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
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?

II
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.

III
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?

IV
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.

V
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.

VI
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

nibbling

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

death

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

rot?


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

memories

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 createspace.com . Her work centers on blackness, queerness, trans womanhood, sadness, and joy. You can follow her on twitter @GoddessX23

Lauren Yates

Motherfucker

 

I.

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.

 

II.

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.”

 

III.

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.

 

IV.

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.

 

V.

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.


Baptism

 

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

 

I.

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.

 

II.

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 http://www.laurentyates.com.

Najah Scruse

A Resolution – 2017

I’m a 24 year old black writer from Detroit. I telling stories and being creative but I don’t think I give myself the opportunity to let people see me. This is the year for that.

Whitney Syphax Walker

Sometimes you grab an extra lovely sage bundle and smudge your home to clear it of negative energy, other times you say yes to a weekend sleepover with The Kid’s Bestie and let their combined laughter do the same thing.

-November 18th, 2016

 

As many of you know, I’m not working at the moment. I’m stuck in an uncomfortable (and familiar) waiting pattern: I’m waiting on unemployment to kick in, waiting to hear back from a few potential gigs, waiting on my lights to get shut off…you get it. Most days I drop the kid off at school and run around the city until it’s time to pick her up again. I’ve done a pretty good job of not letting her know how dire our situation is, but tonight…tonight I broke down. We were riding home from rehearsal and she began fiddling with this cute little pen I bought her a few days ago and snapped it in half. I snapped right along with it. I let it all pour out on her 12 year old little lap. She cried. I cried. I promised her we would be alright, because we always are, and I told her that this ain’t even the roughest patch we’ve been in. She apologized for breaking the pen, and in that moment it seemed like the tiniest, cheapest thing in the whole world.

We’re home now. Dinner has been eaten and she’s getting ready for bed. While checking off her chore chart, I noticed that she updated the rewards. $1, $2, and $3 has been replaced with “hug”, “kiss”, and “”one night in Mommy’s bed”. To “help out”, she says. Because “We’ll do it together.”

I think in the daily stress of stretching out the savings I have left, I forgot how very rich we are.

Anyway, I promised my child that we would be alright, and I keep my promises. Tomorrow is another chance. I’ll press my good dress and try it again.

-September 15th, 2016

 

Today, at Camp, a white boy who Zoë has been having trouble with called her a “little bitch”. She responded in a way that was strong enough for a camp counselor to tell me that there was an altercation, but Zoë is too ashamed to tell me exactly what she said or did.

This is when parenting a Black child becomes difficult. Zoë said that her new white friends all ganged up on her and took the boy’s side, and that she felt overwhelmed and afraid. I’ve been there. She said that she felt like she needed to defend herself because she felt alone and unsafe. I’ve been there too. This is her first time being in a predominantly white school setting so it’s

all new for her. I grew up in it. I understand the nuances of it. She wasn’t prepared. I didn’t prepare her. I feel partly responsible.

We had two conversations in the aftermath, one being your typical “Did you tell an adult/counselor/teacher what was going on?” conversation, the other a much firmer “Don’t ever let them knock you off of your square so hard that you lash out.” conversation. I explained to her that We can’t afford to lash out, that our consequences often don’t match theirs. I told her that her fear and defensiveness will often be dismissed as aggression, and that she can protect herself by checking in with a responsible adult after each act of violence and disrespect. I acknowledged her pain and anger and said that both were valid. I told her about the time in 4th grade at Shrine when my “best friend” of two weeks walked up to me and said she couldn’t be my friend anymore because I’m Black. How later that school year she spat at me and called me a nigger. How my brother tried to talk to her brother about it and how the boy made chimp sounds at him until he walked away. I told her how badly he and I wanted to fight, but how we knew we couldn’t because we’d be blowing our shot at attending the school that our parents were sacrificing so much for. Zoe and I then talked about how pain makes you want to fight sometimes, and how we have too much to lose to give into the urge.

Finally, at the very end, we had my favorite part of the whole talk. I promised that in exchange for her honesty and effort, I’ll always be ready to ride up there and turn that place out on her behalf. I thought that was understood, but I didn’t mind verbalizing it for her.

She still wants to finish camp, and she wants to attend this school for high school. I want that for her. We have two more years of preparation.

Woosah in advance.

July 14th,2016


LaToya Favor

Natural Remedies

 

He told me

“I’ll stop if it don’t feel good”

& I laid there

Accepting my defeat

 

& later practiced

Cutting myself open

Without making me bleed.


My name is LaToya Favor & I am just getting started. I’ve held a love for poetry & writing for as long as I can remember but never embraced it as me until recent years. I remember taking home Maya Angelou books from the school library & becoming envious of her transparency & ability to live beyond her circumstances, even now.

When I returned to those books in more mature years, I acknowledged the need within me for that level of transparency & life. The discomfort that silence invigorated was enough to want to make a change that would eventually bring me into fruition.

Writing became a way for me to organize my thoughts in their purest form & then read to understand them/me.

 I do not try to be poetic when writing poetry & I do not insert punchlines in hopes for applause. I just write in hopes of understanding my own thoughts.

I have found that poetry is not just something that I “do” but it’s who I am. I’m required to be mindful of my surroundings & myself. Then, as an example, when I feel a level of growth in myself, I can easily compare the feeling to the calmness that I feel when I hear tires splashing down the road, knowing that the Earth is preparing itself to be fruitful.

All storms eventually pass away, but I always want to remember who I was when the thunder roared. So I write.

Louisa Fara Moan

Friends Can Break Your Heart too – A dedication to those that forgot I loved them

You mumbled in response…
“what does strength have to do with kindness?”
I would explain….
But it’s not a serious question…
I think it’s an excuse…
A attempt to force me to acquaint compliments of your reserve with the acceptance of your cowardice.
I ain’t biting…but I can taste it…the sour spiciness that cuts
the sweetness of you…while you desire candy coated praise…..
You elude to deserving warmth when you won’t even thaw your doubt…
you only see the risks and
none of the guarantee of loyalty that exist in the choice to be in yours.
Here we both are…
You – Blind to your own earning potential while I’m blinded with it’s prominence
I have dreams for us…you have reasons…
We have history…and it’s the only reason you conveniently forgot.
I chase the sting of your stagnation with the elixir of
my own ability to be brave for both of us…and you have the nerve to be more frightened…
Mumbling in response
“what does strength have to do with kindness?”
Blaming others of closed stories for your open distrust…
You want them to do something for you still…and now…
And I can’t get it…
You want apologies from those that never assumed responsibility…
they won’t pay your tolls…
they won’t give up their pride as reparations…
they wont fix the soul they fault your for breaking…
They won’t care now, because they never did…
But I am the one who is sorry…and that offends you.
Until I ask why and the silence eats up the anger…
Disguises of cool are crawled into like blankets on December night…
You are suddenly to weary  and by association…honesty becomes a chore.
I had no idea how good you were at excusing the neglect of your
 truth…lying to yourself to avoid the work of healing and growing.
Yet…here I am still being your sun with the smiles I bring to your face…
still being your water with my tears of my exertion of pulling you up…
still feeding your ego with my pleas to prove that you are a good person…
who deserves good people to do good for you…
 I am sustaining you with flesh of every magic I know and you ask me…what does strength have to do with kindness?
I guess nothing…when the correlation can be so easily broken by the committed fear of commitment…and friendships are commitments, too.
The ones we kiss goodnight are not the only ones who can break our hearts.

Louisa is dedicated to her children, the power of feminine energy, connecting with others and her poetry. She began writing as young teen as a way to express herself quietly…eventually, she found her voice to share those expressions through her alter ego – Fara Moan. She is a quiet force that supports the art community just as much behind the curtain as she does on the mic.  Some poets wordsmith while Fara Moan is a wordweaver…invoking the emotion behind the phrases while delivering in intricate beauty.