Wes Matthews


the body’s sinking twists into anatomical grounds

weakened with a flesh temper to give torque

was called love throughout the open front.


this was a boy’s war story—finding new ways to twist

for the ground to cave.

Tenses of Gone


For my foreclosed house of birth, which still stands.


The days bestowed no ode

when the nights made them.


This was around the same time I wondered how hours

work. This was around the same time I learned how my dad works.

Everyday, he went to unique hands of hour

like he hated the last one or each one

& hung his glum coat on its ruby rack—

one day he came home

clutching a little white slip with matte red stamping

before it milled in the purple-hip flame.


This is the day I learned what vanish means.

For some reason, when I learned a new verb that action would

dull one of our possessions down to buckling shadow.

Our sheepskin rug.

Our smooching brown leather couch.

The way we held hands at the dinner table.

Sometimes a smile,

Dad many more days.



I spent ___ on end staring at the hardwood palate,

wondering if the mud-hemmed

roof would yawn

in the wake of a stormy day.


& while I regret not finding out

I do remember the cadence of my father’s footsteps up the staircase.



Somedays they vanished. Somedays they never came.

Wes Matthews is a 2016 & 2017 Detroit Youth Slam Team member.

JR Mahung

There Are Rules in Life


like be kind. put the toilet seat down after use.

wear shoes and a shirt to receive service,

do the right thing always. even when you don’t know

which thing is the right thing. the onus is on you to do it—


it’s like my dad did. or tried to do. or tried

to teach me as he said this is not a beating

it is a spanking and boy there is a difference— sometimes

but always in that chasm is some kind of lesson.


the night before my college graduation,

i am getting ready to stop. after my third glass of straight tequila,

which i had after my first glass of straight tequila,

which i had after a margarita. all of which i had after 5 beers.


and i remember there are rules to this shit

i promised my sister i would stop after 3,

figured it’s all good so long as i paused

after every third drink but this is not how rules work.


my dad watched his dad and his uncles,

who i call my uncles, each drown their consciousness

shallow in bottles. he promised his father

he would never drink. in the gaps

between whips of his belt dad said don’t


you ever. lie. to me. ever. again.

and somewhere in there is a lesson.

my sister says i take after my uncle,

slender with a back that bends forward


like a coconut tree in the breeze,

the one who, daily, drinks himself into

a place of peace. i drink when i feel pieces of myself


drifting. sometimes it takes leaving yourself to

leave behind hurt as well. but i’m waking up

in the morning and isn’t that it’s own discipline?


once, my other uncle once sliced a fresh, fat avocado with his breakfast


dropped his eyes down to where the beans lay on his plate

cut the silence only to say, you know boy

we’re all screwed up. every damn one of us.

when i was a kid i played a game. pretended


that each member of my family had died. the rule was

that i stopped once i drew real tears.

it always ended on my dad’s turn.

now that i am older i only imagine his eulogy


i’d like to say that he was a man who did the right thing.



like i did the right thing.

even when i did not know

what the right thing was.

even when the both of us were wrong.

The Author Explains JJ Fish & Chicken to His Younger Siblings OR the Chicken Shack as Church OR Angels With 6 Piece Wings



imagine everyone that once held you


their hands trembling


as they wished the whole world open at your arrival


consider those who carried them before


and those who carried them


seated at a table wide enough for us all


& we are a cascade of hands clasped


a row of heads bowed


may we pray our wonder bread soak the chicken grease just right


that our wings come with more than 3 of those small ass containers of mild sauce


that our fries stay crunchy from the shack to home


this chicken joint right here ain’t just no restaurant


the sound of wings anointing in the oil of canola


smell of lemon pepper salt a prelude to how it will soon swirl across your tongue


grease dripping from the walls


back in the day we had jj’s maybe once a week


or once a month depending what money came in from daddy work


he bought enough wings to keep us fed for the night


a tray of fifty would keep us on


through to the next morning


before school we watched the fries


& other fried things warming in the oven


some okra on occasion if we was feeling fancy


pack it in some foil with a tortilla from gram & there’s lunch


i know you seent a service before



tell me


what is more holy than this


gathering all that you love


& asking it to feast on its own joy


the crunch of manna sounding like its own psalm


a soul stirrers serenade like sam ain’t ever left from this earth


singing something bout six wings


& a lord of plenty


a lord of the forever seconds


of the sweet baby ray’s for when the mild sauce run out


of the bulletproof glass at the shop’s counter


may it be to protect our wings from the devil’s theft


may we unwrap our erasure from our own mouths


replace it with a gospel holy as our black


may that gospel be black as south side


as the lot next door


rubble from the house fire n all


sitting atop the dirt


like it ain’t no ground holy enough to keep us under


like this soil is only what our ancestors grew us up out of


like we growing right here til we grow wings for flight


like we only flying nearer to our lord


never away from nothing


& each word from our lips is holy


holy                    praise be


to the Southside


to JJ’s


to these wings

LaShawn Smith-Wright

You Can’t Tame This O-Pression

“The most disrespected woman in America, is the black woman. The most un-protected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America, is the black woman.”- Malcolm X


I use the loose thread in my weave

to sew my mouth shut

Feel my dignity crawl

up in my tracks and stay there

my mouth as straight as my bangs

Everyone judges me before I even open

Call me o-presser

For being 1B and woman in one pack


It ain’t real

The innocence in my scalp

be 100% human while the rest of me be nothing

I wonder how they’ll tame me this time

Maybe curl some obedience in my spine

Iron out my sass

Blow my clapback to the wind


They grip the edges when they see me

Know the pressing comb I got to face

to look like them

They ain’t seen bruises like mine

Aint seen my body a picture they use to paint

Dyed me so much I don’t remember my original color

They always want to use my color

Make me blonde and bleached and less human

But I stay the same unbreakable


Combs break in my naps

Yield to my cocoa roots

My hair be blue magic

that white girl stole

assimilated, made her own

Bonneted away with culture

Called for black afro picks

and made gentrification

I am a product of too much product

Be a bad perm from a salon I am not allowed in

I be ‘just for me’ made for them

Every kink they can they detangle

Moisturized ebony they squeeze into

My hair is bantu they knot having

Dreads they lock up

Poetic license for they justice

A version of conformity they stick in a fro


I be authentic

Made from cocoa butter and mama sweat

To lay just right

In a scalp that felt so much disrespect

it can only be black

My hair be decolorized black

Made in America

for white women who can’t even enunciate the naps

pronounce the curls

highlight the struggle

My hair be a movement

the melanin challenged can’t follow

Be a hustle they can’t braid through

It lay like african soil

Grow like poplar tree

Sway with the wind

Catch the shade just right


My hair be stubborn

Be protest

Be uncontrollable

Edge slick with olive oil


“bee mine”

“As I am”

“Au Naturale”

“A gift of dreams”

everyone wants for them but not me

My hair is my culture

It’s getting finessed too


Made white girl’s own

Till nothing is left for me

I am being taken



LaShawn Smith-Wright is  a college freshman originally from Detroit, MI. she loves spending time around other poets ready to develop their craft and share their story which isn’t an available experience at her college. Regardless of this she still loves poetry and writes daily. All in all I am someone who loves telling my story in everything I do.

YaKuZa Moon

Botched Autopsy of the North End 


no head of the family


in this neck of the




grab the liter by the neck

and roll a wood.


no heart of lion


in the seven mile savannah



heart of gold

traded for cash

cuz what if Nana need surgery


no eye of tiger

on the floors of the forest



eye of storm

hope it don’t stop raining.






my hood not so snowflake.

in the sense that we all die the same.


or died the same.


grandad crawled into the hole of our house–


passed out


then away.


‘nough ‘rillo wrappers to circle infinity a hundred thousand times


‘nough local rappers for everybody mixtape to go platinum in heaven.


my hood not so glorious.

in the sense that our revenge is justice.


or just revenge.

Epitaph for the Skinny Nigga in My Gym Class; Who’s Not Really Dead Just in Suspended Animation From an Unfinished Game of Freeze Tag. (they was shooting)




Hey you,

project baby pantomime,

you can stop waving your arms now


ain’t nobody finna pick you,

you too lil.


take this time to pick the mulberries out of your hair.


or pirouette from Alabama red clay to Detroit jungleless concrete




this isn’t exactly the saga of some sage okay?

we burn that round here.

‘round Nana house we burn lots of things


like hair.

and grits.

and roaches.

and blunts.

and bridges.

and bridgecards.


I’m talm’bout

the rainbow-colored,





thick summer


full of

shotgun nostrils


12 raids and

12 gauges at

12 years old




my only care in the world

was catching a stray,

all the mangy cats

in my alley

love to play.

live to play.


like to follow me home and shit


but never wipe their feet at the door

hell, they never even come inside


they insist that the floor is lava’

and I coulda sworn wasn’t no

volcanoes in the village


much less a mound that is not hollow


but nevertheless,

magma is bubbling under us

and there are no rafts,

just floating cadavers

with eyes of obsidian

and they all look like my cousin

we don’t talk about anymore.


colored boys learn we are monsters

‘round the time we stop calling it

hide and seek

and start calling it



‘round the time we notice our girlfriends

been wearing out their wrists

with games of ‘wring around the rosary’

and red light blue light’

and double dutch with bullwhips

and hopscotch with investigation chalk


to win rained on streetlight memorial teddy bears


our corners erode without corporals




so here’s to you,


cryogenic crybaby


ghetto stained glacier statue


you the hardest nigga of all time,


and you betta be grateful,


sure wish I could deepfreeze my empathy


swallow my mangled manhood


untuck my strap


cuz when everybody dies this summer


your neck won’t get any blacker


your torso won’t be red and wet


your tears won’t shed, or slide, or pool or puddle.


they will freeze into forevermore.

Ashley Rae


An Ex Calls    A Dropped Call    And 8 Months Later


You’ve only ever known love in hindsight.

The shrinking of your hometown

from the back window of a two story bus–

The flat line of your grandmother’s EKG

as you exit the hospital parking structure–

Slamming of screen door and

screeching of tires against pavement

while you stand speechless with the ring in your palm.

You always pumped the brakes too soon.

Yet you saw your heart in the rearview mirror and kept driving.


You; a sad reality check.

You only want it once it’s gone.

Once you can’t cage it anymore.

You be tale of caution.

Of whiskey and wind.

And forgotten promises.


You; a story for the attic.

For the stubborn and indecisive.

You wouldn’t know what you wanted if it was on its palms

begging you not to walk away.


You beginning to look like pity.

Like trembling bottom lip and untrustworthy knees.

You titanium in small doses.

Sounds all big and bad but still malleable.

You ain’t never been bigger than your own pride.

You got half a mind, apologized,

then called it a waste of time.



center of your own universe.

You the smallest microorganism on the most make-believe of planets.

You “sorry”.

and for the first time

No one cares.

Michelle Dodd


She calls petting,


White washing,


She said, “doesn’t your hair come straight,

I mean from the store”

Which is to say

She thinks

My hair is an invitation

For a passive aggressive,

“I just want your black hair to do a good hair, I mean white hair thing,

Like, can’t it be less animal?

Can you just be trained already?”


Wild doesn’t mean beautiful, or strong, or thick in America.

To be wild, means to be hung.

She suggested I wear my hair in a ponytail.

Nevermind how easy it is, for white hands to mistake rope for hair ties.

So I’m not surprised that she touched my hair,

Like it belongs to a house nigga from the south.

She pet me like,

I’ll be just another hashtag soon,

Like I was born dirty, and didn’t know how to brush the curl away,

As if the curl is a virus to be rid of.

She laughed as she asked,

“Is this okay?”

Disregarding any answer,


That would remove

Her white hands,

From something

That is not


Michelle is a spoken word artist who loves slamming. She has been on Slam Richmond’s adult team in 2013, that went to the National Poetry Slam. She was also on The Writer’s Den Slam Team in 2016, that attended Southernfried (the largest regional competition in the USA for slam poetry). In 2017, she became one fifth of The Writer’s Den Poetry Slam Team, that is going to represent Richmond, Va at Southernfried and the National Poetry Slam. She is currently one of the coaches of the Virginia Union University slam team, and was recently named as the Program Director for The Writer’s Den LLC. Michelle also attended The Watering Hole Writing Retreat in December of 2016. She works with local schools, from elementary grades to high school, hosting writing workshops. When she isn’t doing poetry, Michelle is a mentor for Art180 in Richmond,Va.

Evolve Benton

East Oakland

The city smells like

cream and sugar.
Starbucks on the corner
where residents need to sleep.

Starbucks on the corner
where residents used to work.
Starbucks on the corner
the local donut shop used to lease.

The local donut shop
fed the neighborhood.
The neighborhood doesn’t
get fed anymore.

The neighborhood can’t
sleep anymore.
A white man
rides his bike
to the Starbucks on the corner.

The first white man I’ve seen
here in five years.
The white man almost runs me over.

He buys me a cup of coffee.
The barista asks me,
how do you like your coffee?
I tell him, Black!

Evolve Benton is a black and queer writer from Los Angeles, CA.  Evolve is a social justice educator and the Assistant Director at the University of California, San Francisco Multicultural and LGBT Resource Center where they focus on the retention and access to equity for underrepresented student health professionals.  They hold a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Antioch University of Los Angeles. Evolve lives with their family in Oakland, CA.  Their writing has appeared in the Dillard Review (2008), Trans bodies, Trans Selves (2014) and Outside the XY: Queer Black and Brown Masculinity (2016).

Twitter: https://twitter.com/evolvebenton?lang=en


Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/evolvebenton/

Claudia Owusu

Come to the Edge



greets the sun like

he the homie from the block

she ain’t seen in awhile”

                       –Nasra Adem


I was born boiling

under the heat of a West African sun at 1:30 p.m

sweat pouring like bountiful rivers of

coconut milk at the beach.


I was born in an exchange

with a father whose one leg

remained in one country, and the other

in another.

pacing back and forth under the brim of world

cup tournaments      where national allegiance

came into play. I was born i n the womb of a

mother whose body symbolized sex

smooth   mocha

complexion sweltering like orange stones on

dirt paths–

resilient neck reflecting the

testimony of the sun within the kiosk of an

electric fanned hair salon–


her glory ended

and began there.


throngs of women  arriving with stories of

their men on their tongues. leaving with the

smell of pink oil and dark & lovely relaxing

creams conversing on the strands of their baby hairs.


I was born speaking in tongues, justifying

arguments with adults at the top of stairwells

throwing worlds like baited fish on the cracks

of my teeth. young girl–not quite young, been



seven year old girl mimicking Mama’s sex

appeal because that is all she knows.


with mini skirts and bare back tops

and afro beats on radios under harmattan heat


it was all birthed anew on long car rides to kebab bars

with the smells of guinness bottles and marital violence

evacuating innocence.

Mama ain’t raise no innocent


Mama raised the





Your mother; or All the Mothers that I’ve Ever Secretly Wished Were Mine


i fold myself into the corner of the four inch room

as you run your fingers over the seasoned piano like

the spirals on a 2 ply notebook. you tell me about your

mother–how she used to chug her warm beers seated

on a mahogany bench before the black and white beast,

the living room light growing small with each gulp as she got

really into Alicia Keys and cried–her emotions spilling out

of her chest like a tornado in a Louisiana storm/ seamless and rigid.

you say this and I peer at you, stretching my finger to the lines

of your forehead as you play / you don’t seem real and i fold

my arms into perfect creases on my knees as your music swells

over my head .

the heavenly

gates open and tears bloom out of my eyelids like freight trains

under the safe sheet of mourning,

my shoulders heaving

my sobs echoing

the ways in which I am sure angels lament their immortality.

you ask me if I am okay. you say that my laughter

the way it moves through sadness, hard and stable,

i say, this?
it’s nothing.

Claudia Owusu is a Sophomore at Otterbein University, studying Creative Writing. She loves the color mustard yellow, and just recently turned 20. She thinks the number itself looks pretty old.

Belal Mobarak

A Son from North Africa


My cousin arrived a month ago

I tell him living here is not so bad

unless you are Black.

He asks, do I pass for Black?

I say I do not think so             maybe

I would mistake you for Dominican

which is to say  yes you are Black

unless you are not

what I’m trying to say is I do not know

if you are in danger.


A 19 year old immigrant asks

for help on his college application

his skin is a shade darker than mine

and didn’t speak the language but knew

to check off White on the application.


In my office another student tells me

he is West African

I tell him I’m Egyptian

His face lights up with a smile and says,

I am from the Ivory Coast.

His smile disappears  leans in and says,

You do not know where it is do you?

Brother, you beat us in the African Cup.


A Somali woman asked me

Why do Egyptians think they are not in Africa?


In a restaurant the waitress tells us

her name is Sanaya

I want to tell her I love your name

it is my grandmother’s

What I am trying to say is when

my friend Kareem asked me to translate

Chris Rock’s jokes into Arabic

he didn’t laugh at the jokes or my bad translation

he looked dazed and said

Is he talking about us?

Belal Mobarak was born in Alexandria, Egypt. Raised in Queens. As a middle child, writing is how he learned to finish his stories and poetry is how he learned to tell them with the least amount of words. Recently selected as a finalist in Brutal Nation’s Competition for Writers of Color. You can find his work published in Columbia Poetry Review, Newtown Literary, Blueshift Journal, and forthcoming work in DMC, Flock and Apogee Journal. He currently works for Higher Education in New York City.

Azia Armstead

Ode to the Dirt

I walk barefoot in my grandmother’s

yard to be soiled in your purity.

Mother of land oceans cannot

swallow, creator of town and tomb.

You sky for the dead,

ground for the living.

You allow everything to have

a backbone. When I hold you

I am praying with my hands open.

You fall through the spaces in between

my fingers & take the shape of what

the air bends you into.

Here with my feet submerged in the

all of you, you have a way of speaking

to me. Telling me that the

earth & I are like sisters.

Our skin the hue of both

mud & water.

Bad Luck


You got a roommate

he’ll hear what we do.

It’s only awkward if you’re fucking him too

– Frank Ocean


When I heard you


making her orgasm


I thought


maybe you came


home drunk                             again,


stumbled into the


wrong dark room

& fell into a


hole you couldn’t


tell wasn’t                    me.

Azia Armstead is a poet based in Richmond, Virginia. She currently studies English at Virginia Commonwealth University and is also a fellow of The Watering Hole. Her work has been published by JoINT. Literary Magazine.