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
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)
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.
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-
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
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 lexleecom.wordpress.com.
Talkin About Chicago
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