black boy calls shotgun

without permission or probation. if you can judge the pedigree
of a windy day in April you may just get this.

the same boy endless and radiant and doing
exactly what a title as smooth as shea butter would suggest.

sprinting across what little grass the west side has
to brandish the opening of the passenger-side door like any velvet would.

both undead chivalry and coefficient of liberty. without a shadow of doubt,
the sky was made to play the auxiliary role of paparazzi and what a luxury

we have from this angle. spectators to baptisms. if it weren’t so obvious,
we would only have ourselves to thank, impressed by our own attendance.

i’m unaware of where this custom began, the one without canary-colored caution
tape, perhaps it was a window ledge or a fire escape, dark as a cloud

of exhaust, it could have just as well been as mute as a subpoena,
making quick work of the questions. in fact, i don’t have any.

for all i know i have no use for the ls in collateral, for all i know
this is why you should support black business–

because there is a kid down the street arrogant as a swift prayer
thinking their chores to be done, basking in the glint of permanence.

if the cops were to come tomorrow could you blame them? All of us children,
daring and brilliant with the certain kind of charm every baton envies.

 

Olatunde Osinaike is a Nigerian-American poet originally from the West Side of Chicago. He is Black, still learning and eager nevertheless. An alumnus of Vanderbilt University, his most recent work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Apogee, HEArt Online, Hobart, Glass, Anomaly Literary Journal, Puerto del Sol, and Columbia Poetry Review, among other publications. He is currently on the poetry staff of The Adroit Journal and can be found online at www.olatundeosinaike.com.

HOME VISIT WITH A WORKING WOMAN IN CUBA

She wishes she could beat the dust mites out of the rug
of this world. But she’s a woman, and her body is the inherited

fabric men wipe their boots on, woven and patched by generations
of furious women. Her hands are an ancestral tree, she names

each branch of herself on her fingers: wife, mother, grandmother,
student, professional worker, housewife, cook, maid, nurse.

She says poverty is not unusual, but a woman bears it like an anchor
in her uterus, cooking during blackouts, working all day in an office

while recipes to last the week bloom in their heads like math equations.
“Am I a good mother?” settles like dust, flies up under a nest of feathers,

settles again. I promise you, her fist attacks the air, the revolution worked!
She watched her husband sail off on a shoddy raft, her three children

at her side, growing steadily like vines along her hip, despite him.
He could leave, and good riddance, because now she had school,

the antidote to the poison of patriarchy injected in men since birth.
Women have always been a revolution within a revolution.

Still, the blockade cast its wide sticky net, and when she didn’t have
water to bathe, she daydreamed of pools in Miami, her pores drunk

on chlorine and her fingers wrinkling into a soft gauze.
She shakes her head, the gluttonous fantasy falls away, her steel eyes

polished with tears: she asks if we’re upset by her stories, if we realize
what she’s endured for five decades, if we understand

that solidarity must always stretch its reach towards women
until its socket pops. Pick up the broom and begin.

 

Anne Champion is the author of Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013), The Good Girl is Always a Ghost (Black Lawrence Press, 2018), and The Dark Length Home (Noctuary Press, 2017). Her work appears in Crab Orchard Review, Verse Daily, Tupelo Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Epiphany Magazine, Salamander, New South, Redivider, PANK Magazine, and elsewhere. She was a 2009 Academy of American Poets Prize recipient, a 2016 Best of the Net winner, and a Barbara Deming Memorial Grant recipient. She currently teaches writing and literature in Boston, MA.

Elementary

Most mornings I deliver my child
into the arms of strangers

who will lead him through passages
papered in apples and rainbows,

pencils and stars, each holding
a single name, the names’ owners a crush

shouting cascades of syllables, furious energy
heating the room, swallowing my joyful son.

Not safe to play outside today
—shadows hoard snow, perilous footing—

so they’ll gossip and make messes, grow
irritated with each other in a room

where one side is all glass, spilling
light over their worksheets and books,

their backpacks and tissue boxes
their chairs with grimy tennis-ball feet.

Their teacher is winter-tired. I feel it too,
walking home in the keen wind

through the silent neighborhood.
Behind me the school looms lightly

jutting out from a hill like a glacial castoff,
red boulder among pebble houses.

I don’t know the grit in my neighbors, just
their placid shells: yards and sensible siding,

cat under a pergola, dutiful recycling bins.
Landscape painted with smoke and pine sap.

Potted cypresses guard a red door.
Here’s a garage left open, a crisp flag,

a stack of pallets tenderly grazing a gutter,
old oak arresting the downward press of sky.

This afternoon, a shell cracks: something
brackish spurts. Fighting, maybe guns.

Police come. At the school locked doors,
lights turned out. No help for windows.

Later, my arms shaking around
the luscious weight of not this time,

I listen while my six-year-old explains,
calmly, as if there is no other way,

how they turned their desks into shields
“like Captain America,” how they huddled

near the sink where they wash away
paint and glue, how they were oh so quiet,

how today, they needed to be perfect.

 

Carolyn Oliver’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in FIELD, The Shallow Ends, The Greensboro Review, Booth, Gulf Stream Magazine, Tar River Poetry, Frontier Poetry, and elsewhere. A graduate of The Ohio State University and Boston University, she lives in Massachusetts with her family. Links to more of her writing can be found at carolynoliver.net.

Do Architects Name Their Buildings

Three minutes before the mudslide,
I sit in the gardenshed of you—
woodrot, pardoned
given to the carpenter ants.

I peel at plywood,
name my body a townhouse

built to be the walls of someone else.

 

 

One minute after the mudslide,
I am asked to qualify what happened
give it a name:

this is the passing, remembering
of something being built.

 

Three minutes after,
you name me stilt house,
call my body leggy and sound

not much to rebuild.

You ask me how I survived:
I show you the blueprints
pulled from your shelf.

 

Mariah Perkins is a poet originally from Grand Rapids, MI, where she came up at the best open mic around—The Drunken Retort. She is an MFA candidate at Wichita State University. Mariah is currently the Nonfiction editor at WSU’s literary magazines Mikrokosmos and mojo. Her work has appeared in fugue and Crack the Spine. You can also hear her work online through WYCE’s Electric Poetry.

 

 

Amy,

Picture the big
windy-soft
midcentury rain
rinsing the windows of
the San Fran hospital
where it’s the goofy
John Cage’s job
this afternoon to babysit
a roomful of kids whose
parents just
doors down are
dying, so silently
with his spindle arms
he mimes first
a fast breaststroke
against the window’s
water then,
even better, strikes
the roboto pose
of a broken clock,
his sputtering, spastic
hands snapping
back and forth between
5 and 3
o’clock, then 9 then
3 again, 11, and all
to get these poor
kids laughing—
and they like it,
they do—haywire, wilder,
the crackup pace
increasing, he’s
slinging sweat now
across the dimming room,
his face flush,
rusting from
the effort of enforcing
time in its ludic,
lyric mode,
time of no
one orphaned
and no one bereft, a kind
of metaphysical
childcare—
the kids rising to the sudden
lip of laughter now,
cinching their eyes and
stuffing shirt fronts
into their small
avid mouths
to stifle a sound
the rushing sense-
lessness of which
if we heard it
would strip us
utterly of custom
and warrant, like the sighing
curve cut
by stretcher tracks in ash
just fallen,
like the racket
toys make
when startled impossibly
into art…
But these kids, Amy,
they can’t make noise,
they’re in a hospital,
they know that, so
what are we
listening for?

 

Originally from Cleveland, OH, and a graduate of Oberlin College and Purdue University’s MFA program, Matt Kilbane is currently a PhD candidate at Cornell University. His work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Jacket2, DIAGRAM, the Best of the Net anthology, and elsewhere.

Learning to Leave Home

I

That spring
I counted hydrogen ions, followed waste
through porous membranes
into silent bio-soups,
waited for the nucleus
to wake.
It was
late in the last century: pale
blue moons and sugar cereals,
Baghdad statues coming down,
anti-aircraft tracers
loverly in the amniotic night.

II

Can you guess
where I’m calling from?

The county jail? A last station on the edge
of the last desert? Are you not

a friend of my youth, and is this
not the end of all things?

So I visited him in the hospital.
We read a story by Le Guin together.

The doors had no locks, not here.
Fishes and eels swarmed in pencil

on the table top between us.

III

The summer came. I learned
words I was ashamed not to know
already: apocrypha, Septuagint.
Even now these taste of barbecue
sauce, scraped from drive-thru plastic.

IV

By August,
the cheapest burger barn
had closed.

There were rumors.
The franchise owners
were forced out—

Saddam paranoia,
Texas sized. Even now,
the lot is grass-

groped, blank
as leeches sluggard
in the furnace jar.

V

All weekend I drove round town,
taking photos. Every shot stilled
a heart.

Tastee Treet, Sizzler
husks, dread Mobil chems.

The night before I left,
cops came to the door,

demanded
my cameras,
wiped the record witless. Wished me well.

 

James Miller is a native of Houston, though he has spent time in the American Midwest, Europe, China, South America, and India. He has published poetry in Riversedge, the Houston Poetry Fest 2016, Sweet Tree Review, Lullwater Review, Burnt Pine, Boston Accent, Plainsongs, Cold Mountain Review, The Tishman Review, The Maine Review, Bird’s Thumb, Straight Forward Poetry, Gyroscope, 2River (forthcoming), After the Pause (forthcoming), Main Street Rag (forthcoming), and Lunch Ticket.

LUST-LETTER TO ONE OF THE REGULARS

“look, we don’t know each other, but we don’t have to—”

just give me your careless, normal hunger—
i know we saw each other on that gay app
we won’t ever mention out loud irl—

i’ve served you the coffee breath that lives,
sometimes, in another man’s mouth—
you’ve seen me bloodshot and rude—

maybe you think it’s cute that i’m broke,
or maybe the tufts of hair i miss while
shaving my head turn you on, or you’ve

found me shallow and wounded on
the internet—you learned my name
and remembered it and milked it for

answers—none of this changes how
i feel about you, customer-i-have-a
crush-on. i still want to watch you

quiver under moonlight. i still want
to feed you your own soft wail until
we are feeling again. i still want

a man’s throat to hold my whole
religion, for him to struggle
my shirt off my lying chest

and still fuck me as a boy.

Linette Reeman (they/them) exist on the internet at LINETTEREEMAN.NET

S/c/h/i/z/o/p/h/r/e/n/i/a/ & American Boy Shares Death Metal with His Abuelo

I never think of my uncle as a man with rabid mouths burgeoning inside his skull.
I’ve never seen him draw his teeth like burning hatchets or pull dead wolves out

of his head. I’ve heard the stories; man leaves the hospital door ajar & wakes up
peeling mothwings off a hospital floor. Man removes a bouquet of thorns
from the back of his eye & he feeds them to blood-thirsty locust. Call it myth

or magic or madness, name him what you need to keep him living.

But whatever the diagnosis, know that what matters to me is this man
once walked me through the Los Angeles arboretum to share the mythos of trees:

sometimes, their seeds stay dormant for years. Trees are so patient—
they can wait out the seasons, the axe, any man who thinks himself king.

My uncle paused often as we stood before each birch & field of fringed lavender.
He watched the moths take flight, mirrored their path with his hand, like waving farewell
to someone he’d known his whole life. We stopped before a trunk shrouded in silk & bramble.

The Maya believed this tree was the pillar of the world,
a bustling road shared by the dead & their gods alike.

He pulled a hollowed thorn from the bark & hid it inside my pocket.

Something to remember this by: urn with a sharpened edge,
proof the earth is full with voices, remarkable, unshakable voices. 

 


American Boy Shares Death Metal with His Abuelo

 

after Turn Loose the Doves by It Dies Today

what did you call this again, mijo?dead metal?metal devil? can you turn
it up? can you turn it into the sound of somethingother than la caballeria set loose
on children crossing a river?¡híjole!there is a butcher trapped in the
drum beat or is it men tearing into each other?or the thump of doves
shot dead?this sounds more like mutiny than music maybe the sorrow &
misery are honestbut what of all the ways a song can heal? it’s a marvel
how often grief wears the mask of rage how a man can stand at
the mouth of a lake & still burnI understand better than most I know their
anger must be a country they refuse to abandonbut sometimes flight
is the only way to reach the skyor survive yourselfI can’t imagine sitting with
the violence done to a body & trying to name it melodythere is enough fractured
in this world without someone pretending an axe is a songbird with silver wings

so how can you call this music?there’s no joy! no grito!no ra-cha-cha that makes you turn
your body into a cathedral makes you worthy of worshipthe way your bones come loose
mijo, what good is music if two people can’t dance their last first dance to it?the
truth is—every day since I met your grandmother has been a songchorus of crimson doves
I’m not saying it’s been perfectI’m saying I know it’s lovebecause I hear maracas &
become young againwithout historyat home in the hands I want to bury melisten
please understand I cannot hear the word metal& not think weaponI want to
explain what anger does to men like usperhaps one day I’ll tell the
story, for now I’ll say if there is violence in this familylet it die with meno mourning
no funeral a quiet exit& I hope the next time you hear a chorus
that reminds you of all you’ve survived you’ll start
to understandhow good music ferries you into
a future where heaven is so close there is no choice but to sing

 

Brandon Melendez is a Mexican-American poet from California. He is the author of home/land (Write Bloody 2019). He is a National Poetry Slam finalist and two-time Berkeley Grand Slam Champion. A recipient of the 2018 Djanikian Scholarship from the Adroit Journal, his poems are in or forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, Muzzle Magazine, the minnesota review, Sixth Finch, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Boston and is an MFA candidate at Emerson College.