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 lexleecom.wordpress.com.

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