Michelle Dodd

Fur

She calls petting,

grooming,

White washing,

curiosity

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,

Anything

That would remove

Her white hands,

From something

That is not

theirs.


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

 

Mama

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

here

before.

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

Girl,

Mama raised the

 

Sea

 


 

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,

smiling
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.

Ebony Isis Booth

10 Reasons Why Your Right Eye Is Twitching

1

The French press of dark roast

in a travel thermos, sweetened

with amaretto liqueur before 10 am.

2

The letter from the IRS kindly

thanking in order to inform, this

year’s over-payment will be

conveniently applied to

’07, ’08, ’09.

3

The tax refund you get for

raising your baby sister’s babies

should not pay for the sins of

the woman you thought you were

a decade ago.

4

This is penance.

5

Your story is a uniform worn for

strangers. Spring weather is too

warm for cloaks, too bright to

hide your shame.

6

You can feel the fibroids

tugging your uterus up and

over themselves, settling into the

warmth. But, you have not told a soul

except your accountant, who held you

close and prayed as you wept. She

noticed the tremble in your voice and

hand when she tore the check.

She saw you.

7

You are surrounded by laundry,

almost constantly.

8

You are jealous of their freedom. They

are data points pinged from towers

across state lines with no budget for

gas, activities or snacks. They are text

messages of good will, dredged in guilt.

Relieved voice mail messages.

Proof of life in your palm, your phone

a grenade.

9

You tanked another deadline. You are

afraid that you might be as brilliant as

you pretend. And, who will watch the

children and ignore the laundry while

you are away, breathing your own air?

10

You are supposed to write, and cry

and drink about all of it today. You are

supposed to know when to say no to

the ice cream man. Explain why there is

no money or necessity for year books

in elementary school. Teach the concept

of never versus forever to children who

are younger than your debt.


Black Girl In Therapy

When you describe how black women / specifically / had their bodies and all cavities inspected / in addition to their hair grabbed / and slathered with lard / to prevent lice on auction blocks to your therapist / and she cries when you tell her that you are a descendant of this fact / but you don’t cry with her / because you can’t cry every time a white woman with kind eyes is hurt for your black life / or when one tries to touch your hair again or silence you / and it’s 2017 and 45 is in office / and you’re trying to raise a care-free black girl with mahogany skin and adamant curls in a school where she is the only one of herself  / and she misses her momma / and everybody wants to know if your pain is real / because they can’t believe you haven’t just up and died yet / and neither can you / and they will tell you it’s your fault for being beautiful / and you can’t make them understand that there is a bloodline of women who look just like you in other states that you don’t talk to / and you miss them all / and you can’t remember why you didn’t get your hair wet that day at the beach when you were seven and wearing your mother’s grief / and you don’t want to.


Ebony Isis Booth is a 2006 National Poetry Slam Champion, and recipient of Westword’s Mastermind Award in Literary Arts for her work as hostess of Café Nuba; Ebony Isis Booth is committed to her work. Since relocating to Albuquerque in early 2015, Isis has continued to fuel her drive toward art-ivism as Programs & Communications Coordinator for Harwood Art Center while simultaneously writing and performing original poetry and prose; heralding social justice, self love, and perseverance in and around New Mexico. In 2016, Ebony celebrated the inaugural edition of Burque Noir, a multimedia performance and art showcase centered around Black artists in New Mexico. Ebony Isis Booth serves on the Board of Directors for YWCA New Mexico as a steward of the organization’s mission, “Eliminating racism. Empowering women.”

Sarah Myles Spencer

Says the Blood to the Slave Trader

 

I saw you there once,

head, cloud thick,

smoking your ruins.

 

There is a room and a loneliness

inside it. A black         hole

itch I cannot reach.

 

A piece

 

missing.

 

All the mestizo in one room;

an island, chamber

of a gun. Who did we see

if not for ourselves?

 

Girl.

Ache.

Skin.

Revolt.

 

Small death in a new  tongue.

A song for each haunted

daughter and son.

 

First       born.

First       to see.

First       stolen.

 

I am the one

you forgot, Spaniard.

The low howl. Night

skin. Big mouth grin.

 

A blood witch

unknown to her

own power. Still

will never crawl.

 

No         rope.

No         chain.

No         whip.

 

I have already died

as many deaths

as the body can. I am

a room full, ocean

 

floor of limbs, slow

translation. There is

nothing common

 

in this blood. Rumor

is it lingers. Can spit

itself back into body.

 

Back into what survives.

 

Did you know I could

 

 

levitate?

 

 

I built this room.

Everything in it

 

is mine.


Sarah Myles Spencer is a mama, poet, singer/songwriter who’s worked with a variety of artists, including Snoop Dog, E-40, and (the late) Davy Jones. A multi-time Best of the Net Nominee and Pink Door Fellow, her work appears in Drunk in a Midnight Choir, A La Palabra: The Word is a Woman Anthology – Mothers & Daughters, Words Dance Magazine, Requiem Magazine, and more. For more info, visit www.sarahmylesspencer.com

Nelly Bess

Black Joy

 

How uncomfortable are you

That there is nothing to police here

 

How violent we are to love each other to death

Our laughs a group of hostages killed by compliments

That held us up

 

Before you made the sidewalk have to

 

Ain’t it criminal for us to steal this moment

Robbery how we pickpocketed each other’s pain

 

The corners of a smile

Become two hands in a stick up

Forced to show everything it got

 

Teeth the only white thing in the room


Jersey raised poet Nelly Bess believes all people are living libraries from which we can learn from. Her mission as an artist is to take words from the page and transform them into lyrical protest. As an organizer Nelly believes in the power of art to educate and build stronger communities. In pursuit of this mission, Nelly has created and facilitated a series of programs for young people as well as adults that use poetry and music to help them find their voices as change agents in their communities.

Tammaka Staley

“Magik”

 

Once,

  I was lake wading for men with shallow hearts.

  ones still wet behind the ears.

  still sewer and salt, never saline.

  still thirsting for a good thing when a good thing already

  riddles in their throats. Parched be their alter egos

  still making homes in places they aren’t deep enough to survive in.

 

Then,

 

  I became ocean

  mystic and full. tides, thick like Ceto.

  rendering a spell, a sea creature’s whisper in wind,

  luring them all ashore

  to drown.


Tammaka Staley is a poet, teaching artist, advocate, and bachelor level social worker. She is a resident of Columbia, SC and has been writing and performing poetry for several years. Tammaka actively works in the Columbia community with poetry and youth organizations like OneWord Columbia and University of South Carolina TRIO programs. She is also the 2017 co-champion for the annual Queen of the South Poetry Slam. She has performed as a featured artist at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts during the 2016 National American College Dance Festival in Washington, D.C., and has performed in multiple venues across the country. She has work featured in the Huffington Post, HuffPost Black Voices, and SELF Magazine. Tammaka wants people to love on purpose and eat mo’ ice cream.

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.