3 Poems By Penda Zenisha Smith

“Heavy, Heavy”

walls throb

house screams, “back dat azz up”,

assume position,

                                         back arched,

hands on knees

A black woman asks the crowd, and who will receive this blessing?


Who gon get this work?

Who ready for, I just laid my edges with my mamma’s wisdom

Who ready for, I carry all the dance in my chest

Who ready for, A white motherfucker tried me today, and I said what’s good?

sometimes the body cannot contain itself,

sometimes the knees give way,

Three black women surround me like the holy trinity,

  1. Bitch you betta
  2. Fuck it up *inserts clap*
  3. Tells me to hold on to her



Which means,

                                black woman I got you if nothing else

Which means, there ain’t no love like a black woman’s love

I hold on to a black woman,

                                           and recall my mother

she stays after my father seeks refuge in another woman,

                        There ain’t no language for that type of holding

Sometimes the body cannot contain itself,

I am throwing that ass back

                                            And recall f(l)ight,

A black woman holds me up,

                    And I recall when my mother told me run

    And she stays cause her skeleton is what keep the roof from caving in,


I am most afraid of the black woman type of love,

My  mother tried to take that type of holding out of my chest to protect me,

I ain’t ever been afraid of fucking an exit sign,

I warn men who enter,

                           Atheists whisper amen into my breasts,


                         Sinning men sing gospel into my navel

I do not know if a man leaves because he is a man,

Or if he becomes man because he leaves.

I do know that I leave before evening come to shift the sun

Because haven’t we all shed skin to be someone’s life jacket,

And the reason why someone else is drowning?

                                A Black woman holds me up

Kinda how my mother holds up a sinning man who got ghosts in his teeth,

This is how I know,

to stay means to give my skeleton to keep a roof from caving in,

I do not know if I am capable of that type of holding yet.




A Womyn’s Spine Must be a Stepping Stool

The quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,

He take me for feast and I fall inside of a lion’s den.

All of our lovers fall inside of us,

Which means I sit in the belly of the boy I love.

He does not know that I sit here.

He does not know that there are other women here too.

That the other women have lovers in their bellies too.  

The other women are not really women.

They are blinking lights alternating between black and woman.

Black and woman is a paradox that transcends into a conundrum

They gnaw at each other until something gives way.

I told a man with heavy boots that I give ⅗ of myself to black, and the rest to woman.

I know no other way to exist here.

I march in the streets

And rattle the earth with my feet,

Men tremble as if they never seen a love like this before­­­

I fight for blackness like my arms be staffs that call forth red seas to rise,

And I dare them not to obey,

The seas make way and I march barefoot,  

I Tell the wind move yourself.

I tell the sky move yourself.

When I see carbon copies of dead beings,

I call black death an exhausted cliche.  

I come home and ask for love by its 2nd name.

Ghosts howl back with lisps on my lovers tongue.

He tell me he want a woman with prettier feet.  

Which means he want a woman who has been through war,

Without the scars to show for it.

Which means he want a woman who has survived the war,

With scars that are more convenient.

So I tuck them in a little,

If it means today he holds the parts that have not crumbled into dust,

He kisses me.

A holocaust of dead skin falls out.

I tell the wind move yourself,

And it gives me a coffin instead,

I tell the sky move your self,

And it gives me a coffin instead,  

I sit in the belly of the boy I love,  


My mother taught me that flesh is no match for fire,

I know other wise.

Just because you didn’t see the rope don’t mean there wasn’t a lynching

Just because you didnt see the lynching dont mean there wasn’t a corpse.

Just because you didn’t see the corpse don’t mean it not black and woman.u

I imagine a bed full of burned bodies,

They all use my spine as steps to heaven,

And then call walking on water a miracle.

I know now,

When a man tells you he loves you,

You ask, ”How many women have you broken to get


As an alum of Urban Word who was apart of the NYC team at Brave New Voices 2015, Penda Smith is a First Wave scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on a pre-med track who is deeply passionate about the arts. Her poetry, which seeks to challenge institutionalized systemic oppression, was awarded the Penguin Random House: Best of Borough, Gold Key Recipient for Scholastics for Arts and Writing, and Honorable Mention for CCNY Annual Poetry Festival. Asides from poetry, Penda Smith is deeply passionate about coffee, black girl magic, coconut oil, and math.