Claudia Owusu

Come to the Edge



greets the sun like

he the homie from the block

she ain’t seen in awhile”

                       –Nasra Adem


I was born boiling

under the heat of a West African sun at 1:30 p.m

sweat pouring like bountiful rivers of

coconut milk at the beach.


I was born in an exchange

with a father whose one leg

remained in one country, and the other

in another.

pacing back and forth under the brim of world

cup tournaments      where national allegiance

came into play. I was born i n the womb of a

mother whose body symbolized sex

smooth   mocha

complexion sweltering like orange stones on

dirt paths–

resilient neck reflecting the

testimony of the sun within the kiosk of an

electric fanned hair salon–


her glory ended

and began there.


throngs of women  arriving with stories of

their men on their tongues. leaving with the

smell of pink oil and dark & lovely relaxing

creams conversing on the strands of their baby hairs.


I was born speaking in tongues, justifying

arguments with adults at the top of stairwells

throwing worlds like baited fish on the cracks

of my teeth. young girl–not quite young, been



seven year old girl mimicking Mama’s sex

appeal because that is all she knows.


with mini skirts and bare back tops

and afro beats on radios under harmattan heat


it was all birthed anew on long car rides to kebab bars

with the smells of guinness bottles and marital violence

evacuating innocence.

Mama ain’t raise no innocent


Mama raised the





Your mother; or All the Mothers that I’ve Ever Secretly Wished Were Mine


i fold myself into the corner of the four inch room

as you run your fingers over the seasoned piano like

the spirals on a 2 ply notebook. you tell me about your

mother–how she used to chug her warm beers seated

on a mahogany bench before the black and white beast,

the living room light growing small with each gulp as she got

really into Alicia Keys and cried–her emotions spilling out

of her chest like a tornado in a Louisiana storm/ seamless and rigid.

you say this and I peer at you, stretching my finger to the lines

of your forehead as you play / you don’t seem real and i fold

my arms into perfect creases on my knees as your music swells

over my head .

the heavenly

gates open and tears bloom out of my eyelids like freight trains

under the safe sheet of mourning,

my shoulders heaving

my sobs echoing

the ways in which I am sure angels lament their immortality.

you ask me if I am okay. you say that my laughter

the way it moves through sadness, hard and stable,

i say, this?
it’s nothing.

Claudia Owusu is a Sophomore at Otterbein University, studying Creative Writing. She loves the color mustard yellow, and just recently turned 20. She thinks the number itself looks pretty old.

Belal Mobarak

A Son from North Africa


My cousin arrived a month ago

I tell him living here is not so bad

unless you are Black.

He asks, do I pass for Black?

I say I do not think so             maybe

I would mistake you for Dominican

which is to say  yes you are Black

unless you are not

what I’m trying to say is I do not know

if you are in danger.


A 19 year old immigrant asks

for help on his college application

his skin is a shade darker than mine

and didn’t speak the language but knew

to check off White on the application.


In my office another student tells me

he is West African

I tell him I’m Egyptian

His face lights up with a smile and says,

I am from the Ivory Coast.

His smile disappears  leans in and says,

You do not know where it is do you?

Brother, you beat us in the African Cup.


A Somali woman asked me

Why do Egyptians think they are not in Africa?


In a restaurant the waitress tells us

her name is Sanaya

I want to tell her I love your name

it is my grandmother’s

What I am trying to say is when

my friend Kareem asked me to translate

Chris Rock’s jokes into Arabic

he didn’t laugh at the jokes or my bad translation

he looked dazed and said

Is he talking about us?

Belal Mobarak was born in Alexandria, Egypt. Raised in Queens. As a middle child, writing is how he learned to finish his stories and poetry is how he learned to tell them with the least amount of words. Recently selected as a finalist in Brutal Nation’s Competition for Writers of Color. You can find his work published in Columbia Poetry Review, Newtown Literary, Blueshift Journal, and forthcoming work in DMC, Flock and Apogee Journal. He currently works for Higher Education in New York City.

Azia Armstead

Ode to the Dirt

I walk barefoot in my grandmother’s

yard to be soiled in your purity.

Mother of land oceans cannot

swallow, creator of town and tomb.

You sky for the dead,

ground for the living.

You allow everything to have

a backbone. When I hold you

I am praying with my hands open.

You fall through the spaces in between

my fingers & take the shape of what

the air bends you into.

Here with my feet submerged in the

all of you, you have a way of speaking

to me. Telling me that the

earth & I are like sisters.

Our skin the hue of both

mud & water.

Bad Luck


You got a roommate

he’ll hear what we do.

It’s only awkward if you’re fucking him too

– Frank Ocean


When I heard you


making her orgasm


I thought


maybe you came


home drunk                             again,


stumbled into the


wrong dark room

& fell into a


hole you couldn’t


tell wasn’t                    me.

Azia Armstead is a poet based in Richmond, Virginia. She currently studies English at Virginia Commonwealth University and is also a fellow of The Watering Hole. Her work has been published by JoINT. Literary Magazine.

Ebony Isis Booth

10 Reasons Why Your Right Eye Is Twitching


The French press of dark roast

in a travel thermos, sweetened

with amaretto liqueur before 10 am.


The letter from the IRS kindly

thanking in order to inform, this

year’s over-payment will be

conveniently applied to

’07, ’08, ’09.


The tax refund you get for

raising your baby sister’s babies

should not pay for the sins of

the woman you thought you were

a decade ago.


This is penance.


Your story is a uniform worn for

strangers. Spring weather is too

warm for cloaks, too bright to

hide your shame.


You can feel the fibroids

tugging your uterus up and

over themselves, settling into the

warmth. But, you have not told a soul

except your accountant, who held you

close and prayed as you wept. She

noticed the tremble in your voice and

hand when she tore the check.

She saw you.


You are surrounded by laundry,

almost constantly.


You are jealous of their freedom. They

are data points pinged from towers

across state lines with no budget for

gas, activities or snacks. They are text

messages of good will, dredged in guilt.

Relieved voice mail messages.

Proof of life in your palm, your phone

a grenade.


You tanked another deadline. You are

afraid that you might be as brilliant as

you pretend. And, who will watch the

children and ignore the laundry while

you are away, breathing your own air?


You are supposed to write, and cry

and drink about all of it today. You are

supposed to know when to say no to

the ice cream man. Explain why there is

no money or necessity for year books

in elementary school. Teach the concept

of never versus forever to children who

are younger than your debt.

Black Girl In Therapy

When you describe how black women / specifically / had their bodies and all cavities inspected / in addition to their hair grabbed / and slathered with lard / to prevent lice on auction blocks to your therapist / and she cries when you tell her that you are a descendant of this fact / but you don’t cry with her / because you can’t cry every time a white woman with kind eyes is hurt for your black life / or when one tries to touch your hair again or silence you / and it’s 2017 and 45 is in office / and you’re trying to raise a care-free black girl with mahogany skin and adamant curls in a school where she is the only one of herself  / and she misses her momma / and everybody wants to know if your pain is real / because they can’t believe you haven’t just up and died yet / and neither can you / and they will tell you it’s your fault for being beautiful / and you can’t make them understand that there is a bloodline of women who look just like you in other states that you don’t talk to / and you miss them all / and you can’t remember why you didn’t get your hair wet that day at the beach when you were seven and wearing your mother’s grief / and you don’t want to.

Ebony Isis Booth is a 2006 National Poetry Slam Champion, and recipient of Westword’s Mastermind Award in Literary Arts for her work as hostess of Café Nuba; Ebony Isis Booth is committed to her work. Since relocating to Albuquerque in early 2015, Isis has continued to fuel her drive toward art-ivism as Programs & Communications Coordinator for Harwood Art Center while simultaneously writing and performing original poetry and prose; heralding social justice, self love, and perseverance in and around New Mexico. In 2016, Ebony celebrated the inaugural edition of Burque Noir, a multimedia performance and art showcase centered around Black artists in New Mexico. Ebony Isis Booth serves on the Board of Directors for YWCA New Mexico as a steward of the organization’s mission, “Eliminating racism. Empowering women.”

Sarah Myles Spencer

Says the Blood to the Slave Trader


I saw you there once,

head, cloud thick,

smoking your ruins.


There is a room and a loneliness

inside it. A black         hole

itch I cannot reach.


A piece




All the mestizo in one room;

an island, chamber

of a gun. Who did we see

if not for ourselves?







Small death in a new  tongue.

A song for each haunted

daughter and son.


First       born.

First       to see.

First       stolen.


I am the one

you forgot, Spaniard.

The low howl. Night

skin. Big mouth grin.


A blood witch

unknown to her

own power. Still

will never crawl.


No         rope.

No         chain.

No         whip.


I have already died

as many deaths

as the body can. I am

a room full, ocean


floor of limbs, slow

translation. There is

nothing common


in this blood. Rumor

is it lingers. Can spit

itself back into body.


Back into what survives.


Did you know I could






I built this room.

Everything in it


is mine.

Sarah Myles Spencer is a mama, poet, singer/songwriter who’s worked with a variety of artists, including Snoop Dog, E-40, and (the late) Davy Jones. A multi-time Best of the Net Nominee and Pink Door Fellow, her work appears in Drunk in a Midnight Choir, A La Palabra: The Word is a Woman Anthology – Mothers & Daughters, Words Dance Magazine, Requiem Magazine, and more. For more info, visit

Nelly Bess

Black Joy


How uncomfortable are you

That there is nothing to police here


How violent we are to love each other to death

Our laughs a group of hostages killed by compliments

That held us up


Before you made the sidewalk have to


Ain’t it criminal for us to steal this moment

Robbery how we pickpocketed each other’s pain


The corners of a smile

Become two hands in a stick up

Forced to show everything it got


Teeth the only white thing in the room

Jersey raised poet Nelly Bess believes all people are living libraries from which we can learn from. Her mission as an artist is to take words from the page and transform them into lyrical protest. As an organizer Nelly believes in the power of art to educate and build stronger communities. In pursuit of this mission, Nelly has created and facilitated a series of programs for young people as well as adults that use poetry and music to help them find their voices as change agents in their communities.

Delisile Godeffroy-Taylor

How I Prepare for an Accounting Interview


I let my hair grow out, at least a little. I don’t want the glare of my bald black head to distract you at our first meeting, when all it comes down to is that I like it that way. It’s comfortable and convenient. I love the way it feels and I love the way it ‘feels’. It is not a political commentary or sign of rebellion. I have no need to rebel; after all I am already free. Right?

I remind myself of all the language that will provide evidence that I am a rightful citizen of this world of administrative grandeur. Words like reduction and deplete, internal control and balance. They slide off my tongue like benediction and you clutch at them like salvation. I will make it all better. Take the jumbled chaos of paper, transactions, numbers, ideas, dollars and percentages and give you back a smooth, simple looking glass, polished to a brilliant shine and you will see nothing but the truth reflected back at you.

I will read about your organization obsessively. I will google it’s history, it’s critics, it’s founders and employees. I will study their faces if I can find pictures. Wonder what kind of people they are, why they wear their hair like that? Are they married? Do they love their job? Are they having an affair? What do they smell like? Are they organized and good at what they do? Will they annoy me? Will they impress me? Will I want to fuck any of them?

The day of the interview I will take a shower, shave and masturbate before I slip into neutral blacks and whites, because I need to balance out the fact that I look anything but neutral. Short, black, fat, ridiculous big boobs, huge ass, short, short hair and a constant smile. I am never what you were expecting. My handshake is firm, my laugh is loud and I never pretend not to notice when you steal a glance at my breasts.

When you ask me, I will say, yes, I love this work: the beauty and precision of it; the chaos of it when it is not cared for; how mesmerizing any organizational structure is; how you can step back and watch it: a giant organism, writhing, twisting and rearranging itself, only partially cognizant of the parts that make the whole. I will tell you that is where the secret lies. If you can hold this vantage point long enough you can determine how to make or break the beast.

You will laugh and think me original, intelligent and passionate, exactly what you are looking for. I will smile and let you. I will never tell you about all the moments I doubt myself. The days I wonder if any of my obsessions are healthy and why can’t I just be one or the other. Why are work and porn and spreadsheets and poetry and canvas and oil paint and music and trial balances and dancing and inventory valuation and good food and hot sweaty sex all live in the same place in me. I will never tell you how I am confused daily that I have to separate these parts of myself to keep you comfortable. How it hurts that my truth will cause you to back away from me.

Black. Queer. Mother. Writer. Artist. Almost Vegan. Atheist Witch. Daughter of Oya & one of Kali’s chosen. Delisile was the slam Champion of Champions three seasons in a row at the Cantab until she forfeited her title at the end of 2003 when she left the slam scene to focus on family and work and mundane things such as the meaning of her existence. In 2002 and 2003 she was a member of the Boston Lizard Lounge Slam Team that attended the National Poetry Slam. During the 2003 National Slam in Chicago she ranked third in the individual competition out of over 200 poets nation wide. In 2004 she was nominated by Cambridge Poetry Awards for Outstanding Slam Female and Performance Poet of the Year. Who knows when she will return to the performance scene (she certainly doesn’t). But when she does it is sure to be spectacular.

statement about performance poetry:

Coming from Southern Africa perhaps I have a different view of what performance poetry is. It is not a bastard offshoot of literature, it is a descendant of an old art that speaks directly to the masses (think of our story-tellers, and praise poets, the mourner at funeral that takes on the voice of all those grief stricken). When I write, I am (almost always) writing for the stage (or at least for the ear) and not the page and I will be making no excuses or apologies for it. I am not following the traditions of Frost, or Keats, or Dickson, I am following the tradition of the imbongi (praise poet, literal translation is “he/she who give thanks”).
“Written language is an attempt to imitate sound; the voice is mother to the word.” ~ Jack McCarthy

Dagmawe Berhanu

Black Heaven (inspired by Danez Smith)

Somewhere, a place that isn’t here, Black angels

carve themselves into stained glass. Do back flips


over break beats, and freeze

time in an instant.


Lift their hands in praise, with no fear of looking like guns.

Black boys pick flowers

by the garden. Sweet singing like Sunday choirs. No longer worry

if the streetlights come on.


Brown girls are draped in clouds and jump rope on golden concrete.

They wrap their afros up like halos and dance with the Sun.

Last night, I hid

my voice somewhere in the back of the moon,

Didn’t care if I had lost it.


Last night, I spread my skin atop the mantle to air out. Never knew

that my body could be something worth admiring. Last night,

I took my dreams

upstream. Sat them by the river, and watched them drown.


Do you know how it feels to be here and unseen?  

Do you know what it’s like to say goodbye to

a friend before you’ve said hello? Do you know what hell

we’ve been through to deserve this paradise?


When I was alive, I didn’t have that luxury. My mouth was a trigger.

My voice, the gunsmoke. But here, in this drunken abyss,

I decided to be God

over man.


Spoke myself into existence


Wrote my killer’s name on the bathroom mirror; America

Does it matter if it’s a dream if it feels this good? Heaven

is just a forever where there is no such thing as bye.


It’s going to the store and getting to come back.

It’s playing your favorite song

in your car as loud as you want.

Not watching your childhood sink away

into the Mississippi.


I don’t know where I was before, But I know I’m about 100 miles

north of somewhere better than I used to be.


They said we’d have to die to get to heaven.

I didn’t believe them. I lay atop it all, stuck.

Like streetlights on black skin.

Like angels, carved into stained glass.


Goddess X

All My Daydreams Keep Coming Out Bitter and You Know Justice is My New (Black/Love Song)


i wish the imperial wizard wasn’t found

for two weeks

i wish his body bloated

tangled in the reeds

with the small fish

and the crustaceans


away at the good meat

i wish the local news showed the carrion

on the bank

like katrina

i wish he didn’t get national coverage

a face

or a name

i wish his family never found out

what happened to him i wish the pigs

didn’t investigate i wish they’d shrug

i wish they’d say that’s what happens

to crackers who can’t keep their mouths shut

in this town i wish cracker had a history

like nigga that way i could hurt them

some nights when i am evil

and hurting and afraid like they

made me i wish he had a black


i wish the bitter on my tongue could turn sweet

when i write it down i wish bloated white bodies

on riverbanks could make my ancestors smile

every now and again i wish a thousand white

bodies would float on the banks of stolen rivers

i wish that did not make me so evil

tonight i know

it makes me an evil person i wish /

i had a tongue

or a body

that wasn’t so bitter

and my black looks so

different now beautiful now

don’t all the love songs sound like


Goddess Gets Mad, Gives God a Death Sentence and Henrietta Still isn’t Free


when does a black body die?

when does its consciousness end?

do cells carry their own


and violence?

my cells carry violence.

does this mean Henrietta Lacks still lives?

does She feel the violence

of 96 years in Her trillions

of pieces left alive?

is She holy spirit?

if we call Her name

will we feel Her

on our tongues

in our blood?

is there a god?

if Henrietta feels all of this

why does he prolong Her suffering?

is he without mercy?

did he forget

about the tortured body

scattered before the world’s eyes?

in the world’s breath?

through the world’s blood?

are there world records in heaven?

is god trying to see

how long She can go

before She breaks?

does god ignore

black pain?

does he mourn it?

does he live

off of it

like offering?

like lamb’s blood?

does he laugh?

does god make a black

body minstrel show in paradise?

is Her resilience an untrained acrobat

on tightrope

with no net below?

how long can a slow

death stay

before it turns to dust?

were black women always

just supposed to turn to dust?

or die slow?

will Henrietta ever know rest?


i know their god

like the black of my blood.

he is made

in their image.

i am armed with

sock and d-battery.

i will swing

and swing

and swing until

he falls. he

will fall.

and Henrietta Lacks

still won’t be free.

Goddess X is a sad sick​ queer black witch, storyteller, diasporic transfemme, Pink Door Alumna, survivor, sister, student, repping the African diaspora. She has just published her debut book of poetry, Blk Grl Sick, which can be purchased at . Her work centers on blackness, queerness, trans womanhood, sadness, and joy. You can follow her on twitter @GoddessX23

Lauren Yates




The Oxford English Dictionary first cites use of “motherfucker” in 1889. At the trial of Levy v. State, the killer testified that he was called a: “motherfucking, bastardly son-of-a-bitch.” The Court pardoned this man’s bloodthirst: he had earned the right to slash open his accuser with righteous indignation.


They say black slaves invented “motherfucker.” It referred to the white men that had raped their mothers. It was easier to call the slave master “motherfucker” than “father.” Easier to reduce him to an act of lust than thank him for giving you life.



The three worst things to call a man are motherfucker, bastard, and son-of-a-bitch. Each insult stacks itself on a mother’s back. We smother her with our weight, call her children illegitimate, punish her sons for being half-woman.


In school, I was the only kid with a single mother. The only kid without pictures of her mother in a wedding dress.  The stay-at-home mothers worked every bake sale. As I passed by they would whisper: “Those kind of fathers never stick around.”



My mother refuses to call herself the Other Woman. The motherfucker had promised to leave his wife. I still can’t curse my father without dragging my mother through the crossfire.


My father has reclaimed motherfucker. When my mother would tell him to man up and raise me, he said he was just the sperm donor. It was easier to reduce himself to an act of lust than admit he gave me life.



They say “motherfucker” was the worst thing a black slave could be called. It meant rapist, it meant monster that thinks black people should be whipped, traded, and sold.  


My mother asks me what it is like to date white men, if wanting it rough feels too much like life on the plantation. When I tell her my white boyfriend dumped me for calling him “rapist,” she says, “That has nothing to do with me.” She had learned these words from my father each time he got her pregnant.



How dare anyone accuse him of penetrating someone’s mother, of beckoning hell without a wedlocked baby blanket, of suckling milk from the breast of an impossible woman.



When I was baby, my father took me to get my ears pierced. I could not have been more than a year old. I can picture my mother turning red, steam coming out of her ears, like a cartoon character. I know this fury, the way she saws your name through her teeth. She says I used to wear magnet earrings. The backs were little square magnets glued to my earlobes. Matching my earrings to my outfit was as simple as putting a report card on the fridge. After high school, I went two years without wearing earrings. The holes never closed up; I would be stuck with them forever. My grandmother used to wear earrings to bed, heavy costume jewelry. One night they tore from her ears. She has a small line in each ear from the hole to the tip of the earlobe. She never got re-pierced; instead, she wears clip-ons. She says a woman is supposed to have pierced ears, that it is better I did it young. As if I didn’t get pierced before I could speak, the choice made for me a secular baptism.

Proof My Parents Once Had Things In Common



During the Gel Pen Boom of 1999, I wrote my book report

on Lydia, Queen of Palestine. Every few pages, Lydia’s mother

would call her ex-husband’s new girlfriend “That Woman.”

Loyal daughter she was, Lydia named her ugliest doll

“That Woman,” a witch she always killed off in fires.


My mom called my dad’s new wife by her name.

She bit back insults with a stubborn dignity,

like a Death Row inmate refusing her last meal.


If Mom had recognized her, we would have picked

a different line. Just the thought of “That Woman” knowing

what groceries we buy, or seeing Mom without makeup.


As they ricocheted niceties, I noticed a woman

with an epic wedgie. I whispered about it to Mom.

“Don’t make fun of that woman,” she said. She looked

toward my dad’s new wife, as if staging a photograph.

Normally, she would have laughed.


Once the PR stunt was through, Mom explained:

I couldn’t let her think we were talking about her.



At the roller rink on Christian Skate Night, my dad

gave his Kirk Franklin CD to the DJ. He spun and spun

in the middle of the floor, while I clutched onto the railing.  


When he lost his balance, he propelled himself toward me,

and pulled us down to the ground. “What’d you do that for?”

I yelled. Then, he told me, “If you’re already going down,

you might as well pull down someone you love.”

Lauren Yates is an introverted Leo who lives in West Philadelphia. When she isn’t researching how microaggressions impact queer people of color, Lauren spends her time writing and performing poems. She has an uncanny ability to name that tune from only a bassline and can find parallels between any two things, no matter how unrelated they are. For more information, visit