Kinfolks: a journal of black expression - Vol. 1 / Issue 3

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a journal of black expression

Cover Photo: Brittany Fisher Design: Eve L. Ewing Layout: Ishmael Islam

August 2015 Volume 1, Issue 3

kinfolks a journal of black expression Volume 1, Issue 3 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

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] Bound Creativity


[2] The History Books Have Forgotten Horace King


[3] Shakespeare In The Barn


[4] Thanksgiving With The Huxtables [5] Episode 424: Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse


[6] Old Lady With The Black Eye


[7] Vultures


[10] Nomenclature


[11] 7 Anti-Psalms For Black Girls Who Claim Themselves As God


[13] Two Black Writers Walk Into A Bar In Colorado Is Not The Beginning Of A Racist Joke


[14] I Mean Maybe None Of Us Are Actually From Here


[15] How To Not Be Niggerish While Sitting At The Dinner Table Around White Folk


[17] The White Tops Of Tombstones


[25] To Essence, To Eternity


[26] The

2015 Margaret Taylor Burroughs Award

[27] Anthem: Pattern Of Abject Causation


[34] Counting Descent


[36] After Jubilee


[37] If Ruby Bridges Were Cassius Clay


[38] Bullets Come With Names/Uncle Courtney Finds A Pink Shirt


[39] [Super]Nova


[40] Black Hauntology No 5: Black As If Always The Blues


[41] Contributor Biographies

Ashley M. Jones

The History Books Have Forgotten Horace King Perhaps, because he wasn’t all the way black— he was poured half full of Creek, filled with it from cheekbone to chest. Maybe it was his profession, because who really cares about a carpenter unless he’s Jesus? But Horace made things: bridges with panpipe walls, bridges with crisscrossing arches, Confederate warships to fight the good fight— his brain was not too black for this; wars are colorblind, especially when what you build doesn’t break. He bought himself from the state of Alabama for fifteen hundred dollars and a bridge. He built a spiral spine of stairs at the state capitol and stretched his name, wood and steel and cement, over all its rivers for the wanderer to walk over and wonder who done it.


Jennifer Bartell

Shakespeare in the Barn His hand does not know the musk of pages, he could never trust himself with the words: Favoright pastime: piddling around, piddling about the barn. The wrench and he are of one mind, they toil in the dingy shadow of cob webs. His hand knows the feel of restoration. So he salvages Shakespeare, Volume One from the musk of that graveyard where forsaken things go. The body is with the king but the king is not with the body — an appendix to other such mysteries, like the blood-dipped words of Jesus all over King James. After the body comes, where it goes is of no consequence. He continues peddling a brass-footed virgin-Messiah’s words to empty pews. Not keen on words, but a collector still, piddling in tools and tomes.


Luther Hughes

thanksgiving with the huxtables i say chicken lightly and peel my beak with a smile, spread my mattress: my wingspan reaching both sides – feet clawed over the bottom. it’s the cosby show for the third time on t.v. cliff is out the door to buy something he forgot. dad texts me something holiday-like. cliff lazy lip frowns – his jacket melting from the rain. the chicken on my plate is pinched gold and bleeds when my fingers tunnel the side. the skin pulled flesh underneath. i’m not going back out there, eggs splat the wooden floor. rain pit-pats shadows my ribcage. i pluck layers of meat between each drop. cliff returns again, his family blank-smiled around the table. each mouth of brown breaks the autumn orange tablecloth. they weave their hands for prayer as cliff stands, hat blacking his eyes. dad texts me about fried chicken. i ignore him, tear gristle from my molar, wattle my throat with a yawn, and watch the credits roll.


Luther Hughes

episode 424: papa’s got a brand new excuse ain’t like i’mma be sittin’ up every night askin’ my moms: when’s daddy comin’ home, ya know? uncle phil screens my cheekbone. who needs him? we are quiet. i force a smile. he wasn’t there to teach me how to shoot my first basket,

but i learned didn’t i? he nods. i fumble a fake ball. shoot: and got pretty damn good at it too. my body is heavy. my palm flexes and name each finger: first date, drive, shave, fight. my veins thread. i had fourteen great birthdays without him, uncle phil is wooden before me, my index finger carving his breath, and he never sent me a damn card, face the doorway,

to hell with him! i cradle. back swells. breath. fists singed. breath. elbows creased. hand to hat over forehead. i don’t need’em then, i don’t need’em now. uncle phil slips my name. we, face to face, feel the air.

i turn around.

a slur of the lip: how come he don’t he want me, man?


“Old Lady with the Black Eye”

Ernest Williamson III

Britteney Black Rose Kapri

Vultures It is 2012. In my second apartment since graduating college, with my third set of housemates, I am drinking wine at a socially unacceptable hour. José and I have known each other since high school. We are co-workers, we are friends (sometimes), and we are family, raised in different-colored poverties on opposite sides of the same city. José and I talk about family and what it means to be college graduates, to be artists, to be artists with college degrees, and what that means to our families, who are supportive of our career choices but still long for security. So we decide we’re going to get Pulitzer Prizes, so that our parents can breathe easy and loosen their grips on our degrees. It is today. I am in a workshop and José and I are no longer housemates, are still co-workers, still friends (sometimes) and are sitting across from each other writing about what we wish for. After a long list of things for my community, city and family, I scribble “Pulitzer Prize” and am somewhat ashamed for writing anything at all about myself. The day that José and I moved in together I purchase a movie called The Bang-Bang Club with no clue about the plot (Ryan Phillippe is the leading man, and I have worshipped him since Cruel Intentions). The film depicts four photographers active in South Africa during apartheid. One story in particular stays with me. Kevin Carter was a wartime photographer and journalist. In 1993 he sold a photo of a Sudanese child, bloated from starvation, laying in a fetal position, being preyed upon by a vulture. In 1994 he won a Pulitzer Prize for featured photography. I wonder how long before someone asked him if he took the time to feed the boy. From 2006 to 2011 I am in school at Grand Valley State University. In 2010, working on the last group project of my soon-to-be-ex-education major, I am with three white girls (one from Ann Arbor, one from Southfield, and one from someplace Americans can’t point to on a map) all wearing Uggs and North Face. We are discussing our pedagogy. They all want to go back to Detroit and save black kids (they didn’t say “save,” but they basically said save). And I wonder what they mean by “back.” And then I think, who am I to judge them? Born and raised on the North Side of Chicago, I live in privilege. I avoid seeing my family on the South Side as much as possible during the summer. I know what happens when niggas get hot. I read an article in the Huffington Post reporting that the Chicago Police Department has seen a significant drop in homicides in Chicago. In


2012 there were 260 homicides. This year, only 184— a 29% decrease (though there have been 843 shootings, which is still down 25% since 2012). It is commonly understood that most of these happen on the South and West sides of the city which are heavily populated by Brown and Black people (not to say the North Side is the magical land of happiness and natural death, but it isn’t a gun range for the inexperienced). I didn’t use the word nigga until I was at least twelve or thirteen. The other kids told me I talked and acted white and I internalized it. I was ashamed, but not enough to change, because I was more ashamed of being perceived as dumb. Nigga wasn’t like using curse words, which I practiced with little confidence under my breath so my mother wouldn’t hear me. It was a rite of passage, a sign of membership to a community I didn’t feel like I belonged to. And I was sure that if I ever tried to force it out I would sound white, I would feel white, I would be white. One summer I am at a party with a bunch of friends, a party hosted by a community center with the intention of bringing some of the neighborhoods together. A fight breaks out and a boy my age is hit with a metal pipe, everyone scatters and I stand there and watch. He bleeds out before the ambulance arrives even though there is a hospital three blocks away. I take off when I see the blue lights. And I go to bed thinking, better him than me. Sometime soon after, “nigga” started flowing out my mouth as easily as the lies I had ready for my parents when they asked why there was blood on my stuff. In 2009 I decided I was no longer going to double major in Education and English Literature. Grand Valley was constant white faces, white voices and white curriculum telling me how to teach black and brown children. When my professor asked me why I was dropping the program I wanted to tell him “because I am black” and I knew that he would understand, but at the same time wouldn’t get it. Yesterday out to dinner with my white “step” grandmother (but not really, she the real deal) and mixed (but mostly white-featured) sister, a food runner placed a plate of fried chicken in front of me that I didn’t order. He appeared to be embarrassed when I slid the plate over to my sister and reached for the grilled cheese. I was more amused than offended, and then upset with myself for not being offended, and then confused and unsure of how I was supposed to feel. It is Friday. We sit at a table mounted with celebratory barbeque in honor of Molly (who is white but mostly only hangs out with people of color, despite being raised in an affluent white neighborhood) and her graduation from the University of Wisconsin. And we all crack jokes about starving kids in Africa, even though I am sure at least half of us know what hunger pains actually feel like. None of us has ever seen a vulture. Just the shame of free and reduced lunches, or food stamps back when they came in a booklet and not on an inconspicuous card. I think about how when my brother graduated high 8

school there was an equally gluttonous feast in his honor. Because a black boy graduating high school is as impressive as a white woman graduating college. A bus boy asks if I wanted to box my food, and I say no, knowing I could have given it to any of the homeless people I know I will pass on the way home. I remember doing homework by candlelight because my momma chose to pay rent instead of the electricity and I am ashamed of myself for pretending I am not poor. I’d like to think I am nothing like Kevin Carter but I have been writing other people’s stories for years. And I wonder if I am the type of person who would let someone die for a poem. Kevin Carter’s friend and fellow photographer, João Silva, said they were riding along with the United Nations who were bringing food to the Sudanese suffering from famine. He said Carter was shocked at the starving boy— he had never seen something so bad. The boy’s mother was nearby getting food from the UN helicopter. The vultures were there because of the scent of a manure pit. On July 27, 1994 Kevin Carter committed suicide. Excerpts from Carter’s suicide note read: “I’m really, really sorry. The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist...depressed ... without phone ... money for rent ... money for child support ... money for debts ... money! ... I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain ... of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners... I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.” And I wonder how many times I have only captured the wrong of the story.


Malcolm Tariq

Nomenclature I think of Saturday mornings, Saturday nights in the rhythm of grandma’s forefinger and thumb as both ends of the bean were snapped. Broken into two or three pieces went the body of that green firmness, much like how the bread was broken in the white church across the street where we all heard, right as scripture, snap beans and where to get snap beans so late on a Sunday. And then, later that day, grooming our plates with all types of soul, the damn things so tender and more slender now, stewed with potatoes and meat, that mess of string beans curling the hunger in us, curving the mess of our lives, in our lives shared under that roof where we grew straight in the vein of God’s ever-present slender, crooked finger— grandma’s encompassing stare for silence. But not for long under that gaze that shipped me from table to classrooms, kitchen to dining halls of ivory towers where I learned to curve grandmother’s learning—nomenclature, language of proper speech that rendered it so simply a green bean, shared by the many who once snapped and strung black boys from this place, here in which I now make this mess of a living.


Michelle Denise Jackson

7 ANTI-PSALMS FOR BLACK GIRLS WHO CLAIM THEMSELVES AS GOD I. I came into this world / a slow howl / hauled all of your ghosts with me / let them calcify into saints as I grew. II. Everything I am / is a resurrection / trying to sing itself / into first birth / now all I have / the wind to be / is the wraith of a hum. III. I taught my hands / everything they know / about prayer / about taking / about love / they were brutal lessons / to ensure / they never forgot their education. IV. We be big in our devastation / us women who were dragged out of our mothers. Home / is not a word in my native language / only search / only ash / only Earth. I belong to / my skin. V. My tongue is the only umbilical chord I acknowledge / its movements are a choreographed map / talking is how I find myself back / at the beginning / at the altar. VI. I am so good at alchemizing this pain / now all the white girls wanna buy it / at the high-end stores / I tell those bitches to step back: I killed this shit to own it. It’s mine. VII. They don’t know we come into this backwards— we sold ourselves to death first /


to come into this life: Raw, but not new.


Mitchell L. H. Douglas

Two Black writers walk into a bar in Colorado is not the beginning of a racist joke it is us the sinew marrow & caw the way we twist words like arms behind backs howl @ the puzzle We belly up to the bar dare a motherfucker to say something about Alizé or Courvoisier Red wine & bourbon working spells we conjure the Black Canon our textual constellation politic on whether there is space for us We ignore ski lodge décor ESPN the wigged woman w/clothes too thin for November her disappearing act to the elevator the reappearance minutes after (silent & disheveled) No we don’t Notice is what we do our lives devoted to lines of witness Your missed flight my arrival the bartender ogling the emerald glow of your dress the ink that snakes my arms every eye on guard


it’s so hard to trace these things right I just rolled out of bed one morning and I had this head of good hair and when I say good hair I mean it was passed down from someone who was once dragged through a field by it until their scalp became a wide open mouth but it looks fly tucked underneath this fitted hat on the dance floor no you cannot borrow this dance you cannot stand over another dark and shaking body and breathe in the smoke we leave in our wake I get that we are all human or whatever but I don’t even know what that would do to your bones I don’t know if your bones bend like mine I come from a boxed in culture I come from people who traveled entire oceans wrapped around each other I was born from a woman who is now inside a box so you see some things are just natural for me you’re right maybe there is no such thing as a country maybe there is just gutted land and rows of sharp teeth that have torn at my flesh for so long I’m not exactly sure which wound is the one I belong to I mean the only way I recognize my skin is when it is open and spilling how can I even keep track you know it must be nice to wrap your hands around an unscarred body it must be nice to wrap your tongue around all of the words in that song without also asking to bleed out on a sidewalk all I know is I began running when the fire started and I haven’t stopped since maybe I come from running maybe running is a country maybe everyone who lives there misses someone they thought would live forever I’m glad you don’t know how to find it I’m glad that you haven’t caught me yet I’m glad you have a black friend I’m sorry that your black friend may die soon and then there will only be me

Hanif Abdurraqib

I Mean Maybe None Of Us Are Actually From Anywhere


Janae Johnson

How To Not Be Niggerish While Sitting at the Dinner Table Around White Folk Learn how cut your meat; particularly pork. You do this by holding your knife in your dominate hand (the same hand you would open a jar with), and your fork in the opposite hand. Do you see the difference between those two hands? In the future, consider being ambidextrous or allergic to meat. Since this is not possible at the moment, your index finger should guide you to comfortable space on the back of each utensil. Use one hand to hold the meat, and the other to cut it. Eat it. Do not cut the piece too large. Do not moan at the taste of ham. Do not smack your lips. Do not tell the entire table that you love you some swine. When you are at the Chinese restaurant, do not ask them if they have fried chicken wings. Do not tell them this is a deal-breaker. That, there will be a serious problem if they do not have fried chicken wings. When they tell you chicken is on the kids menu, do not allow them to serve you chicken wings made for 8-year-olds with a side of French fries. Do not tell them I did not ask for French fries, but I will eat them. Do not evaluate your environment. Do not outwardly acknowledge that you are the only black person at the restaurant. Do not place your head down in shame and continue eating your meal.

Niggas cannot associate themselves with a place without being aware of blackness. Be aware of blackness. Be aware that the night sky holding up the full moon. Know there is a reason why you fear the teeth of wolves howling whenever you are out. Be aware (whenever you are out) of every typo, every stutter, every tardiness, every bite of chicken left on the bone as it will be attributed to a 400-year fairy tale movie, in which you are cast as an extra. Take note that shame is the middle name of all black children, how it always enters itself into the room before nigga does; how it followed you from the suburb of Sacramento to the outskirt of Boston. Shame created the word nigga. Suggestion: deem the aforementioned as nigga moments. Call yourself a nigga at least once a day until it is therapeutic. Until you are conditioned to its worn-razor cut pressing against the wind. Try it out. No need to make sure it fits. Get used to the feel of it. Look in the mirror. Practice the phonetics. Once you finally admit to yourself that you are a nigga, they cannot take anything else from you. If you do not like the word nigga, you will have a hard time living in this world as a nigga. You will be sickened when niggas are placed in caskets for walking, whistling, and being. Do not sell yourself short, but embrace your reality. Your faults do not belong only to you anymore, they belong to


a people. Your name does not belong to you anymore, it belongs to people. Your fried chicken selection does not pertain to you anymore it pertains to a people. When you fail, nigga, we all fail as niggas. When a black boy gets shot at, we all duck; and when you finally succeed, they will learn your name until you fuck up again, nigga. Do not fuck up again, nigga. Do not fuck up‌


Darlene Taylor

The White Tops of Tombstones Outside the window I see the flat white tops of tombstones. They remind me of the protest posters marchers carried on the evening news last night. The men dressed in black suits and hats traveled the pavement in slow circles. They carried themselves like soldiers. I worried their loads got heavy the way they kept their arms raised, the weight of the posters bearing down on them. I knew what heavy felt like throwing the rope over and over until it caught the chandelier. My arms raised over my head, I threw over and over; it made me tired. It must have taken thirty tries to get the loop anchored and tightened in the brass arms of the chandelier. I wondered if the marchers ever put down their signs or passed complaints on to friends. That is, let another pair of hands hold their signs while they sat to rest their feet. My feet are heavy like the tombstones outside the window. I imagine my toe sawing the flat edge of the white grave markers. The rope braid and the curls from my fallen chignon graze the back of my neck. The tail of the rope parts my hair in two sections. The jerk when I kicked the step stool from beneath me loosened the lace scarf that covered my head. The scarf drifted to the floor just to the right of my feet. A bowed head covered with a white scarf was to be my offer for clemency when judgement came. I hoped to please God with this act of humility. Suicide, I was told, was not forgivable. But, then again, I was already dead, dead inside. Death came in threes. Hung three feet above the foyer, I spied the apartment that was home to me and my husband, Ed. It could have been a cheerful place, but for the quiet and loneliness now that the children were gone. Loneliness was like the march of ants across a picnic blanket: steady, sure, and moving as one until it crawled all over me. I was covered in it. I was buried in it. 17

The phone rang. It sounded urgent but I looked away towards the entrance to the kitchen where a photograph of the children was held by a magnet to the refrigerator door. The ringing started again. This time it had a higher pitch as if Ed was yelling at me from the photograph on the desk. In a way he was looking at me. Our wedding photograph was on the desk next to the telephone. Ed left one week after our wedding night to return to the war against the Viet Cong. As the war dragged on, I didn’t recognize myself in our wedding portrait. There was something not quite right about the gray tones in that black and white photo. It hid the shine in my eyes. Perhaps the photographer saw that one day I would look at this miniature presentation of myself and wonder when was she ever happy? Ed’s mouth was as tight then as it was when he returned from Vietnam. He looked like a man with nothing to say. When I think about the children, I can’t look at Ed. His eyes say angry things he would never say. Ed was a soldier and each time he came home, I got pregnant. First, with the twins, Jericho and Jordan, then Diane and within three years of marriage, we had three children. And, I thought, with the children, I wouldn’t feel so lonely when Ed returned to the war. At church, mothers cried when they went to meet their boys returned from war in bags. Sons were a blessing until the government needed sons. Drafted, they left their mother’s care. Mrs. Solemn, who lived next door, cried on her son’s eighteenth birthday. She was right to cry. Within the year, the war killed him. A sniper attack in a village his platoon secured. The only secure thing in war was the killing. Sniper bullets didn’t touch Ed. He made it back home for visits every year. He cared for the soldiers who went to the frontline. Ed wasn’t a doctor but he could mended broken bones and held the dying’s hands. He said death started with a twitching in the fingers, making it hard to hold on to things. Next to our wedding portrait was a graduation photograph of Samuel, Mrs. Solemn’s son. I asked her for it and placed it


there so I could imagine my own sons grown up in graduation suits. Samuel had a happy smile in that photograph. Ed liked this apartment when he moved me here. One other Black family lived in the complex of buildings with the fenced in courtyards. No one Black had yet been buried in the adjacent cemetery. Ed liked the quiet of the graveyard and the church nearby. I noticed that mourners only came to bury, never to visit the dead. It seemed to Ed a secure place, away from front porches and sidewalks, where people drank liquor and cursed. Ed threatened that if anyone gave me a strange look, he’d plant him in the back of the apartment hidden among the glowing stones. No one would notice another empty hole in a cemetery, he said. Look at me? Who could see me? Only the late night shadows that congregate under the wide elms saw me. Sometimes a spark of red light like a cigarette danced in a circle that was too bright to be a firefly. Ed said hush when I saw those things. He didn’t believe in ghosts. But what about that death march of the civil rights men in black suits. Weren’t they ghosts, ghosts in waiting, like those three young men drove from Ohio to Mississippi, or the others that some bigot put a bullet in? I watched television for hours. The world came to me through a floor model Zenith. Vietnam was on television. Then the screams of Mississippi filled the screen. A bus set on fire because Black people wanted to register to vote or eat in a restaurant or send their children to a school with books and a roof. Walter Cronkite reported on the way it was in Vietnam and Selma. I trusted Walter Cronkite who wore a suit and necktie. From his chair, the clock above his shoulder, important papers across his desk, he was calm. The far-away war frightened me as did the southern white men in their short sleeve shirts, heads covered in summer straw hats as they spat at polite men and women lined up to register to vote and shouted at sweet-faced children on the first day of school. Children stood back as police held fang-baring dogs inches away. And, too, there were pictures of or swaying of lynched bodies swaying in Alabama.


Pictures from Vietnam and America’s south showed shadowy figures moving through darkness. Ed never talked to me about the enemy in Vietnam. I never saw the enemy in Vietnam. Yet, I knew the faces of evil that came from Atlanta, Memphis, those places down south named for ancient cities. Children standing back as police held fang-baring dogs inches away from their tender skin. Walter Cronkite hid rage in his blank reporter’s face. But I saw a twitch as he talked about the killing of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. For six weeks Walter Cronkite reported about the missing three. The FBI investigated. They sent sailors to search the Mississippi swamps. The waters spit out bodies. Then suddenly, there was footage. The car was found charred. The bodies of those three sons were dragged out of the shadows like the ideas of freedom and justice. Walter Cronkite showed me the skeletons of Freedom Summer. Hell came to riot. The outside world the television set brought me was rot. When the smell got bad I shut the windows. Ed came home, a vacation before more duty. During one of those visits, Ed took me out on a boat. Not to fish, but for the sport of the waves bumping beneath us. He was in the navy. There was a short bit of rope and he taught me various nautical knots. The rope tangled in my hands but Ed was patient. His eyes intense as the hemp slid between his rough fingers, spit in his hands and rubbed it on the rope to make the knot tie smoother. He made a loop and doubled the line back so there were two, then turned an end over several times and pulled it taut. Ed didn’t talk about Vietnam, but I could tell his mind was there, the way his brow pinched when he undid the knot and cut the loose strays of strings with a pocket knife. He turned the blade over and over in his hands as the sun threw itself against the cutting edge. He placed the rope in my hands, guiding me in about six different ways to tie knots. It was like the first time tying shoe laces; my thumbs got in the way. I handled the loose slip knot best. It reminded me of the first stitch in crocheting. When Vietnam came on the television set, Ed turned off the news. I listened to Ed’s breathing instead of the television set. At night, sweat and screams took over his body. One night my eyes


snapped open from a dream that a snake twisted around me. It was Ed choking me. I slapped at his muscular arms until he let go. Then he rolled over and stroked my breasts speaking a language of vowels that I didn’t understand. I opened my night gown and he made love to me with his pajamas on. I missed the feel of his skin next to mine. I wanted our love a different way but he was someone different, someone that I didn’t know. I didn’t want to argue with that stranger. I lay still and let him have the pleasure of my naked body. In the morning, he packed for war. He folded his uniform pants, shirts, and socks then tucked them in a duffle bag. After zipping the sack shut, he saluted. He was set to leave again. The television set brought Vietnam between our good byes. I peeked over his shoulder and glimpsed at the commercial jingle for floor cleaner. Bright shine; it made the lady in the commercial smile. I begged to ride the bus to Union Station with him, but Ed said no. A train station was no place for goodbye, he said. I thought differently. There were long sad kisses and promises of we’ll be together soon when people said goodbye in movies. We moved to the garden view apartment, which overlooked the cemetery two years ago. Ed paid twenty dollars more for a death view. A doctor, a psychiatrist, said later that we should have moved to a new building. But he didn’t know how hard it was for a Black family to find a decent place to live. Ed’s body hunched over as he said we had to go where they would take us. I didn’t disagree. I only thought of the garden view, a window on the future; the white tops of tombstones. Those first nights I lay in bed wondering what death sounded like. I opened the window to listen. There was nothing. Not even birds tarry in cemeteries. Bottles of gin and scotch were in the cabinet. But that was when we had friends, friends who sometimes visited. Now the bottles were for Ed when he came home. His drink was gin and tonic. The liquid burned my throat. Gin was my tears. Hot liquid burned my cheeks. I was afraid. I was afraid a bullet or bomb would kill Ed. Bombs


exploded in Birmingham. There were children in a church. Fire filled the television screen. Mothers held the hands of children as they ran from fires. Saigon and Birmingham were horrible, noisy ways to die. I imagined the screams. Sometimes, the screams were so vivid I had to get out of bed and stand by the window to empty the sound out of my mind. Outside my window was the quiet after the screams. I preferred the tombstones. At some point between the morning and evening news it seemed I lost my hearing – except for the telephones. There was a ringing in my ears that did not stop. I drank gin standing inside the galley kitchen, staring at a photograph of the children. Gin torched the memory of dead babies. I finished the bottle. I made the bed, washed the dishes, put away the red and blue plastic cups bought for Diane, Jericho and Jordan. I dusted the television cabinet and table tops, vacuumed the carpet, and swung a knotted rope over the chandelier. Plaster crumbled like graham crackers hitting my shoulder as it fell to the floor. The chandelier creaked. The rope rubbed into my skin and my shoulders jerked an inch lower. The phone rang. It rang and rang and rang again. Seven rings and it was quiet again. An hour ago, I wanted to talk. I wanted the voice of a live person, in front of me, to stop the echo ricocheting between my ears. No one came. No one called. I didn’t remember the last time I spoke to Ed. I forgot his voice. Was it low and gravely? Was it musical? How could I forget my husband’s voice? I counted the weeks, months since his last visit. I got to three and the room blurred. I lost count and started over. I just couldn’t get past three. Bad things happened in threes. I was confused. Gin did that. The day the children died, I cried. Tears cut tracks in my cheeks. Make-up couldn’t cover the streaks of scar tissue built up over two years of crying. We had a front view apartment then on a lower floor. A rail fenced the patio that faced the courtyard slab of cement. I sat there while the babies played and read. The television blasted that high-pitched screech testing for an


emergency. I turned the television set off and went to the kitchen to make lunch. They liked patio picnics. The baby girl was four years old, the twins were five. Mischievous chatterers, they played on the patio on days too hot to sit in the apartment. Their legs were still too short to climb over the rail and I spanked them when they tried so I didn’t worry. They were earshot from the kitchen playing in the fenced-in patio in the fresh air. I spread peanut butter on crackers and set them on plastic plates. I poured apple juice in their red and blue plastic cups. I put their three plates and cups on a tray. I brought a slice of bread for them to toss crumbs to pigeons nesting in the courtyard. As I left the kitchen, the phone rang. I stopped to answer it. I wish I hadn’t. Ever since that day, I hated the sound the telephone made. The ring made me nervous. I dropped things when the telephone yelled at me. That day, the day the children died, I answered the phone. It was a stranger. He asked if I had a minute. I said, one minute only, I have to feed the children lunch. The stranger had a kind voice. He asked nicely, how are you today? He asked if the heat made me uncomfortable. He asked if I was interested in air conditioning. He talked about how cool air conditioning could make the rooms – and it was hot that day. He talked about temperatures, thermostats, and how machines were making life easier for housewives. I thought about the washing machine, the blender and the electric can opener and agreed with him that I did have a lot of help around the apartment. I hadn’t thought of that before. A retching scream came from the patio. I dropped the phone. The tray of peanut butter covered crackers fell from my other hand when I reached the patio door. The children, the three of them, were stretched out, lying next to each other, red oozing from their new tee-shirts. A neighbor crossed the yard wearing bedroom slippers. She leaned over the patio rail on her tiptoes, her arms flailing as she screamed for someone to call the police. It wasn’t me screaming, it was her, pointing to an empty space between two maple trees and the welcome sign at the end of the sidewalk. Not me. I couldn’t call. I didn’t want to touch the


telephone. I gathered up my babies. Quiet in my arms, their arms didn’t hold me. Arms limp at their sides, too tired to hold anything, even me. For days I scrubbed the patio. Clorox. Ajax. Lysol. The television commercials made cleaning dirt from our lives look easy to do. Those ladies wiped up juice and coffee spills. There was no detergent for the stains I cleaned, the kind that never washed away, like blood on concrete. The soaked-through stains. I was on my knees with a brush in my hand when Ed came home. He asked me, begged me to explain what happened, why I didn’t hear, why I wasn’t with the children. I blamed the phone. The damn phone. It’s ringing again. This time I won’t answer it. I won’t pick up. I won’t be distracted by a stranger offering me a cool place to sit in the summer heat. Outside is where I focus, outside the window where tombstones line up in neat rows, straight as soldiers’ backs. The smooth sheen of freshly cut grass. Dew on the grass blades, a cool mat by the stones.


“To Essence, To Eternity”

Ernest Williamson III

The 2015 Margaret Taylor Burroughs Award This year, we gave our first ever Margaret Taylor-Burroughs Award, intended to reflect the Kinfolks commitment to celebrating blackness “in its infinite permutations.” The award is given to art that honors the memory of Taylor-Burroughs in her creative, activist, and personal legacy– art that pushes boundaries, opens conversation, and asserts life where some might claim there is no life to be found. Each of the following poems will be published in the next issue of Kinfolks: a journal of black expression, in June 2015. Congratulations, and sincere thanks to all who entered! Winner: Phillip B. Williams, “Anthem: Pattern of Abject Causation” Honorable Mention: Clint Smith, “Counting Descent” Brionne Janae Thompson, “After Jubilee” Finalists: Brittany Fisher, “If Ruby Bridges Were Cassius Clay” Essence London, “Bullets Come with Names / Uncle Courtney Finds a Pink Shirt” Ashley Lumpkin, “[Super]Nova” Jonah Mixon-Webster, “Black Hauntology No 5: Black as if always the blues” Guest Judge: Camille Dungy graciously served as our contest judge. Dungy is author of Smith Blue (Southern Illinois University Press, 2011), winner of the 2010 Crab Orchard Open Book Prize, Suck on the Marrow (Red Hen Press, 2010), and What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (Red Hen Press, 2006). Dungy is editor of Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (UGA, 2009), co-editor of From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great (Persea, 2009), and assistant editor of Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade (University of Michigan Press, 2006). Dungy has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Cave Canem, the Dana Award, and Bread Loaf. She is a two-time recipient of the Northern California Book Award (2010 and 2011), a Silver Medal Winner in the California Book Award (2011), and a two-time NAACP Image Award nominee (2010 and 2011). She was a 2011 finalist for the Balcones Prize, and her books have been shortlisted for the 2011 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Award, the PEN Center USA 2007 Literary Award, and the Library of Virginia 2007 Literary Award. Recently a Professor in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University, Dungy is now a Professor in the English Department at Colorado State University. 26




The choreography is simple. Be followed. Be pulled over. Smile. He doesn’t smile back when he returns your license. Step out of the car. “Is something wrong?” Get out of the car. He tells you you smell funny. You say “sandalwood”, say “shea butter”. You don’t smoke. Flashlight through your back window. What you doing with all those race books? You’re allbut-dissertation. He has a gun. You are sure you teach his daughter about sit-ins and assassinations. When backup comes they both lecture you for thirty minutes. You were on your way to a funeral. You will miss the open casket to avoid your own. Somehow your race books overlooked this dance. With the dull index of your tongue you manage to trace “Who do you protect?”



“How did he—?” “How long the stench?” “How many did it take to—?” [Smoke leaks from forced-open flesh doors] “Were you of authority?” “Who authorized?” “What color was—?” “Did he know his name—?” [Wilting goes as quickly as memory allows] “Was he shot before or after—?” “How many entered from—?” “Who saw who see whom?” [E-v-id-e-n-c-e spells hand over mouth] “But, sir, the form requests that we follow—” “The procedure has been—” “Who arranged him like this?” “Where did he throw the weapo— ?” “There was no—?” “How long did it take for—?” “Were you afraid?” [Ceremonies solidify the contract that makes exotic the rot of other] “Were there flies?” “Was there the smell of grease?” “Did they sing?” “The people, when they came outside, did they sing?” [To must be flawless to be made martyr]





Who do you protect?! Who do you protect?! Who do you protect?! Who do you protect?! Who do you protect?! Who do you protect?! Who do you protect?! Who do you protect?! Who do you protect?! Who do you protect?! Who do you protect?! Who do you protect?! Who do you protect?!

[black cop smiles and lunges forward to imprint his volatility a pocket of air] !!!!!!!!on [gasp] [gasp] !!!!!!!!! [schadenfreude feasts on faces till mangled by glee] [ white cop severs a man from his breath with a shove to the side with his baton]



“ I

c a n ’ t

b r e a t h e ! ”



Clint Smith

Counting Descent after Alan Michael Parker My grandfather is a quarter century older than his right to vote & two decades younger than the President who signed the paper that made it so. He married my grandmother when they were four years younger than I am now & were twice as sure about each other than I’ve ever been about most things. They had six children separated by nine years, three cities & one Mason Dixon line; there were twice as many boys as girls but half as many bedrooms as children which most days didn’t matter because poor ain’t poor unless you name it so & kids prefer playing to counting so there was never much time to wallow in anything but laughter. My mother was the third youngest or the third oldest depending on who you ask. She was born on a federal holiday which my grandmother was thankful for, said the Good Lord only got one day off when he built the world, so one day is all she needed too. Mom says Dad was persistent, wouldn’t give up when he asked if he could take her down the street to get some coffee which back then cost two dollars less than it is now. Now my mom is trying to stop drinking coffee but still loves my dad, they’ve been married for thirtyone years & have three kids who are six years & 3,551 miles apart. My birth took twelve hours & forty-three minutes which is probably because my head is five 34

times too big. My mom said that my head was big because I needed enough room to read all the books in the library which seemed like infinity even though I didn’t really know what infinity meant but I had heard my teacher say it once when she talked about the universe & books felt like the universe to me. I was pretty good at math too, until about fifth grade when they started putting numbers & letters together which didn’t make much sense. My brother is seventy months younger than me but is taller & knows more about numbers so it doesn’t always feel like this is true. My sister is twenty-four years of loyal & eight years of best friend. I am the oldest of three but maybe the most naïve, I still believe we can build this world into something new, some place where I can live past twenty-five & it’s not a cause for celebration because these days I celebrate every breath, tried to start counting them so I wouldn’t take each one for granted. I wish I could give my breath to the boys who had theirs taken but I’ve stopped counting because it feels like there are too many boys & not enough breath to go around.


Brionne Janae

AFTER JUBILEE spread the bolls to shuck their down still sow thistle flowering and necks to bear the yoke. still the north star tilting north, a need to cull the freed to freedom. the weary still cover their dead with groans and still You slumber deaf to the faithful calling. Lord hear us witness our yearning, bodies grown ancient, thin as that old shanty woman, knee bones pushing through her skirt. yet look how she leans forward, still turning at the sun, still expectant. God we have been a long time waiting, give up Your bed, Lord, walk with us.


Brittany Fisher

If Ruby Bridges Were Cassius Clay It would’ve been a baptism of bloody lip on the left side of the street. An ocean of cracked bone, joints looking like 1000 swollen apricot pits. Hard to crack but not impossible under the pressure of your faith. It would’ve been red staccato sky and knee buckle at your name. Navy skin, violet eye and shattered tooth glory. It would’ve been school bell doubling as signal for round one. A six-year-old shell of bass and battlefield, your voice would’ve been shards of saxophone blooming to boomerangs, slicing every eardrum within a nine mile radius. One note for every child they’d ever shamed. You probably saw Frazier in every one of those faces. The absence of fear was heavier than a right hook to brick with all of gravity’s weight. I don’t think the William Frantz shingles ever quite realigned their windpipes. It would’ve been smelling poison in your scrambled eggs and scraping it off like mold. Just a silent prayer was a threat. Would’ve made them swallow their slurs whole and drown their bellies in splinter with the same rust caked nails they tried to crucify you with. Nurture the element of surprise like a baby bird. Daddy always said never butter the bread you break with your opponent. If only they could’ve seen the glitter of that championship belt under the sway of your pink sweater. They’d have bowed down to the butterfly wings on your back and Ruby Nell, I promise you it would’ve taken them less than six seconds to disperse.


Essence London

Bullets Come with Names / Uncle Courtney Finds a Pink Shirt Every bullet leaves the chamber spinning like a metal top on the neighborhood sidewalk marked with elementary nicknames in blue yellow pink chalk. The point will dull but the bullet will spin and spin, twisting the air around it. The city is the globe and the bullet is the axis that exists only to enter the body. Engraving it, naming it again. / My son’s clothes fit too tight for the funeral. Uncle went to the closet, returned holding the button-down with his son’s name written on the tag. You okay with pink? At the ironing board, he smoothed the little sleeves with his hands, then the iron, then his hands. I touched the sleeves too. Our hands find warmth in the smallest movements. He knelt, held the shirt open for my son to enter, and pushed the white circles through the measured openings. He scratched the breakfast away from the corners of my son’s mouth. Then he rose, said he should go on to the gymnasium. Maybe there he ran his hands across the rows of folding chairs, the top of his casket, the bottom edge of the unlit scoreboard. Maybe there he twisted the buttons in the center of his chest until they dug unnamed valleys into his fingertips.


Ashley Lumpkin

[Super]Nova The problem, simply stated, is one of fear, if the eye assigns color its own weight. When the body is brown, it carries a gravity only assigned to dark things. Don’t a black hole collapse even the light that wishes to escape it? Ain’t it a mass of physics that everyone teaches but no one understands? It should try to be a more organized explosion, more graceful electron, and star, and matter; and ain’t that the point anyway? The lines you’ve drawn across the sky to declare who breaks the balance here – who sends your hands to the car lock at daylight, and why you can understand any boy gunned down for any reason not offered after the fact, and what it means to need no excuse. To know when you say afraid, an entire country will understand how – even unarmed and begging – the body was heavy enough to pull at the trigger finger. How – even with body collapsed – the burden of proof was unable to escape. And ain’t that the point as well? How quickly you sink into explanation of how the body called to be broken. It was thief. It was thug. It was cause for selfdefense. It was crazy enough to believe that open palms are not a weapon, but how could they be – as dark as they are – anything but violence waiting to happen? Ain’t that the burden of gravity calling the death knell down this side of heaven? When the body is brown, it is event horizon by virtue of its breathing. The problem, simply stated, is one of light, contriving its own collapse. 39

Jonah Mixon-Webster

Black Hauntology No 5: Black as if always the blues of stridulating half notes— night gristle, locust chirp, bowed neck, wax lips, wet stain— a body thronged hard and buried in the open light the root of it dug up with a mouth stretched, reaching to scratch the moon from its throat and give everyone a song


contributor biographies Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib is from the east side of Columbus, Ohio. His first collection of poems, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, is forthcoming from Button Poetry/Exploding Pinecone Press in winter 2015.

Jennifer Bartell received the MFA in Poetry from the University of South Carolina in 2014. Her poetry has been published in Callaloo, PLUCK!, Blackberry: a magazine, decomP, Fall Lines, the museum americana, among others. She also has work forthcoming in The Raleigh Review and Kakalak. A Callaloo Fellow, Jennifer is an administrator for The Watering Hole, a poetry collective for Southern poets and poets of color who write about the South.

Mitchell L. H. Douglas is the author of \blak\ \al-fə bet\, winner of the 2011 Persea Books Lexi Rudnitsky/Editor’s Choice Award, and Cooling Board: A Long-Playing Poem, nominated for a 2010 NAACP Image Award. He is a Cave Canem fellow, cofounder of the Affrilachian Poets, and an Associate Professor of English at Indiana University- Purdue University Indianapolis.

Brittany Fisher graduated from James Madison University this May with a BA in Journalism. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, she began writing poetry in some form at age six. It has always been her way of having a voice. Aside from poetry, Brittany enjoys playwriting, screenwriting, fiction writing, and photography. She had a short play featured in KCACTF Region IV (Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival) 41

this year, and poetry published in Gardy Loo, a JMU literary arts magazine. Brittany plans to attend graduate school in the near future and strive to make writing into a career.

Luther Hughes was born in Seattle, Washington, but currently lives in Chicago where he ispursuing his B.A. in poetry at Columbia College Chicago. He currently curates, “Shade,” aliterary blog for queer writers of color. In addition, he organizes, “White Noise,” a poetryreading series, in the South Loop area in Chicago. Luther’s works has been published or areforthcoming in Word Riot, Muzzle, About Place Journal, Good Men Project, Toe Good Poetry,and others. Tweet him @lutherxhughes. He thinks you are beautiful.

Michelle Denise Jackson is a writer, performer, storyteller, and educator from Southern California. In 2011, she graduated from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study with a concentration focusing on narrative, identity, race, and social justice. She finds joy in writing, reading, traveling, posting too much on Facebook, and Netflix. She gives praise for being her mother and father’s daughter, having an exceptional afro, and being on this wild ride we call living. You may find more of her work at

Brionne Janae is a Southern California native currently living in the city of Boston. She recently completed her M.F.A in Poetry at Emerson College, and her work has been published or is forthcoming in Plume, Apogee Journal, Toe Good Poetry, Redivider, Fjords Review and others. Brionne is also the winner of the 2014 Muriel Craft Bailey Contest at the Comstock Review, and a Cave Canem Fellow.

Janae Johnson is a spoken word poet, teaching artist, educator, and organizer originally from Sacramento, California. 42

She is the 2015 Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion and the Co-Founder & Slammaster at The House Slam poetry venue in Boston, MA. She is the coach and advisor for the Simmons College Speaks Poetry Slam Team and is committed to creating safe artistic spaces for queer people of color. Janae appreciates all-black musicals, Stevie Wonder songs and pineapple-based smoothies. She currently resides in Roxbury, MA.

Ashley M. Jones received an MFA in Poetry from Florida International University. She has served as Official Poet for the Little Free Libraries Initiative in Sunrise, FL, and been recognized in the 2014 Poets and Writers Maureen Egen Writer’s Exchange Contest and the 2015 Academy of American Poets Contest. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Night Owl, The Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy, pluck! A Journal of Affrilachian Arts and Culture, Valley Voices: New York School Edition, Fjords Review: Black American Edition, PMSPoemMemoirStory, Tough Times in America Anthology, and Lucid Moose Press’ Like a Girl. She lives in Birmingham, where she is a faculty member at the Alabama School of Fine Arts and workshop coordinator for the Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop.

Britteney Black Rose Kapri is a teaching artist, writer, performance poet and playwright based out of Chicago. A former ensemble member and teaching artist for the Hip Hop Performance nonprofit Kuumba Lynx. Currently she is an alumna turned teaching artist of Young Chicago Authors. She just her first chapbook titled “Winona and Winthrop” in June of through New School Poetics. She has also been published in the April 2015 Edition of Poetry Magazine as well as the BreakBeat Poets anthology.

Essence London is a poet with a new-found love of creative nonfiction. She is a graduate student at Texas Tech University


who has held interships at both The Field Office Agency and Oxford American. She has other poems published or upcoming in joINT. Literary Magazine and Vinyl. As she learns the art of letterpress printing, she dreams of handmaking chapbooks and launching other projects that support writers of like mind.

Ashley Lumpkin was born on Juneteenth in Arizona and leaves it to you to draw conclusions about freedom and fire. She is the author of two chapbooks, {} At First Sight and Terrorism and Other Topics for Tea. A lover of performance as well as the written word, she has been a competing member of Piedmont SLAM, Scuppernong Slammers, and the Bull City Slam team. She co-facilitates a writing and performance workshop series entitled “Think in Ink: Women Writers Unleashed.” Ashley has been a featured presenter or facilitator at various colleges and universities, including Davidson College, North Carolina A&T State University, UNC Wilmington, Hampton University, and Rutgers University. Above all else, Ashley considers herself a teacher, poet, and fryer of food. She is a lover of mathematics and language. She loves you too.

Jonah Mixon-Webster is a text/sound poet and teaching artist from Flint, MI. He is a current Ph.D. candidate in English Studies with an emphasis in Poetry & Paracolonial Poetics at Illinois State University where he also serves as the editorial assistant for Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora. A Callaloo Fellow, his poetry and sound art is featured or forthcoming in Spoon River Poetry Review, Oaken Transformations: Poetry & Sculpture Walk, & the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Radio Poemerica.

Clint Smith is a teacher, writer, and doctoral candidate at Harvard University. He is a 2014 National Poetry Slam champion and was a speaker at the 2015 TED Conference.


He has received fellowships from the National Science Foundation and the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop. His poems and essays have been published or are forthcoming in The Guardian, American Literary Review, Still: The Journal, Off the Coast, Harvard Educational Review and elsewhere. He was born and raised in New Orleans, LA.

Malcolm Tariq is a Savannah, Georgia native. A graduate of Emory University, he is currently a PhD candidate in English at the University of Michigan. He is the recipient of the 2015 Hopwood Award in Poetry and his work has previously appeared in Red Truck Review.

Darlene Taylor is an MFA candidate at Stone Coast, University of Southern Maine. She is a fellow of Callaloo, A Room of Her Own, Roothbert Fund, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts and writing workshops at North Country Institute for Writers of Color and the Zora Neale Hurston/ Richard Wright Foundation. A recipient of an American Association of University Women grant and graduate of the American University, she is a cultural activist, policy advisor and leads nonprofit efforts to promote legacy and heritage.

Phillip B. Williams is the author of the book of poems Thief in the Interior (Alice James Books, 2016). He is a recipient of the 2013 Ruth Lilly Fellowship and is the poetry editor of the online journal Vinyl Poetry. Phillip will be the 2015-2017 Creative Writing Fellow in Poetry at Emory University.

Dr. Ernest Williamson III has published creative work in over 550 journals. Some of his poetic work has appeared in journals such as The Oklahoma Review, Review Americana, and The Copperfield Review. Some of his visual artwork has appeared in journals such as The Columbia Review, The 45

Tulane Review, and The Portland Review. Dr. Williamson is an Assistant Professor of English at Allen University.


When the wolf is trying to get in, you gotta stand in the doorway. He has to get through you first before he gets into the house to get your family. I’m one of those guys who wants to be in that door. B.B. King September 16, 1925 – May 14, 2015

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