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.

Lauren Yates

Motherfucker

 

I.

The Oxford English Dictionary first cites use of “motherfucker” in 1889. At the trial of Levy v. State, the killer testified that he was called a: “motherfucking, bastardly son-of-a-bitch.” The Court pardoned this man’s bloodthirst: he had earned the right to slash open his accuser with righteous indignation.

 

They say black slaves invented “motherfucker.” It referred to the white men that had raped their mothers. It was easier to call the slave master “motherfucker” than “father.” Easier to reduce him to an act of lust than thank him for giving you life.

 

II.

The three worst things to call a man are motherfucker, bastard, and son-of-a-bitch. Each insult stacks itself on a mother’s back. We smother her with our weight, call her children illegitimate, punish her sons for being half-woman.

 

In school, I was the only kid with a single mother. The only kid without pictures of her mother in a wedding dress.  The stay-at-home mothers worked every bake sale. As I passed by they would whisper: “Those kind of fathers never stick around.”

 

III.

My mother refuses to call herself the Other Woman. The motherfucker had promised to leave his wife. I still can’t curse my father without dragging my mother through the crossfire.

 

My father has reclaimed motherfucker. When my mother would tell him to man up and raise me, he said he was just the sperm donor. It was easier to reduce himself to an act of lust than admit he gave me life.

 

IV.

They say “motherfucker” was the worst thing a black slave could be called. It meant rapist, it meant monster that thinks black people should be whipped, traded, and sold.  

 

My mother asks me what it is like to date white men, if wanting it rough feels too much like life on the plantation. When I tell her my white boyfriend dumped me for calling him “rapist,” she says, “That has nothing to do with me.” She had learned these words from my father each time he got her pregnant.

 

V.

How dare anyone accuse him of penetrating someone’s mother, of beckoning hell without a wedlocked baby blanket, of suckling milk from the breast of an impossible woman.


Baptism

 

When I was baby, my father took me to get my ears pierced. I could not have been more than a year old. I can picture my mother turning red, steam coming out of her ears, like a cartoon character. I know this fury, the way she saws your name through her teeth. She says I used to wear magnet earrings. The backs were little square magnets glued to my earlobes. Matching my earrings to my outfit was as simple as putting a report card on the fridge. After high school, I went two years without wearing earrings. The holes never closed up; I would be stuck with them forever. My grandmother used to wear earrings to bed, heavy costume jewelry. One night they tore from her ears. She has a small line in each ear from the hole to the tip of the earlobe. She never got re-pierced; instead, she wears clip-ons. She says a woman is supposed to have pierced ears, that it is better I did it young. As if I didn’t get pierced before I could speak, the choice made for me a secular baptism.


Proof My Parents Once Had Things In Common

 

I.

During the Gel Pen Boom of 1999, I wrote my book report

on Lydia, Queen of Palestine. Every few pages, Lydia’s mother

would call her ex-husband’s new girlfriend “That Woman.”

Loyal daughter she was, Lydia named her ugliest doll

“That Woman,” a witch she always killed off in fires.

 

My mom called my dad’s new wife by her name.

She bit back insults with a stubborn dignity,

like a Death Row inmate refusing her last meal.

 

If Mom had recognized her, we would have picked

a different line. Just the thought of “That Woman” knowing

what groceries we buy, or seeing Mom without makeup.

 

As they ricocheted niceties, I noticed a woman

with an epic wedgie. I whispered about it to Mom.

“Don’t make fun of that woman,” she said. She looked

toward my dad’s new wife, as if staging a photograph.

Normally, she would have laughed.

 

Once the PR stunt was through, Mom explained:

I couldn’t let her think we were talking about her.

 

II.

At the roller rink on Christian Skate Night, my dad

gave his Kirk Franklin CD to the DJ. He spun and spun

in the middle of the floor, while I clutched onto the railing.  

 

When he lost his balance, he propelled himself toward me,

and pulled us down to the ground. “What’d you do that for?”

I yelled. Then, he told me, “If you’re already going down,

you might as well pull down someone you love.”


Lauren Yates is an introverted Leo who lives in West Philadelphia. When she isn’t researching how microaggressions impact queer people of color, Lauren spends her time writing and performing poems. She has an uncanny ability to name that tune from only a bassline and can find parallels between any two things, no matter how unrelated they are. For more information, visit http://www.laurentyates.com.

Denise Ervin

Game On

“The game is on.”

The phrasing is ambiguous.

Basketball, baseball, hockey…

the format matters less than the words;

my father’s feeble attempt

to find masculinity in his baby girl,

to connect with the son he never had

in the daughter that always wanted to please him.

This is what love sounds like:

 

not raised voices

punctuated by slamming doors,

parenthesized by contrariness

and bubbling over with enough tears to trouble still waters.

We don’t wallow or wade;

we build a bridge

with offensive lines

and defensive strategies.

This is what love is made of.

 

Together,

we have prepared a revolution

in the form of a touchdown.

Our anthem is a fight song.

We pad our vigor with vim,

turn victory into the standard

by which all things life are measured.

We converse through competition.

This is the language love speaks.

 

We approach home plate, half court,

and any opposition

with the same level of confidence.

This is where we score.

This is where we win.

This is where we prove we are the strongest, the fastest, the best.

This is how we love…

No matter who judges, or scoffs, or misunderstands,

our game is always on.


Denise R. Ervin in a creative writer hewn from the streets, classrooms, and boardrooms of the city of Detroit. Formally educated in both literature and business, she works in corporate America by day and as an adjunct college professor at night. Her work focuses on the experiences of those who look, live, and love like her and she has spent more than a decade supporting local open mics in addition to crafting full-length novel projects. Most recently, Denise has been working on elevating the performance of her writing and has become active in slam competition. Her poetry chapbook (A Glimpse of My Soul) and novel (Prelude to Praise: A Word of Testimony) can both be found on Amazon.com.