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.


             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…]


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.

Rasheed Copeland

One Good Lung


There, in a humble polis of copper skinned folk

I watched a pair of old fools forge a bond in chain smoke.

This was in the nadir of a nationwide exiling

that banished all the other men from their houses

and replaced them with a government stipend.  

Somehow, by either pride, or miracle, these two

did not become expatriates of their easy chairs

but instead remained relics from an ilk of male negroes

whose skin was once made of real leather,

took the one good lung they had between them

and weathered their extinction

never wasting a single ration of breath

on luxuries, such as saying I love you

but opted to let a borrowed stem of cancer

from their personal bouquets utter such sweet nothings.

Would not admit it, but requited their love with poems

not those of pen and pad because ink costs

and to be their type of black and man

was to have pockets that kept an incurable echo,

but the kind that conveyed vividly, a greyed man

asleep on his couch, a bushel of his buddy’s offspring

blanketing the floor with the television gazing into their eyes

while their pop is away combing the streets

trying to spin his lint into silk or at the very least

take the thinnest of air and somehow extract from it,

a gallon of milk.

I mean poems that know the difference

between rhetoric and imagery

ones that do not tell of the petty dick measuring

that never kept them at each other’s throats,

but those that without warning, poured the malt libation

down your neck and stung your throat

in the exact spot it would holler in theirs

as the bottle of flame mediated their silly spats

and melted the icecaps of their shoulders

ushering in the first warmth of drunkenness

like the first warmth of Spring

reminding me of my own misfortune

how I become a tundra whenever I think

of how my homies hate poetry.

Rasheed Copeland is a native of Washington, DC. He is a father and a husband.  He is the author of The Book of Silence:  Manhood As a Pseudoscience (Sergeant Press, 2015) and was a recipient of the 2016 DC Commission of the Arts and Humanities Fellowship Award.  He placed 2nd in the world at the 2015 Individual World Poetry slam. He is currently studying English at the undergraduate level at Howard University in his junior year.

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.



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