Latex Ball, 2001

I nearly die laughing
you’re a hunter in costume—Eckō Unltd.
Pepe Jeans, Timbs with the tag
an official member of the House of Decoy
in the cab you’re pungent—consumed by the
Michael Jordan Cologne I gave you
inching close, you affirm you’ll
shield me from the freaks

two tabs of Love dissolve under
my tongue—it will make the confusing
environment tolerable
straight boy first time at a Ball
the hall is electric with illusionary guile
beauty masks hardness, Escapism hugs me
saying your Pedro’s friend right
my head spins a nod
straight boy first time at a Ball

after watching the histrionics the House of Ninja
versus the House of Mizrahi
I cling to a folding chair, my tongue
in desperate need of respite
closing my eyes for
a minute I see you striding
towards a sea of glistening
brown flesh

hours later I’m tapped awake by
a custodian who looms over
shaming me with pleas to
get right with Jesus

 

Victor Alcindor is an English teacher at West Orange High School in New Jersey. He completed his undergraduate studies in English and elementary education at The College of New Jersey, taught middle school English for four years, and currently teaches American literature and creative writing. He has a master’s degree in criminology from Rutgers University and a doctorate of arts and letters from Drew University. Alcindor resides in South Orange, New Jersey, with his wife and two children. Alcindor has a forthcoming book of poems titled Stand Mute, set to be published by Get Fresh Books in early 2018.

Mother Tongue

Lengua de mi madre, have you forgotten me
+++++in greenness of your green
Havana palms, in your thousands of orchid
+++++blooms, in woven shades
of your mango trees, flamboyant trees stretching
+++++like a brocade or aged fishing net?
When did I lose what I never received from you?
+++++Some part I’m missing or some part
++++++++++that missed me. Perder:
+++++to lose or miss an object or a thing
like keys or time, but not the same, as to say
+++++I miss you: te entrañjo.

Perhaps you haven’t forgotten; perhaps,
+++++you merely passed over me
as when saying los padres when la madre is there,
+++++her singular identity erased
even if she’s in a crowd of madres and there’s one
+++++padre among them: one father
or many parents. My anglo father learned to speak
+++++with an accent, proof of how long
++++++++++you’ve been here, vestige
+++++of the power you wielded in mouths
of conquistadores. And the few who survived, los pocos
+++++spoke a pastiche—a bastard tongue.

I can’t know more than las historias: the histories
+++++that are passed down to us,
the same as when you mean to say the stories—
+++++a homonym I discern only
from context or pattern of where it states itself.
+++++The lineage is everything.
I’m two steps away from holding you as if always
+++++my own. I’ve listened to you, rhapsodic:
++++++++++the way my mother speaks
+++++at home, the way mi abuela spoke
in this world. And when I was confused, I fused
+++++a flesh from your sounds.

 

Sara Burnett’s poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Poet Lore, The Cortland Review, and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Mother Tongue, is forthcoming (Dancing Girl Press) in 2018. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Maryland and an MA in English literature from the University of Vermont. She is a recipient of Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference scholarships to support her writing. A former public high school teacher, she also writes on education equity and designs curriculum. She lives in Maryland with her husband and daughter and blogs at writingwhileparenting.blogspot.

this is an offering

prayer-plump oranges, old wine & incense
at the altar, children ply family ghosts
for advice & good luck with boiled eggs
at the altar — give thanks! — a single boiled egg
for your birthday, egg waffles, egg tarts,
dried plums for car rides, car rides for cousins
& plane rides for grandparents.
children forget to call grandparents
except on New Year’s, forget the Cantonese
for Happy New Year, forget everything our parents
taught us to say, forget to mean it when we say
I love you, I mean, I forgot we never say I love you.
we love each other with food & forget
how to write our own names.
change our names for immigration
papers, change our names for paper-skinned tongues,
we great great grandchildren of paper daughters
& paper sons always trying to be better
daughters, better sons to our parents
who shunned MTV for tape cassettes of teresa teng
singing about the moon, or was it their hearts, or some other
bright, soft thing we could never touch?
good thing we learned to forgive, thought we learned
to forget until even the most brightly dressed
apology couldn’t make us forget immigration acts
& head taxes, couldn’t uncasket thousands of railroad workers,
our men by the thousands from an island owned
by the British, original model minority built a railroad
to help someone else’s land get stolen by the British
& our apology still hasn’t come, my people
we are nothing if not stubbornly
naive, we believe it possible to chart our destiny
by the proper arrangement of furniture,
name places not for what they are but what we believe
they could be, Gold Mountain, Lucky Seafood Restaurant,
Home. true, we are not wanted here but still
we make do, we make rice, we make bad TV
comedies, we make light of our new names, chink exotic
esl anchor baby. our flag, our fortune the colour of blood
before the wound, we become our own ancestors.
we, the grandmas practicing tai chi
in the public library, we the aunties gossiping
over mahjong and tea, we the pacific mall karaoke
queens, we the tender queer who finds self care
in astrology, stakes their dreams on something bigger.
we the kid who crosses out her poetry
so she can become a doctor.
an accountant. a bridge for her parents.
who will still become an artist. become Grace
Lee Boggs. Kai Cheng Thom. Maxine Hong Kingston.
my people, my family this is not a complete history
this is a hand-drawn map
of home & this is an offering
I am still trying to deserve
& this is a survival song & an invocation
& this is a love story this is a love story
this is a love story this is a love story
this is a love story

 

Jody Chan is a community organizer and writer based in Toronto. Her writing explores family, queerness, and mental illness. She is a 2017 VONA alum, and her poetry has been published in Ricepaper Magazine, Minola Review, and Ascend Magazine.

Elegy for Don Lalo’s Gold Tooth

The streets near abuela’s would crumble with
each step so we’d run the two

blocks to Don Lalo’s bodega, where
we’d snatch tamarindo and Rancherito’s

from plastic shelves within our reach and pay
with smiles and small-handed pesos. He’d smile

back, his gold tooth a flash
of every hissing summer we’d spent

chasing frogs around the nearby lagoon. We never
knew the deepness of those waters, only that the surface

would break easy with the flick of a rock. Eventually
we replaced his sodas with our cousins’

beers. Still, he’d ask when we’d return, gifting us
with dulce, our American hands taking whatever

little he could offer. He never made us feel
little, our foreignness a bridge he’d cross

borders with. One year we visited and his family broke
the news about his burial. The streets seemed to blister

with potholes that night. How we’d only wanted
to run our route to abuela’s rooftop and eat

our candy, the awkward chewing before a gospel
of cavities hymned themselves from our mouths.

 

Alan Chazaro is a high school teacher at the Oakland School for the Arts, a Lawrence Ferlinghetti fellow at the University of San Francisco, and an alum from Poetry for the People, the arts and activism program founded by the late June Jordan at UC Berkeley. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in various journals, including BOAAT, Huizache, Public Pool, Borderlands, Juked, and Iron Horse Literary Review. A Bay Area native, he can be found wearing a Warriors jersey and listening to West Coast throwbacks.

Selecting

I stand in the closet choosing
which of my father’s belts
my mother will beat me with.

Bridle, latigo,
braided or smooth.
His tastes contain
so many fashions.

Night cow hanging
on top of the hill
breaking grass—

when they come for you
do not give your skin.
Countless children depend
on your escape over the moon.

 

Lauren Davis is a poet living on the Olympic Peninsula in a Victorian seaport community. She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and her work can be found in publications such as Prairie Schooner, Spillway, and Split Lip Press. She works as an editor at The Tishman Review.

Reiteration

My mother is an assembly line of mirrors:
my too borderless hair, my two-handful hips,
all the parts the mannequin would not hold.

If you subtract one mother, how many are left?
This problem is called adoption.

My mother is a locked file cabinet. No,
my mother is the one who put my mother
inside the file cabinet. Who spreads her hand

over mine like a lighthouse lantern,
a circumscription of white:

come home, I only want to grow
anchors beneath your skin.
Who never meant to raise an ocean.

Paraguay, I’m told, never touches the sea.
I get good at never touching what I cannot hold.

My mother is Google tip Search for English results only,
my mother is US Citizen & Immigration Form I-600,

my mother is nineteen. Which is nothing,
(now that I am old) except touching and the touch
steals into her womb and puts a ghost inside her.

They say all I did was look and sleep, sleep and look
as if watching the world hard for someone to appear.

After the exorcism, I like to imagine we stood
envying the river beyond the hospital curtains,
their rippling twin, its gleeful mud-brown joining,

and her or my small dark hand rocking us,
two dice inside God’s slowly opening fist.

 

Ana Maria Guay was born in Asunción, Paraguay, and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Her writing and translations have appeared in Catapult, The Toast, Asymptote, and Shot Glass Journal, among others. She holds an MPhil in classics from the University of Cambridge, where she was a Gates Scholar, and a BA in the same from the University of Michigan. She currently lives in Los Angeles as a graduate student in classics at UCLA.

I Wasn’t One & Pressing Comb

I Wasn’t One

(Inspired by Yehuda Amichai)

I wasn’t one of the stolen.
I wasn’t one of the many million
who had once only known
the sweetness of the sea.
I wasn’t confused cargo
stacked like the bricks of Babel
in the belly of a wooden beast.
I wasn’t shackled to my skin,
forgotten in my filth,
a prisoner of fear and promises.

I wasn’t even among the survivors,
spit up from a big fish
on the shores of a new Nineveh.
I was not bathed in unholy waters,
shaved of my nappy roots
or tinted with appearances.
My wounds were not anointed
with auction oils
by the slick palms of plunderers.

I wasn’t one of the broken;
one of the obliterated oracles
and extinguished identities.
I was not severed
from my lineage and language,
sold and seasoned like venison.
I was not stripped of my will and skin,
tombstone spine branded
with the calligraphy of alien tongues.

I wasn’t even among the 11 million
rising with the whip of dawn
after sleeping on tattered soil;
back bending beneath the grunts
of grueling work and grimy massas.
I wasn’t sodomized by bitter sugar canes
nor did I drink the pus of blistered memories.

And I wasn’t in the 100,000
who escaped Egypt
with pharaohs and idols
pointing guns at their backs.
I did not stand at the crossroads,
holding what was left of my breath
waiting,
praying,
hoping
that either liberty or death would find me.
I did not wander Kadesh.

I wasn’t amongst the burglarized,
dignity pried open by Jim Crow bars,
pride pillaged,
scraps of the sacred scattered
between picket fences and lynching trees.
I was not cast aside
by systems of apartheid;
washed in ashes because of my dirty skin,
left to dry in my own blood.

I wasn’t even one of the 250,000
that marched with Rustin,
stood with Lewis,
walked with Farmer,
and sat with Murray
so their children would not have to
live on their knees.

I came to the Promise by hope.

And though I was not in that number
I still have within me
footsteps and undulating rivers,
darkness and immovable lights
that guide me by night and day.
I still have inside me
a longing for early sunsets,
for whispers and the secrets of freedom
stitched into the patchwork of stars.
I still have within me
the desire for crossing borders
and a perpetual search
for the pathways to freedom.

 


Pressing Comb

I was burned.
Repeatedly.

Healed with aloe.
Then burned again.

I’m tryna catch
and lay down them edges, girl,
she’d tell me
and resume her irreverent campaign
against nappy roots.

Back then,
she didn’t know
she was catching
the edges of a broken mirror,
laying down
the curl of my fist
and the rise of my flame. 

She only knew
that kinky hair
didn’t acknowledge
the Cherokee
in my cheekbones;
didn’t reflect
the diluting of my lineage
with White folk’s blood.
Kinky hair
didn’t give us credit
for the other two-fifths.
She couldn’t handle
the way my coarse kinks
destroyed any chance
of being good. 

But if she could see me now,
flashing my Africa,
curls,
rolled up tight
like bodies
recoiling from the sting
of water hoses
and nigga
but refusing to give in.
Naps that go where they want
and stand up
as blatant reminders
that everything
came from
the genesis
between my thighs,
she’d understand that
her old pressing comb
was nothing more
than a hot and greasy
slavery. 

If only she could see me now,
see my fro in all its breathtaking,
revolutionary
glory,
she’d understand
that like our edges,
Black girls
were never created
to lay down
and burn.

 

Roshanda “Sean” Johnson came to know poetry at a young age. She has performed spoken word and starred in plays throughout the country. In addition to her poetic endeavors, she is also a painter, teacher, rock-star auntie, and humanitarian. To date, she has been published in eighteen anthologies, published two chapbooks, Unpredicted Prophecies and My Name Be, and will be releasing her first full-length anthology, All My Heroes Were Assassinated, in 2018.

 

Pacific hypergirls go strut

Whispered messages dissolve in rivers of attention and glances
A long sigh exhales through the valley to Kaipara-moana

Molecules of sound emanate from luminous branches
A syntax of yellow leaves on black trees

Filaments of falling marked by fluid silvery drops
Accurate shapes, incarnate wairua exclamations

Hallucinations of glamorous echoing veils
Silky clay nostalgias, transgressions of moss

A ferment of revolution in the invisible temples
Vorticies of evaporation on the spidery skyline

Lightning on the fuse of your stare

The moon a flower,
White as a flight of doves

In the black balance
Of velvet night

 

Piet Nieuwland wrote conservation strategies for Te Papa Atawhai in Northland, New Zealand after training as a forester. His poems and flash fiction appear in Landfall, Brief, Catalyst, and Poetry New Zealand in New Zealand; Pure Slush, Truth Serum, Otoliths, Cordite Poetry Review, and Mattoid in Australia; and Blue Fifth Review and Atlanta Review in the US and elsewhere. He edits Fast Fibres Poetry and reviews poetry for Landfall Review Online.

 

You Steal the Butcher Knife

because you were never more
than hands to boil the deer skulls,

a tongue to lick the blood that dried
between the creases of his knuckles.

Just bones to grip and flesh to fuck
on whiskey nights when his apartment

stank of you. Only a bale of wheat
left out in late November frost.

You call yourself a shrine, all thumbs
and forefingers and knees that bend

and bruise. You try to pull prayers
from his lips and wipe Gun Scrubber

from his wrists. You are not bait
apples or salt, you say. You’re no wooden shack.

You are sandstone hips, a broadhead,
rawhide skin. A boat-tail bullet.

You do not throw corn. A dull blade
won’t prove it, but you take it anyway.

 

Alaina Pepin is a middle and high school English teacher in Gold Beach, Oregon. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Up the Staircase Quarterly, the minnesota review, and Dunes Review, among others.

Notes on an Empty Sky

for James Fuson (20 Years Reflections of an Empty Sky, Soft Sculpture Press, 2014)

from a prison cell window
seven inches of rectangular
blue
sometimes gray
or black, but no stars
the spotlights too glaring
once a month the setting
moon before dawn

he stares
pencil moves—tiny scratching
of the mouse’s scurrying
feet in the dead corridor
mixed with snoring
and rustling
occasionally a scream
immediately hushed

he writes haiku
the same
everyday
he writes haiku
again
another view of silence
boredom
inner voice dictating

he records the seasons
his yearly calendar
of leaves falling
somewhere else
new sun, hot days
not time
no clocks or bells
just alarms

there are no hours here
but the guards, food
cart, passing storms
rain beating him
on the chest
like memories of
infrequent visits
his mother gray
and stooped now
he doesn’t remember
what she looked like
before
there is too much time
here

he doesn’t wait—
for what?
a candy bar, warmth
new book
an hour to walk outside
the library
the gym
watching warily
careful of his movements
silent yet alert
more observations
on the typewriter
its old keys depressed
carefully
pages
fill
with more
haiku
now printed on cheap
paper, stapled, published

 

Emily Strauss has an MA in English, but is self-taught in poetry, which she has written since college. Over 400 of her poems appear in a wide variety of online venues and in anthologies, in the US and abroad. She is a Best of the Net nominee and twice a Pushcart nominee. The natural world of the American West is generally her framework; she also considers the narratives of people and places around her. She is a retired teacher living in Oregon.

Orchard Burning

This is the tree I had my first kiss—it was like a viewing,
gory and wet. Classmates in almond branches, watching
the wreck. Doing nothing to feign casualty. This is
the water tower I’ve told you of many times. Yes,
it was the drinking supply I swam in, naked. Yes.
I got a thrill, at seventeen, thinking of being
in someone’s coffee. I still do. My town is named
after a season, plural of the same, that I don’t favor,
but I love you all, driving us up the neck-y wind
of 93A, the old Ruggles’ orchard where the bark
is painted white to the waist—I’ve buried a fair number
of mean boy cats here, who’d gotten too mouthy
with the interstate, too big in the britches.
One summer, as a teen, at an orchard burning,
a half acre of dead peach in the field, barely panting
glows, I stood too close to the slow, sleeping beast.
My shoes burned quietly, I thought I might be stuck
to the earth, and was grateful for it. The wood,
neither useful nor accommodating anymore, festered
as wounding as making a decision. In the country, we know
how to call a dying thing. We shoot the moon over
when to plant and when to weed. We do the merciful thing.
I’d not been old enough to see how cities turn their backs
from this. City sky can’t do what burning an orchard can—
make a horizon go out of its mind, turn into a space
that used to be filled with the contents of the day, and now
sits empty. I am more country than most I know.
My town is the smallest. Perhaps this is why I boom
when I laugh, always pausing for the echo.

 

July Westhale is the author of Trailer Trash (2016 Kore Press Book Award), The Cavalcade (Finishing Line Press), and Occasionally Accurate Science (Nomadic Press). Her most recent poetry can be found in The National Poetry Review, Tupelo Quarterly, RHINO, burntdistrict, Eleven Eleven, 580 Split, and Quarterly West. Her essays have been nominated for Best American Essays and the Pushcart Prize. She moonlights as a journalist at The Establishment, and her pieces have appeared in HuffPost. Learn more at julywesthale.com.