed off mo’ than a bit but ain’t nobody got time for her sob stories right? so she got to negotiate (ain’t ‘dat some shit) with her daughter’s kidnapper and Persephone, ‘dis po’chile she holdin’ out as long as she can, hungrier ‘dan a motherfucka’ and finally, she eats 6 of ‘dese seeds 41

meanwhile her moms is working a deal (not sure if money changed hands) and fixes it that Persephone can come back home but ‘dose six seeds hauntin’ her ass and it turns out, just fo’ those damn seeds she got to stay fo’ half duh damn year in some place she never asked to be

Soul Looks Back

Emily Ruth Hazel


Rose M. Smith

From Malibu Canyon Mitrice Richardson 14 months after she went missing This is a shell, a bone shell, eggshell colored, macabre that once cradled marrow, has cradled since blow fly, bite fly, scorpion, praying mantis in its middle like treasure. Like blood being borne in its cells before its cells became egg cradle, mud bowl, dust bowl. This is sun-bleached blood memory waving goodbye from behind the hint of sage canyon grass billowing as I tried to whisper secrets toward a horde of passers by. This is blind. This is my eyes in the dark walkin’ home. This is goodbye breath on precinct doorstep at one in the morning, mama givin’ tough love telephone before uniformed rough gloves ushered me stumbling toward the door. This is goodbye breath, alcohol breath. Feisty, pipe down strange girl breath, high-never-lasts-quite-long-enough breath to no avail as I wailed late do-overs on wind, hoped someone would find me sleeping after bobcat and worm, beetle, buzzard, maggot and hawk had taken from me every evidence once forensic. This is my eyes in the dark walkin’ home. I have traced your mothersteps more than a year, from back porch to my bedroom. Your hands reached for simple dresses I left hanging, refused to remove last remembrances from closets. Tatter and store tag both confirmed my coming back. If I could have I would have echoed am coming backs from each slant wall 43

of justice closed or opened but this, this is my full stomach, lost purse, can’t pay smart-ass Martian smile sweeping ridiculous retorts I concocted under under a restaurant rug. There. Next to the excuses. This is my name cracked, spattered on Internet, HD waves, radio, from satellite to home wired lines. Tall, slender, once-brown symbol for ignorance displayed by many masters. This is my body after too many masters. Picture frenzied, night-bound, 125 pounds Rushing, panicked toward anyplace but home. Hear the car slow, door close, face slap, kick, whatever you imagine fine with me. Hear the silence here, hawk-call echoing hill to hill. This is a shell. This is a bone shell, eggshell colored and macabre. Once cradled marrow. Now cradles excuses. This is blind. These are my eyes walkin’ home.



Martin Rugema Baltzer is a Rwandan-Swedish student of

neuroscience and psychology based in the United Kingdom. He has been documenting the diaspora of his homeland(s) through the visual medium, examining the meaning behind being Afro-European, and exploring varying paths of expression at

Hayes Davis holds a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Maryland; he is a member of Cave Canem’s first cohort of fellows, and a former Bread Loaf working scholar. His work has appeared in New England Review, Poet Lore, Gargoyle, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Delaware Poetry Review, and several anthologies. He teaches English at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC, and lives in Silver Spring with his wife, poet Teri Cross Davis, and their children. Teri Ellen Cross Davis holds a B.S. in Journalism from Ohio

University and a MFA in Poetry from American University. She was a Ford Foundation fellow, a Cave Canem fellow, and attended the Soul Mountain Writer’s Retreat. Her poems have been published in many anthologies including Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade and Full Moon on K Street. Her work has appeared in Beltway Quarterly, Torch, Natural Bridge, Gargoyle, and Poet Lore.

Marian Cannon Dornell is a retired registered nurse. She

resides with her husband in a retirement center in Mechanicsburg, PA. They have five children and six grandchildren. Writing poetry is a spiritual release, enabling her to forgive those who have judged her for her race and gender. As a result, her poetry has helped to build community within diverse groups.

Ross Gay is the author of, most recently, Bringing the Shovel Down (University of Pittsburgh Press) and co-author, with Aimee Nezhukumatathil, of Pyrite and Lace: Letters from Two Gardens. He is a community orchardist and is writing a book about African American 45

farming. The poems included in this issue are forthcoming in a 2015 manuscript from University of Pittsburgh Press, entitled Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude.

Angela Grace is a Los Angeles-based artist committed to creating in an array of media and genres, ranging from new folk music to dark comedy screenwriting. She has had the honor of sharing her art with audiences throughout the United States and Brazil in both English and Portuguese. More of her creations, along with updates, on upcoming projects may be discovered via her Instagram username, @ angelaofgrace. Emily Ruth Hazel is a poet, writer, and visual artist. Passionate about making poetry accessible to a diverse audience, she was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Distinguished Fellowship to work on her first full-length book at The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts & Sciences. Twice she has been awarded Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prizes. Her chapbook, Body & Soul, was a New Women’s Voices finalist. She mixes it up in New York City, where she performs solo and collaboratively and teaches poetry workshops at the Cooper Union School of Art. You can find her commissioned poems at and follow her page at emilyruthhazel. Obehi Janice

is an actress, writer, producer, and director. A native of Lowell, Massachusetts, her written work explores the power of voice in identity, politics, cultural exchange, and testimony. Her plays have been produced by GAN-e-meed Theatre Project, Sleeping Weazel, MPAACT (Chicago), The One-Minute Play Festival, The Berkshire Fringe Festival, and The Boston Theater Marathon. She is a graduate of Georgetown University. ​Learn more at

Amanda Johnston earned an MFA from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine, is a Cave Canem fellow, and a member of the Affrilachian Poets. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including The New Sound Journal, and Muzzle Magazine, and in the anthologies Small Batch: an Anthology of Bourbon Poetry and The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South. She is the founding editor of Torch Literary Arts, a Badgerdog teaching artist, and the retreat coordinator for Cave Canem Foundation, Inc. Find more of her work at 46

Cynthia Manick is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet with a MFA in Creative Writing from the New School. She has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts & Sciences, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Hedgebrook, and the Vermont Studio Center. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in African American Review, BLACKBERRY: a magazine, Callaloo, DMQ Review, Gemini Magazine, Kweli Journal, Muzzle Magazine, PLUCK!, Sou’wester, Spillway, The Cossack Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Weary Blues, Tidal Basin, and Up the Staircase Quarterly. She currently resides in Brooklyn.

Charleen McClure is a poet and middle school health educa-

tor currently residing in New York City. She was born to Jamaican parents in London, England and later immigrated to Atlanta, Georgia. After graduating from Agnes Scott College with a Bachelor’s in English-Literature, she moved abroad to teach in Spain on a Fulbright Scholarship. Since having moved to New York City, her creative pursuits have found fertile ground in such writing communities as the Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon and Cave Canem workshops. She has also had the privilege of having her work published in African Voices magazine.

Nicholas Nichols was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He started writing poetry as an outlet to acknowledge his emotions and started taking pictures to keep his memories. The topics in his writing are focused on his development as a growing artist and young man living in Brooklyn. His photography focuses on capturing the moment authentically. Nicholas is a poet, was a member of the Brooklyn College Slam Team, and is a freelance photographer. Ife-Chudeni A. Oputa is a native of Fresno, CA. She is cur-

rently pursuing an MFA in Poetry and an MA in African American and African Diaspora Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington. She is a Cave Canem and Callaloo fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in [PANK] online, Muzzle, Callaloo and Crab Orchard Review.

Deonte Osayande is a poet and instructor from Detroit. He

teaches poetry and creative writing to youth through the Inside Out Detroit program and is on the staff for the Adroit Journal. His work appears in over a dozen publications including Camroc Press Review,


Prime Number Magazine and Emerge Literary Journal. His non-poetry interests include traveling, sports, mythology and constantly finding warmth under a blanket.

Casey Rocheteau is a Cave Canem and Callaloo Writing Work-

shop Fellow and has performed throughout the United States. She has been involved in slam poetry since 2003, and was a member of the 2012 Providence Slam Team. She’s released two albums on the Whitehaus Family Record, self published four books, and her most recent book, Knocked Up On Yes, was released on Sargent Press in 2012.

Mary Anne Rojas, after attending seventeen schools, between

borders and unsettled, recently graduated from Oneonta State College with a degree in English and Africana & Latino Studies. Mary Anne encourages the power of writing as a form of activism and survival. She plans to go back to Ghana one day to establish a School of Poetry in which children can find shelter in culture and voice. She was just accepted at the University of Buffalo for a Masters in Caribbean, Latino/Latina, and Latin American Cultural Studies program. She looks forward to a doctoral program as she continues to work on her poetry, essays, and critical consciousness.

Brittney Sankofa is 23, a native Washingtonian, and bad at

these things. She’s still figuring stuff out but in the meantime, she likes to tell stories in any way she can. She would like to dedicate her photograph to her dear friend and cosmic twin Errick “PopSmoothe” Pratt, who was killed last January. May his memory be carried out through his loved ones and his reign over Georgia Ave. remain eternal.

Natasha Shompole is a Maasai writer and poet born in Kenya and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She received her B.S in Biology from Washington State University and is currently exploring the world through writing and other creative endeavors. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @Luciasolaris, or email her at NLShompole@

Jayson Smith is a 22-year-old interdisciplinary artist investigating black masculinity in all its manifestations. He is currently a co-facilitator of the workshop series at LouderARTS and is developing 48

a mixed-media project exploring the physical language of identity politics. He developed his choreographic process at New York University under the guidance of Kathryn Posin and Leslie Satin. Kinfolks is his first poetry publication. Find him in all his black queer glory on twitter @sojaywaslike or email him at

Rose M. Smith is an IT requirements analyst and former soft-

ware engineer living in Columbus, Ohio. Her works have appeared in Main Street Rag, The Pedestal Magazine, Pavement Saw, Boston Literary Magazine, The Examined Life, and other journals and anthologies. She is author of Shooting the Strays (Pavement Saw Press, 2003) and A Woman You Know (Pudding House Publications, 2005), co-editor of Cap City Poets: Columbus and Central Ohio’s Best Known, Read, and Requested Poets (Pudding House Publications, 2008), a Poets’ Greatest Hits series (now managed by Kattywompus Press) inductee and a Cave Canem Fellow.

Keith S. Wilson is an Affrilachian Poet, Cave Canem fellow, graduate of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, and recipient of a Bread Loaf scholarship. His work has appeared or is appearing in the following journals: American Letters & Commentary, 32 Poems, Cider Press Review, Anti-, Muzzle, Mobius, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Additionally, he has had poems nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net award.


Not everything has to be on the main road. Sometimes you find paradise in the smallest places. Frankie Knuckles January 18, 1955 – March 31, 2014

It’s guerrilla cinema. And I

don’t see any reason why we should do anything else. If we’re gonna be outsiders, man, take advantage of being outside. Sam Greenlee July 13, 1930 – May 19, 2014

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