Trace DePass

When Black Men Want to Leave


we heard the asthmatic baby cry when the door shut. we heard the bullet shell and body drop at the same time from miles away. heard you; that he was too busy to finish [or start] the note left us. heard him complaining about how much he didn’t like it here. heard this place smelled like how his day went. that was the last time we heard from him. there’s a special kind of silence when black men leave. we all thought it was him being himself and that he’d reappear, like he always does. we all looked at each other, hoping we could pet a stray tear back to it’s duct, with words. but, we all struggled for something good enough to say. throats got heavy. you could swallow and drown in your own spit a few times when black men leave. mouths gape a whale’s wail and flood themselves. it tastes like nothing new. how there are so many things we could have said to make him stay that a mouth wouldn’t utter. if he only knew how much we wanted him home and happy and our black man. now, a gone one. here:

the dusk rained into dawn. none spoke. we were tired and still drowning, watching the pitter-patter move in on us. how water taunts us with it’s large bodies when we try to look for something beside ourselves. what a gluttonous God. looked so natural, it nearly made the son want to be just like his father as if to be taken/gone was a hereditary thing.


prayer of a gnostic theist. Jamaica, Queens. ‘97.

most high,

thank you

                  for the wake for the fifteenth

praise – how i’ve held on since the first;

how the check let the little nigga

keep his phone & his wallet with how it

brought me my package; the divinity in

the bread/ i broke      5 pound loaves.       

2 grand each –      the father, the son, &

                               the    need     to     eat.

praise

             product; the duffle for it’s many

compartments; the nigga that tried me,

and then ran away;   facts, that i ain’t

  have to kill today; the cold of youth,

  its role in the gun,

                                  each bullet that

kept a metal jacket up from the floor;

the boo who would reign with blunts

and with fingers, would call upon a crip

from any top step to a turnstile. & to

our bowman’s dominant eye,

may her hand

                need not to whistle

the soundtrack to a scene as this:

the corner, wherein the streetlights

serve as beacons for a foot soldier,

& his watch,

                  &   the candles stayed

after he left.   bless: his family.

                        bless: my son.

be: a fence

                 on his way from school.

may he walk with the calm of two

headphones in his ears &, god,

kiss the callous,

like a don,  

                    off his hands

  in the southside of Jamaica

smooth his pace. shine his teeth.

make him be a better man than i was

[if i die in the interim of silence

before we speak again, then…]

amen.


Residing in Queens, NY, Trace DePass is an alum of Urban Word NYC, juror and editor at the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and was the 2016 Teen Poet Laureate for the Borough of Queens. He received a National Gold Medal from Scholastic for his writing portfolio, “Black Boyhood,” wherein one piece was published in Scholastic’s Best Teen Writing of 2015. Trace is interested in curating conversations on black queer, non-binary masculinity through prose, poetry, & playwriting.

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.

Rasheed Copeland

One Good Lung

 

There, in a humble polis of copper skinned folk

I watched a pair of old fools forge a bond in chain smoke.

This was in the nadir of a nationwide exiling

that banished all the other men from their houses

and replaced them with a government stipend.  

Somehow, by either pride, or miracle, these two

did not become expatriates of their easy chairs

but instead remained relics from an ilk of male negroes

whose skin was once made of real leather,

took the one good lung they had between them

and weathered their extinction

never wasting a single ration of breath

on luxuries, such as saying I love you

but opted to let a borrowed stem of cancer

from their personal bouquets utter such sweet nothings.

Would not admit it, but requited their love with poems

not those of pen and pad because ink costs

and to be their type of black and man

was to have pockets that kept an incurable echo,

but the kind that conveyed vividly, a greyed man

asleep on his couch, a bushel of his buddy’s offspring

blanketing the floor with the television gazing into their eyes

while their pop is away combing the streets

trying to spin his lint into silk or at the very least

take the thinnest of air and somehow extract from it,

a gallon of milk.

I mean poems that know the difference

between rhetoric and imagery

ones that do not tell of the petty dick measuring

that never kept them at each other’s throats,

but those that without warning, poured the malt libation

down your neck and stung your throat

in the exact spot it would holler in theirs

as the bottle of flame mediated their silly spats

and melted the icecaps of their shoulders

ushering in the first warmth of drunkenness

like the first warmth of Spring

reminding me of my own misfortune

how I become a tundra whenever I think

of how my homies hate poetry.


Rasheed Copeland is a native of Washington, DC. He is a father and a husband.  He is the author of The Book of Silence:  Manhood As a Pseudoscience (Sergeant Press, 2015) and was a recipient of the 2016 DC Commission of the Arts and Humanities Fellowship Award.  He placed 2nd in the world at the 2015 Individual World Poetry slam. He is currently studying English at the undergraduate level at Howard University in his junior year.

Denise Ervin

Game On

“The game is on.”

The phrasing is ambiguous.

Basketball, baseball, hockey…

the format matters less than the words;

my father’s feeble attempt

to find masculinity in his baby girl,

to connect with the son he never had

in the daughter that always wanted to please him.

This is what love sounds like:

 

not raised voices

punctuated by slamming doors,

parenthesized by contrariness

and bubbling over with enough tears to trouble still waters.

We don’t wallow or wade;

we build a bridge

with offensive lines

and defensive strategies.

This is what love is made of.

 

Together,

we have prepared a revolution

in the form of a touchdown.

Our anthem is a fight song.

We pad our vigor with vim,

turn victory into the standard

by which all things life are measured.

We converse through competition.

This is the language love speaks.

 

We approach home plate, half court,

and any opposition

with the same level of confidence.

This is where we score.

This is where we win.

This is where we prove we are the strongest, the fastest, the best.

This is how we love…

No matter who judges, or scoffs, or misunderstands,

our game is always on.


Denise R. Ervin in a creative writer hewn from the streets, classrooms, and boardrooms of the city of Detroit. Formally educated in both literature and business, she works in corporate America by day and as an adjunct college professor at night. Her work focuses on the experiences of those who look, live, and love like her and she has spent more than a decade supporting local open mics in addition to crafting full-length novel projects. Most recently, Denise has been working on elevating the performance of her writing and has become active in slam competition. Her poetry chapbook (A Glimpse of My Soul) and novel (Prelude to Praise: A Word of Testimony) can both be found on Amazon.com.

Rajah Reid

4-1-0

Granddad hit the track again
and bought lil’ sis and I a slurpee
Ma says he gambles all his money away
but when he wins, he treats us
like I imagine a father would
and suddenly summer has forgotten
itself. Sweat rolled off a plastic cup cools
better than my body
or the window a/c older than memories of heat-
heavy Baltimore
summers. Granddad left and the day has remembered
to be sap drooling down the chin of worn wood.
There is nothing better to do than go outside or
watch Jerry Springer, so, we watch
and learn to speak American dysfunction.
Ma won’t be home from work ‘til 6 so the day is ours
to waste. We find fun in the smallest
injuries and of course I am the dark
one and she is the round one. One push
too hard and one of us is falling off the sofa and ma
is coming home with that look
like, whoever ain’t hurt might lose they life
or at least a smooth patch of skin so now
we both straining our eyes for tears hoping that the
prelude to a bruise is enough. But ma
came home with that look like the world
sitting on her shoulders a little
too heavy. Cousin Wayne got locked up
again and now nobody feels
like cooking out for the
fourth and all I wanted this
summer was to eat burgers and go
see the fireworks fulgurate
the downtown skyline and know that
flashing lights don’t mean somebody got shot.
and pops don’t mean somebody got shot.
and now all I have is this dry 7/11
cup reminding me that my body
can’t produce enough wet
to make summer forget it ain’t summer
unless one of us gets stolen.

I am a black, queer writer and poet based in Brooklyn.

Joseph Harris

IF THEY GUN ME DOWN (LIKE THEY DID YOUR GRANDFATHER)
To My Four-Year-Old Son Zion

 


Zion, my son
When encountering police 
Try not to hold anything shaped like a weapon
So slip out of your skin boy
Shed that melanin like so many scales
Let it slide off your shoulders like your life depended on it
While pushing it past your waist, try a little shuck and jive
‘cause no one ever got killed for cooning
SMILE!
Big! Bright! till your gums swell to bursting,
Like they’ve been beaten with nightsticks
Let ‘em see your teeth
Maybe their whiteness will protect you better than begging 

But above all else remember
not to hold anything shaped like a weapon
So lay down your dignity 
Let it settle on the ground like lifeless limbs
Like mothers grief, like it’s just been choked out by the NYPD
Let it lay there dying, sitting in the sun, rotting like misplaced faith
While witnesses gather, maybe you could dance,
It serves the dual purpose of showing you are unarmed and happy

But first, make sure you’re not holding a weapon
So leave your pride at home, 
Sit it on the shelf next to your next of kin
Scrub all your online photos, 
Only take pictures of you holding: 
diplomas and kittens and sunshine and stuffed animals,
Don’t you dare grimace
Boy you better grin like rigor mortis has set in 

PANTS?? Hell no your can’t wear pants!
Don’t you know pants have pockets and pockets hold dangerous things like:
cameras, phones, gum, numbers to lawyers
Zion, haven’t you been listening?!
Boy you better put on something a little less threatening like:
    A casket, a funeral suit, a toe tag

 

Put on something that fits:
like prison jumpsuits,
like stereotypes 
like bullet wounds, 
like billy clubs, 

Something they can recognize like

like “he was coming right for me”,
like “he fit the description”
LIKE “he was reaching for my gun”
Remember anything dangerous you did in the last week 
can and will be used against you..
So make sure you don’t: breath, walk , exist…
As a matter of fact if you were so kind you’d kill yourself and save them the trouble 

They got better things to do
Don’t you know they got comedians to grieve and coffee to sip
Don’t you know they got lawns to mow?
Don’t you know game is on?
Zion, don’t you know?

They think…

you deserve this?

Joseph Harris has been writing & performing poetry for over 10 years. Ann Arbor was his first poetry venue and from there he has spread his particular type of logic far and wide. He has been published in MingleWood, Off the Mic, A2 Brute’and Anthrax is Safer than Poetry. He was on the Ann Arbor Slam Team from 2003-2007. He was the Rustbelt Individual Slam champion in 2005, He was the National Head to Head Haiku Deathmatch Champion in 2006. In 2007 He founded the Spitfire Poetry Slam in East Lansing, Mi. In 2008 he was part of Scott Woods national 24 hour poetry reading. In 2010 he hosted the Midwest regional Rustbelt Poetry Slam. He is currently a 5th year Ph.D. student in the Teacher Education Department at Michigan State University where he teaches among other subjects “Reading, Writing & Teaching Poetry”.
Last but not least he is the father to 3 wonderful children and was husband to a beautiful wife all of whom provide him with endless inspiration… whether they like it or not.

Deonte Osayande

The Liquid Dragon Speaks of Ares

 

I’ve watched my dad disintegrate,

a wicked legend

acting like a stranger

in the house he built. There is no easy way

to tell a man they treat beer

bottles like shining suns

and their sons like bottles

easily recycled. Honestly I love him

but he is the reason

I learned how to hold a broken women

long before I learned how to kiss one. I know

how this legend is supposed to end,

with a confrontation

and then replacement. His demons

make him drink

while mine steal away my sleep. The fire

stays in his chest, but I am quick

to spew out glacial lava. My tongue

can make men burn, and freeze

at the same time. I’m not biting at the hand that fed me

I’m trying to let it know I can feed myself. I don’t have time

to fight my father or his demons,

because if we were in the wrong location

there would be a witch hunt for us both.

Deonte Osayande is a former track and field sprinter turned writer from Detroit, Mi. He writes nonfiction essays and his poems have been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology, a Pushcart Prize and published in numerous publications. He has represented Detroit at multiple National Poetry Slam competitions. He’s currently a professor of English at Wayne County Community College, and teaching youth through the Inside Out Detroit Literary Arts Program. His first full collection of poems entitled Class, is going to be out with Urban Farmhouse Press in 2017.

Anthony Febo

my father is a country boy – I am a city kid

 

growing up he fell asleep to the coqui’s lullaby

and I to the crying of ambulances

he was raised with Spanish sprouting from his tongue

and I had English and Spanish mixing in my soiled mouth

and I couldn’t tell which language

was a flower or a weed

when he goes back home, he goes for a run

to see the people he knows will still be in the places he grew up

when I come home, I sit in my favorite coffee shop  

and let the people I think might still be there say hi, if they remember me

we are similar in loving where we come from

but when my father smiles, you are welcomed into family

and I am still learning how to look people in the eye when I shake their hand

 


my father’s heart is less like a bloody knuckle after a bar fight, and more like the stitches used to heal the wound

 

I have never seen my father bleed

but I’ve seen his scars

proof that he has been opened

proof that time will heal, but remind you

of where you came from

my father trained in martial arts since before I was born

if my memory serves me correct

there is a picture of a newborn baby me in my father’s black belt uniform

proof that my father wanted me to continue fighting

if my memory serves me correct

when my father was nine

his dad lost his fight with Alzheimer’s

then three of my dad’s sisters

then his brother

then two more of his sisters

proof that some fights you can’t win

some scars you can’t see

my heart is less like the punch that breaks the board

and more like the scream that blocks the pain

the first time I asked my lover if she had seen a certain movie, and she said

yes I saw it with you

I laughed, although I wasn’t joking.

proof that humor is a good defense from scarring

proof that some fights are inherited

last night, I had to remind my father three times

that my dog and my cousin share the same name

and we laughed after each one

proof that laughter can hurt as much as a punch

proof that humor and tears can come from the same place

me and my father’s hearts

are less like the picture of us holding each other

when I finally became a black belt

and more like the promise I made him

I will never forget this moment, Dad

I will never stop fighting

Anthony Febo is a poet, actor, youth worker, lover and friend. He founded the college and adult slam poetry scene in the city that birthed and raised him, Lowell, MA. He also co founded FreeVerse! a organization that works with Lowell’s youth to better understand themselves through poetry. He has been a teaching artist for the last 10 years and just recently became a full time artist through the collective Flatline Poetry. He is Puerto Rican as hell. So you can catch him in the kitchen or on the dance floor ready to show you what that means.

Mathias

Interview with My Father/ Dinner

I remember when I was you,

All the electricity

None of the outlets

 

I ask, does it make you feel powerful
He told me of boisterous bar brawl

battles where he’s had too many
Talked to the wrong mans woman
Made bets he couldn’t float
How he would throw whole men over tables
Break whole collarbones if need be

Yes son
It makes you feel powerful
Like you can do anything you set your appetite to do
And I got a mighty large appetite


Hes a large man.

Could drink my body weight

in anything Hennessey

I ask does it make you feel full

 


He told me he remembers whole meals

pushed in a small cup that didn’t smell like

grandmas meatloaf. It was too strong to savor
I don’t have room for anymore anything after this

 

Yes I’m full
No, I haven’t eaten solid food in days
I miss your mother’s mac and cheese
nowadays all she does is yell at me
She wont feed me
She keeps pouring my dinner down the kitchen sink
She cries when I smell like my dinner coming home
When I smell like dinner late at night
When I wake up early to get a start on dinner
When I miss work because dinner ran long  



I have dinner till I can’t hear her anymore
till i can’t see the judgment in her eyes no more
It’s just me and my supper now
No woman to tear me from…….To talk me down when

Lullaby me through these nightmares
I don’t need a warm body to feel complete no more

I asked does it make you whole
Whole person?

Whole man?

Whole father
He says

Why bother with these human things
I would have paid your college tuition

But I had this hunger for something

you can’t cook up in the kitchen


It gets expensive leveraging car payments

against  brown paper bag bounties
Sitting in a thunderbird
embracing your bottle like soulmate


Next to your wife like a punching bag
Your kids like a thousand bones that

grew out of you already
Your son screaming through tears

wishes you didn’t eat today

wishing you would starve
I remember when I was you
staring into the abyss of absolute after work


afraid of the monster in my hunger
The aftermath of facing the

whole glass and becoming my
dad afterwards

I’m afraid
all that dinner on the table all those bones
the god dang electricity
none of the outlets

Mathias has been on both teams that he’s slammed for with The Writers Block slam team in 2015 and The Writing Wrongs slam team in 2016. In addition to poetry Mathias has Hosted several events including “Italian Food and poetry Night” an annual event he co-created in Columbus Oh since 2013, “The Writer’s Block” poetry night twice, and serves as the official reserve MC for the Ness Open Mic Experience.  He is currently doing work with The Harmony Project as the sole poet on a full stage performance alongside the Columbus Arts Choir which will be housed at both the Lincoln Theater as well the Ohio theater.  
Faith and preservation of identity play a large role in Mathias’s work. He’s the middle child of a single parent household that was always the awkward nerd of the group. These concepts are weaved into his pieces and play a large part in his stage identity as well. The most import things to his art are God and family and how each play a pivotal role in keep the person grounded.