Alayzah Wilson

Things I Must Teach

my son.  in the world in which I bring

my son there are things I must show him at dinner I’ll pass him survival

tips like mom please  pass me        the salt

giving him strategy

as if I was sending him off

to war. I will be

sending him off to a world

at war. A world that didn’t deem him

worthy. And though I would treat him

as a king .The world would deem him

as peasant .Lower than them .Unworthy

of justice He’ll find that gun barrels are always shorter

than alley ways .And gun barrels always lead

to shorter endings than alley ways. In the world

in which I bring


my son into there are things

I must teach him. Keep your head

down. Keep your voice low. Don’t

draw too much attention to yourself

I don’t want to see your outline drawn

on a sidewalk. Please be respectful. Avoid

any confusion with the police . Always

be respectful to the police, Pull your pants up. Keep


your hands out of your pockets. It is better

to be silent than to be silenced. Oh please dear

son of mine understand that I didn’t want you to come

into a world of war your skin it seems is fighting

a losing war. I don’t want to see you shot

down . I just want to lift you up. But they’ll shoot

you even with your hands raised

people can never tell me it’s not

about race . The race between running feet and a bullet

with my future son’s name on it. I never want

to see a grave with his name carved on it .I won’t ever be ready

to bury a child .Not anyone’s. Not my own. I’ve know his name

since the third grade lately it seems his name will be mine to know


I’m 16 years old and I started writing poetry in the 8th grade, I know that isn’t that long but it seems like forever for me. I’ve found that poetry is the outlet I’ve always been searching for. It allows for creative expression and helps me to have unfiltered thoughts and just put them down and make them seem real.

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

Sai Wurd

“Not my monkeys, not my circus.”

my Aunt Barbara.

my momma’s best friend since 9th grade, and her guardian angel since 2014.

patron saint of cute shoes, betty boop and the refusal to take anybody’s shit.

Karen Ladson

“Ignore the ignorant, and the ignorance will fade”

“Find somebody you love, who loves you.”

Karen Ladson is a poet, performer, curator and youth mentor who takes great pride in using art to empower disenfranchised and underrepresented writers.

Maia Crown Williams

“Don’t worry bout the mule goin’ blind,… just hold the line.”

Maia Williams, also known as “Crown”, is executive assistant to many different businesses, artists, and events in the Metro Detroit area,as well as across the United States and abroad. Crown is also CEO and founder of Amonyet Enterprises, Midwest Ethnic Convention for Comics and Arts (MECCAcon), Cooking Ciphers,  The Cutaway, Black Speculative Arts Movement (co.founder), and Crown’s Royalties.  AMONYET ENTERPRISES is an executive assistant, event coordinating, and mass promotion company. Small Businesses, Events, Marketing, Authors, Musicians, Spoken Word/Poets, Artists, and more. “My main objective of everything i do is to strengthen, build, protect, and grow. I instill those in each and every business, event, and project that i sign my name next to. Our people will only rise when we learn to stand up. In order for our community to grow, we must BE a community.” Executive Assistant, Event Coordinator, Comic-Con organizer, Chef, Jeweler, and more, she is a ‘sistah’ with many crowns, and takes the size and fit of each one seriously.

Ryan Pearson

“Know when to hold and fold” (know when it’s time to open your mouth and when it’s best to keep quiet)


“A hard head makes a soft ass”


Me: it’s not fair!

Mommy: “I never told you life was gonna be fair, now figure out what’s next”


“Love comes from God. Don’t be afraid to love”.


Ryan was born and raised in Detroit, MI, home of Motown and the Motor City. She has been a Theatre Artist since she was 12 years old, and has been in love with different art forms her entire life. Ryan obtained a B.A. in Theatre Arts from the University of Michigan, recently completed her Master’s in Theatre Arts at UC Santa Cruz, and has worked professionally in arts education, Film/TV and Theatre. Ryan joined Performing Arts Workshop to combine her passion for the arts with crucial social justice initiatives; and believes that art is a learning, teaching and healing tool for all.

Outside of work, Ryan loves to read and write, is a major connoisseur of film/TV, and a coffee addict. She is also a proud, card carrying member of the BeyHive. Ryan loves celebrating Black culture, fiercely fights against ideals of antiblackness, battles systemic racism, promotes body positivity, and believes the children are our future; teach them well and let them lead the way. She currently resides in Oakland, CA.

Hiwot Adilow



I draw a wedding scene &

My mother spies the page or

I tell her about the aisle.

Either way, she catches it &

spits stop. Warns dreaming

of a knot will only tie me to

a war torn home. I look

at the drawing & find blood

on the page, a ring around

the bride’s eye. I decide

to keep my finger bare

like my legs were once,

un-bristled, hinged tight.


Rigid, whiskey lipped,

gripped like a bottle’s neck

full of violence I cannot slip

into love. Verily, I am

my father’s daughter until

one day I bleed My mother’s

way—quick crying war.

My body becomes a boat

fleeing a rabid shore.

My skin is spanned &

I dream the distance


On Leaving


I can ice my own eye and fly I learned it

from my mother her late night going

under one July’s drizzle  through osmosis

and a shared twin bed I learned the body’s

rattle after ravage after rape she left and

I was left the only lady of the house no other

neck but mine to adorn with his hands no

other back to back against the wall but me



Hiwot Adilow’s poems have been published or are forthcoming in Winter Tangerine Review, Nepantla, The Offing, and Duende Literary. She has been featured reading her work on CNN, NPR, and Wisconsin Public Television. Hiwot is a Callaloo Fellow and member of the First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was born and raised in Philly.

Sarah Maria

Sarah Maria Medina is a poet and a fiction/creative non-fiction writer from the American Northwest. Her writing has been published in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Midnight Breakfast, PANK, Split This Rock, Raspa Literary Journal, and elsewhere. She was a finalist in Indiana Review’s 2015 Poetry Prize. She is also the poetry editor at Winter Tangerine. Medina is Boricua (The United Confederation of Taíno People). She is at work on several projects. Find her at & @crushedmagnolia

Yolanda Pruitt

This is how you knew you were loved

 your mama was tortillas

dipped in honey in june.

a firm orange tomato

eaten whole with salt.

she was c-notes folded sharp as letters

tucked into your palm,

an apology.

she was a Cadillac

an Impala

a rusted Chevy pickup

with a reckless man at the wheel.

she was sweet tea

steeped by a sun

only her mother’s western hands

knew how to pull so close

to the land.

even when she left you,

you knew love

was your big mama’s trailer.

& the nook of your grandmother’s lap

In the Heat of The Night

and avocados spooned straight

out of their skins.

your daddy was Gunsmoke.

a Lonesome Dove.

a televangelist,

a holiness church.
the black “Marlboro Man”.

Old Spice.

a cigarette, smoked

down to the filter,

a tall can of Red Dog,

a 40oz Mickey’s Malt Liquor,


you never saw him do nothing

but hold

liquor like a good woman,

never as gentle planned.

& even then, you knew love

was white rice

with sugar and butter,

& beans sorted & soaked


it was fingertips burned numb,

measuring from memory.

flour caked under cuticles

& fried chicken cooling

on Sunday’s paper.

it was calloused palms,

a wood-handled knife,

& potatoes peeled, the skins

curling and coiling

away from the blade.


Yolanda Pruitt is a poet born and raised in South Phoenix, Arizona. She is the youngest child and only daughter of her father, who is a cook, custodian and bus driver. In 2010 she moved to Madison, WI to attend UW-Madison as a recipient of the First Wave Urban Arts Scholarship. In 2013, out of the writing workshops she participated in under the scholarship program, she produced and published a chapbook called Black November, a memoir of poems grappling with the absence and subsequent death of her mother, familial addiction and other childhood trauma. These themes, which have shaped her life, are what compelled her to begin writing poetry in her early teens and she hopes to inspire young black and brown women to view their art as a form of autonomy, to tell their own stories and their own words. She is currently teaching Special Education in Minneapolis and working on her next project. 

Yo Mama & Nem- Issue One

Yo Mama & Nem seeks to highlight poems written about or by mothers. This issue focused on things that we do (and do not) inherit from the mother figures in our lives.

A Haiku Love Letter for Gabby Douglas

Yalie Kamara

There was nothing for

 them to steal, so they tried to

take your heart & limbs.


Nappy wins the gold.

Hang each medal from your curls.

Your head is glory.


Tell them your name means:

 “woman that shames gravity,

makes air swallow self.”


         You smile with your eyes:

A twin to the glowing sun.

Sweet, Black, miracle.


The problem is you

love yourself whole. This is

a dangerous act.


They said focus on

your edges. They must have meant

both ends of the vault.


More awards than years    

of life-you are a syno-

nym for legacy.


Bend, but do not break.

Your backflip: a metaphor

for this whole, Black, life.


Gabby, come knock on

our doors. Ask us what we’ve named

our dolls and daughters.


While mothers pray for

your flight, babies watch your wings

caress gym skyline.


If you’d placed your hand

on your chest, then we wouldn’t

have heard your music.


We hold you close. Smile

when we touch the forests that

grow on our own heads.

Yalie Kamara is a first generation Sierra Leonean-American and native of Oakland, California. Prior to becoming an MFA candidate at Indiana University, she worked in the service of youth and adults all over the state of California in the areas of educational access, nonprofit management, and community-based art facilitation. She holds Bachelors of Arts degrees in Languages and Creative Writing from UC Riverside and a Masters of Arts degree in French from Middlebury College. Her work has been published in Vinyl Poetry and Prose, Entropy Mag, and Amazon: Day One.

Sestina for Bunny and Elijah (Poem 8)

Kisha Foster


Looking up into the blue sky, we see grey clouds

Puffed and fluffy looking;earth’s natural smoke

Billows above our heads, necks, backs, eyes penetrate

Squinting, searching for the wings of an angel

Fluttering our feet, stuttering against the sidewalk

Asphalt, it appears as a storm is brewing, a hurricane.


Living in Cleveland I don’t witness many hurricanes

I witness death cascading, looming clouds

Cast shadows on bloodied sidewalks

Bodies once flesh now rest in crematorium transitioning to smoke

People once mobile and emoting now angels

Flying or wafting watching with slits that penetrate.


When you died Bunny it was a piercing drop in my heart, penetrates

And thumps wildly when I ride down Wade Park feels like a Hurricane

Named after you my beloved friend, my wild and classy angel;

I always look to the sky expecting to see your smile peeking a boo through clouds

I think I’ll see you through the haze of loud, I swim through smoke

Searching for the first day we saw each other and smiled standing on the sidewalk


On Kinsman, we grew up very fast and with purpose standing on sidewalks

Showing assets and flashing teeth so pearly they would penetrate

Those who dared to stare; back then at 13 we wasn’t consuming smoke

We were tiny windstorms flailing brown arms creating hurricanes

We danced on tips and had attitudes heads tilted up towards the clouds

Now I dance alone and stifle tears in memory of you dear Willa, our angel


Though my baby Elijah was my first true angel

Being born in a hospital his blood is stained on the sidewalk

Outside of my old house where Bunny and I lived under storm clouds

On Avon;  you came to remove the doubt in my heart and penetrate

My soul into a new person, I am becoming the hurricane

I carried you, gave birth to you, then you left me in a whirlwind of smoke


Like the story in I and II Kings you were picked up and your remnants mimic smoke

I inhale it and choke on you everyday Elijah my evidence that angels

Are real and alive and dragonflies come bright and on purpose when its a hurricane

To remind our human selves to play hopscotch on sidewalks

Not railroad tracks or strange mens laps who selfishly want to penetrate

My love;  because of you Elijah I no longer ignore the grey clouds


I embrace the clouds and get lost in smoke

I penetrate my senses to get a glimpse at my angels

Closing my eyes standing on sidewalks waiting for the arrival of the Hurricane.

A nominee of the Cleveland Arts Prize, Kisha Nicole Foster is a poet, educator, coach, and mentor from Cleveland, Ohio. She studied English at Cleveland State University. Kisha has represented Cleveland several times nationally – competing at: National Poetry Slam 2003, Individual World Poetry Slam 2008, and Women of the World 2009. The Poets and Writers League of Greater Cleveland (now The Lit Center), awarded Kisha as one of the Top 25 Writers of Greater Cleveland in 2006. In 2010, KNF produced her first one – woman show, “Remember Rebirth WeLive”, for Black Poetic Society at the Cleveland Museum of Art. After self-publishing three works, Kisha was approached by Guide to Kulchur Press, in 2015, to publish her first full length collection of poems on their Vanguard Series, titled “Poems: 1999-2014”. KNF has featured at colleges and universities across Northeast Ohio and Eastern Indiana. She also consulted the College of Wooster CUPSI team, KnowEyeSlam for three years. This past summer she coached Cleveland’s national youth poetry slam team at Brave New Voices, in Washington D.C. in July 2016. She is a 2016 Fellow of Pink Door Writing Retreat, in Rochester NY. Currently she is a Fellow for Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library and Regional Coordinator for Poetry Out Loud – Northeast Ohio.  

Calling Card

Tehan Ketema

the day i found out about the cancer,

i let the sunlight fill up around me.

the bed sunk a little deeper,

and i started losing my father’s voice

in the spiraling.

i ran like hell to keep up.

i ran out the front door

trying to find an extra breath of anything.

when my grandfather got sick

i tried to send my heart across the atlantic.

but they held my luggage in new york before going overseas

for suspicious cargo upon eyeing the final destination.

it was the only thing i wanted for my birthday.

won’t they ever understand the worlds we have to fly between?

the strength of our ears to hear over the waves?

i cry for my family

but i have to pay for a phone card for them hear me,

to know that america hasn’t swallowed me whole.

that i have not left.

when my great-great grandmother passed,

i felt my bones shiver

before i ever got the call.

i knew that the matriarchy had lost its queen

and i cried walking out the theatre before the show ever began.

i attempted to walk home, but death makes you lose vision

so easily and quietly

like they said she left.

the salt was thick and ached out of my lids

i drank myself in photos of her

cheered to the Eritrea that loved her

when my tongue couldn’t shape


yefetweke abaye, yefkreke

Tehan Ketema is a first-generation Eritrean multi-media artist from Berkeley, CA. She is currently attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison through the First Wave Urban Arts and Hip-Hop Program. Her work mostly revolves around the intersections of her identity, and her Eritrean roots.

Twenty Two Years-

Hiwot Adilow

for Brandi & Bresha Meadows

of a man believing he could beat you,

as if you were his child because, to him, that’s love.

That’s what I lived with & if he kept living

& didn’t kill me I would have lived through

twenty two more years. Fifteen more hospital runs.

Three more children. More broken ribs.

Another restraining order torn in half,

crawling back into the house, hoping

he doesn’t kill me or my children

while we sleep.


You ask simple questions, like:

How could you have children

if you weren’t making love? Love,

I already said, was a bloody mouth.

My lip, split. His knuckle, cut.

A person always asks for openness

on the first date but you don’t ask for this.

Twenty two years I was taut. Stretched,

in his hands. I swore I would die. Tried

not to move too much, like a rat trapped

by the throat. Tried to run & he always

lulled me like a goat before its hacked.  

I’d say it was a switch but then you’d ask

what I did & why I didn’t             switch it back.


I used to ask this man to not keep his promises.

I used to stand in the middle of a promise

just to break the force before it fell

across my daughter’s skin & burst.  

I never fed the word abuse to my children.

Their father tore into them like he wanted

to drain my blood from their blood.    


My blood swarmed. Hummed

to the top of their flesh, deep & blue.

My blood, (re)introduced to the world

as a wound, would crust & grey.

Was it my blood that drove her to run?

Was it his blood that leapt & made her pinch

the trigger, for my sake? He gave us all an armor

of scars in the name of what he called

love.   You ask why   I didn’t leave I say

his hands were around my neck twenty four / seven,

even when I was alone.            Even now that he’s gone

I feel him everywhere & jump when I hear the front door unlock.

Hiwot Adilow’s poems have been published or are forthcoming in Winter Tangerine Review, Nepantla, The Offing, and Duende Literary. She has been featured reading her work on CNN, NPR, and Wisconsin Public Television. Hiwot is a Callaloo Fellow and member of the First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was born and raised in Philly.

A Spoonful of Sugar Helps

Alexis Smithers

               The past go down. Like a Mary Poppins purse of neverending, the past magics in ways you never expect, in ways you never ask for. You reach into your purse for the day you won the spelling bee and pull out a belt and stinging cheeks instead. Just because you carry the past around doesn’t mean it’s got to listen to you. It’s got it’s own plans for remembering.

               You reach for Scrabble and instead you get your grandparents’ house. We hide under the dining room table as the summer stench rips through the house. Even though everyone can see us we’re convinced they can’t. Something about invisibility–the need to disappear and how necessary it is for the one you’re disappearing from to play their part right.

              You reach for Disney marathons and instead you get the thick tree in the front yard of the others’ house. Where we climb before going back home, not kicking and screaming but guilting and vanishing before the parents’ eyes. We used to hide so we didn’t have to go back. But we always went back.

             You reach for the block party that always reminds you of Fat Albert and instead you get stained glass windows and hard brown church pews. White tablecloths and curtains and couches and carpet but it’s still dark like a shadow that won’t lift. A~ said you’d never give her dark. So you save it for yourself instead.

             You smell Grandma’s grits. It’s loud, foggy cause it’s early morning before school breakfast. There are cousins sisters brothers parents parents of parents smushed into Mama’s tiny kitchen. Backs pressed up against walls counters the fridge the table. Talking over one another. Demanding more food. Asking for news. Scheduling pick up and drop off times. The heat from crispy sausage and boiling grits makes all of the smothering swelter. T pours sugar into his grits and when everyone’s back is turned and you do the same. You are instant regret. Try to choke it down because you don’t have a good enough reason not to. You’re on the side of the table where you can’t run. Here you are bottom of the alley stuck. It’s sister’s turn to be on the safer outside, where she can get out if she needs to. Right now, you cannot run from the things you cannot stomach.


You reach            in for an answer and get             this        your

grandmother pouring water in her               juice to lose

weight. Joy smiling,              telling you, “You’re very sweet.” Powdered

white       packed on stacks of pancakes. Your grandmother pouring clear        to

water herself down.        Kissing Rose’s cheek to see       if it tastes like

vanilla ice cream. You pouring               water into yourself to                 blur

     paste the past down. You hold               these in your hands        and the purse

snaps                 under the weight of it all. Turns to sugar                           when

you reach for     what remains. You eat             the sugar so

you can carry it with you and                                             you


Alexis Smithers is queer black creator in the DMV. A 2015 Pink Door Fellow and 2016 LAMBDA Literary Emerging Fellow, their work can be found in Up the Staircase Quarterly, Freezeray Poetry, and Glass: Poetry among others. They tweet at DangerLove12 and their website is

Talkin About Chicago

Brittany Spaulding

after Jayne Cortez

Talkin about Chicago                                                                     fitting in and growing out

about the closing schools                                                              & sons who sell drugs in basements

& open fires                                                                      & sons with NBA careers         elsewhere

& open caskets                                                                 The handcuffs

& closed eyes                                                                    the cut-off circulation

The prayer                                                                                        the amputated helping hands

the God-fearing                                                                                Talkin about the gentrification

the fear                                                                                               the new Chicago

The clock’s heartbeat                                                                       Downtown, up north, lake shore or wherever sprinkles of Black people live

sounds a lot like bass                                                                       In low-income housing with barbwire fences towered by thousand-dollar condos

but ain’t nobody dancing                                                                 & I wait for them to build a border

this time                                                                               & gangs fight over who the wall belongs to

Melody and murder are synonymous

& synonymous is another word

for too familiar

If you’re tired of reading this kinda poem

I’m just as tired of writing it

Being left             out

of the joke, not knowing

the secret handshake


about the difference between

Brittany is a Chicago native, a Chihuahua enthusiast, and yo favorite cousin