Sasha Fierce asks ‘Why Don’t You Love Me?’

Today I find comfort in the thunder’s holy growl.
Hunger sometimes smells like petrichor: dead
bacteria awakening our most primal sense to the promise of replenishment.

All this while, I’ve been singing along: Honey, please try to understand
it’s time to love
your woman. Maybe it is time to make me your woman,
to let the soft animal of your prayers become mine for devotion.

Today I mourn the way you corner my gaze in your eye,
waiting for me to reach deep into you and fish out some requital.
My love is leaking like Dali’s time and I deserve to be loved back
Into myself. I wonder if this giving is a loss or an echo
and what I am to do with
Your lips breaking a harmattan open and pronouncing black boy joy
The bottom of my heel cracking at the joke
Your tongue grazing down my spine
and my breasts sagging to meet yours…
Knowing I should be held not as meteors are discovered:
long after their time, funneled by obsolescence
but fondled as ribbons in the sky do each other:
stretching a graze to an entanglement, whatever which way the wind blows.

 

Immaculata Abba is a Nigerian writer and photographer studying history and comparative literature at Queen Mary University of London. She was selected for the 2017 Writivism Creative Writing Mentoring Scheme and has been published in Brittle Paper, Saraba, Popula, and others.

Q & A

—Do you have a fear of losing people?

I once rustled moonlight underneath the blanket
and threatened to keep it. I unwrapped it slowly
like sand loosed by waves, a child with one present
come Christmas morning.

—Do you feel that being black makes you a target?

If shooting holes into darkness was not a sport,
then each glow, each bend and arc, each reach
and fiery flicker of stellar assortment would be a lie—

—Who did you vote for?

All I wanted were bodies back.

—Why do black people run from police?

The concrete is hot. These are new shoes.
As sons and daughters of Mercury, we are partial
to wind sprints, Julys and Junes.

—Slavery was such a long time ago. Why can’t you just get over it?

(Sisyphuses. Gluttons for punishment,
you’d joke.) Because some of us swam
to the sea’s depth, told us this secret:
(                                               )

—Michael Brown is in so many of your poems. Did you know him?

I often viewed the Arch’s bend over a small piece of St. Louis
like it owned the city. I, in my school bus, passed—never able
to connect both ends.

—Who is Icarus to you?

A canary on the heels of antelope. A Pegasus without wings.

—What have you learned from protest?

I’m in love with the sound of freedom, the way the top teeth
sink into the bottom lip, the way the tongue hovers in suspense,
before bouncing suddenly to the roof of a mouth
like a mallet striking a lever; the puck rising to toll the bell,
the last consonant ending in a kiss.
 
—What do you hope to accomplish by writing this poem?

I hope to release a hummingbird from the palm of my hand,
watch it fly off on little wings.

 

Raised in St. Louis, Missouri, and San Bernardino, California, Chaun Ballard is an affiliate editor for Alaska Quarterly Review, a Callaloo fellow, and a graduate of the MFA Program at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Chaun Ballard’s chapbook, Flight, is the winner of the 2018 Sunken Garden Poetry Prize and is published by Tupelo Press. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in ANMLY (FKA Drunken Boat), Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Chiron Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Frontier Poetry, International Poetry Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Rattle, and other literary magazines. His work has received nominations for both Best of the Net and a Pushcart Prize.

Portrait of a Slave-Owner’s Wife

Light folds around her       yellow-silk

like a pillar-candle

Shadows round her cheek             curve

between lips

press below her nose

On her left

a thickened impasto

of fading paint

and varnish layers obscure shapes and

it’s hard to see a dark boy

in blue

livery bending

brown skin      black hair   without a stroke

of light

to wash over him                 so he remains

vague as a         footnote

in a language

that I barely know

Is he the slave-boy beaten

by her husband?

Brutal is the imagination

seeping through generations

like a sweep of paint      that could

be       a smooth yellow

gown or a puddle

of piss

or  yellow light

from  torches waving       in the night

 

Aileen Bassis is a visual artist in New York City working in book arts, printmaking, photography, and installation. Her artwork can be viewed at www.aileenbassis.com. Her use of text in art led her to explore another creative life as a poet. Her poems have appeared in B o d y Literature, Spillway, Grey Sparrow Journal, Canary, Amoskeag, Stone Canoe, The Pinch Journal, and Pittsburgh Poetry Review. She was awarded an artist residency in poetry to the Atlantic Center for the Arts.

Architectural Integrity & Aretha Franklin Has Died

Architectural Integrity

My floor could possibly be coming apart
but I’m hanging on for now
& for good reason

Catastrophe should only be used
as the name for a fragrance
that only exists in a fictional universe

One where a person starts every day
with a montage full of clues

I’ve spent the past week
trying to remember any particular moment
from my middle school existence

I’ve got nothing

except a general feeling
that my t-shirts were too big

& the thought that
I should’ve taken every opportunity
to garden with my grandma

Why would you say this is sad

Without anything to look forward to
the world isn’t affected much
It says right here this is blesséd

 


Aretha Franklin Has Died

Seems impossible
that anybody is able to think about anything else

But I’m being unreasonable
even about myself (eye-roll upon eye-roll)

That’s what the edges of memory are for
Covered in foam
Hoping to be jumped in
though prepared for the inevitable slip & fall

Glory be what makes us love the ground
as much as what floats above it

When I think of dying I think
about where I’d like to be forever

I’ll forgive you for guessing incorrectly

I’m dancing in the kitchen I’m making a meal
for a person I love a song is playing & what a song it is
Oh I wouldn’t mind being here for a long time

 

Dalton Day is the author of Exit, Pursued (Plays Inverse) and a preschool teacher. He lives in Atlanta, and can be found at tinyghosthands.com.

Mayhem—Arrival and Departure

Rally (n.) 1650s, originally in the military sense of ‘a regrouping of renewed
            action after a repulse’

I confuse the armored buses for deliverance                a line of colored
steel     some tarnished            some spit—
shined  My surprise at this release of white
bodies              Their flocking together

Their delivery of          renewed action
the guns hanging         from their waists
so many           baseball bats even,
one wrapped in                        rusted barbed wire

I imagine their knuckles          exhausted        from tight-gripping
all that power                           Their revival from this
banding together—      one moving mass
of enthusiasm              I am standing:

a body radiating           in the stilled heat
no clouds to encase     a sliver             of the sun
Sweat trailed    my thighs        my jawline
I wished to be rinsed               washed away

I wished for a different kind    of fragmenting

I never recognized the buses’ departure
The fade of roused bodies       I was left
in still silence               The city ate up by the quiet

 

Kiyanna Hill has roots in Petersburg, Richmond, and Charlottesville, Virginia. She is a MFA candidate at the University of Maryland.

In Champaign, Illinois

Up the stairs coiled around the hotel
my new friend Frank and I are
lamenting that there is no
gym after all—he lamenting—
I going along—at my door I half
stick the key in, he asks again about how
to iron his pants, I have these pants with
a crease—he uses his hand
to saw the air between us
So I’m kind of tired flash a smile, nod
jetlag ha-ha- but I can just tell you how
it’s really self-explanatory or youtube
is the best teacher on and on, until
ok good night and I go in
and make the curtains meet. 

Tomorrow he tells me he is on 9 p.m.
curfew for his first special-approved trip
from home, six weeks out from being
locked up, and when he first ate
strawberries after twenty years he cried.

In the night, beyond the curtains, he touches
all the things in his hotel room, cold
sink, coated hangers, blade of the blinds,
grabs his keys and hops in his rental, pulls
into the gas station. The moon wide-faced
in the sun-damaged sky, the smell of gas, vibrations
through his palms, his black footsteps inking the black
night, many directions pointing from him like arrows.

I wish I had been out there with him, and the night
opening, the taste of the strawberry, the feel of the mouth,
I could have offered more of what coming home had
to offer, I should have taken what the night
swallowed, cupped his heels in his inky footsteps.
Take the freedom, I’m here, look
around, night all around, for the taking.

 

You Li is a law student and poet who lives in New York. Her work has appeared in the Nassau Literary Review and Two Cities Review. She has received support from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

Elegy, yet again

Not a pyre, but a chimney,

a beetle shaking mercilessly
on top of my doormat
to the sound of its own catharsis
a tongue my neck both hands
shaking exactly the same.

My teeth as antenna
& my cords wings
Sing

I watched a beetle die today;

not a crate not a crypt not a pyre
fire fire fire fire

 

Clara Paiva is an undergraduate student at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. Her work has appeared in Occulum, FIVE:2:ONE, Rag Queen Periodical, and Moonchild Magazine.

Poem in Which You Are the Church

Real boy the love I have made to you is unremarkable,
as it should be in a perfect world, impossible to tell
where you end and I begin.

Real boy I have recessed in your nation,
your looted land, pronounced it dead,
& closed the borders I once bled for.

Real boy I dream of fist un-flung,
forever boy, I have wept on your behalf,
I have wept for the rifle that fires flowers.

I have wept for your father, his secret sorrow
I have wept for your god locked in a bottle
I have wept for the ghost you never knew.

Real boy what do you call a wolf without teeth?
a wolf without fur, exiled by bigger wolves,
a wolf greater than the lack of his parts.

What do you call the boy refracted? His salted sea,
his rivers Jordan, John, and Luke
he who must be touched to be known.

What do you call a cancer by any other creed, that
which consumes the flesh, consumes the need,
what do you call a boy by any other name?

Real boy I have missed you every morning,
your funeral of a face, your
box of shattered pearls, your

mourning for the sake of
all real boys.
No house worships you, no house builds itself.

Real boy I have prayed for your forgiveness,
I have prayed to change you,
I have divided art from artist, divided

truth and nature,
I am bruised blue and pink,
my stomach soured by the fruits of your labor.

Real boy I have been the kindling,
the kerosene, I have been the underbrush,
the evergreen, I have been the root of your disdain,

your soiled seed, Real boy I have taken you
as Hades took Persephone, made you queen
for sake of starving, made

your mother ill with worry, brought
you to the edge of ruin.
Real boy

I have imagined you in the mirror,
I have imagined our bodies intermixed.
I have disguised you

for fear of reckoning, quieted you
for fear of possibility.
I have made you the object

of my unrest. Real boy,
the boy of my invention, the boy
with ten fingers and ten toes,

always I will be here,
stirring the same pot, wearing the
same shoes, missing the same people.

And you will be here, too
regretting nothing, not even
the hair you grew. Fantastic boy,

with your edgeless axe, your petty thunder;
I hold your breath anchor heavy in my arms
and let the burden bring us under.

 

C.J. Strauss is a transgender writer and artist currently pursuing their BA in English at Barnard College. Their art and writing has been published both internationally and domestically by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, The Claremont Review, Vade Mecum Magazine, GREYstone Youth Litmag, Echoes Literary Magazine, The Free Library of the Internet Void, RATROCK Magazine, and the Barnard Bulletin. C.J. presently interns at the Poetry Society of New York and the Visible Poetry Project where their responsibilities include social media management and community engagement. They tweet @cjsxyz.

Can You Remove Your Necklace During Work Hours?

And the first words out of my mouth
do not buck into a shield, do not blast his ears
with refusal, not never, in my quiet defense
something un-proud: it’s not even Muslim,
as I convert that s to a z, and twist, twist my hair
all of it uncovered for his ease and a reminder,
it’s Persian, not Islamic, so uncommon
it is untraceable; I hook my fingers around the plate,
make a roof with my palm and cover it, I designed it,
I explain, release the rose-gold letters so they swing
and impress a thud against my neck; I cannot
even get a nail grip on the clasp, I laugh, at the self
so quick to condemn, to chant in blocked streets,
recite the outrage of my signs until here, this interview,
where the question is asked in the politest tone,
so courtly and elegant, that I deliver a fumbling excuse
instead of no, and each time an image of my parents,
tracing my mother in the hospital bed, pressing it—
now a precious metal heated and cooled—to her firstborn,
and I jump down her throat and pull and pull and pull
everything, my name, out of her postnatal breath

 

Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad is the daughter of Irooni immigrants, a worshipper of space and hyacinths, and an Oscar the Grouch apologist. Her poetry has appeared in Asian American Writers’ Workshop, The Missing Slate, and is forthcoming in Waxwing. She is the poetry editor for Noble / Gas Qtrly, is a Best of the Net poet, Pushchart Prize, and Best New Poets nominee. She lives in New York where she practices matrimonial law.

Plaza Hospicio Cabañas (Guadalajara)

perched in a cricket cage
the canary waits to read
your life

you stand, sunbound
eating mamey, guanaba
favas con chile, pan dulce
drinking agua pura y piña

drop a few pesos in the guira
the marimba comes to life
two men like a wind-up toy
or well-trained spider monkeys
play Guadalajara, two mallets
in each hand, fingers spread
to catch mahagony notes
as they fly by

some buzz, some clunk
loose on the stand, worn
as the steps to the iglesia
shading the mercado

gaps between the brown
bars reflected in spaces
where teeth once shone

Arkansas Razorbacks
blares the shirt of the one
playing melody, New York
graces the other one’s hat

the guira hungry but no longer
fed, the song winds down

a moment of smile
wrinkles shadowed faces
before the return of cloud cover
as your hands come together
but your pockets stay closed

but give a peso, and
the canary will select
five slips of paper
to tell you who you are
where you will be
who you will marry
when you will die

brought out of her bamboo hut
put on its roof, feathers pale
on her head like stalks
of harvested corn, she chooses
her vision peck by peck, forgets
she knows how to fly

 

James K. Zimmerman is an award-winning poet and frequent Pushcart Prize nominee. His work appears in Pleiades, Chautauqua, American Life in Poetry, Reed, Miramar, and Nimrod, and among others. He is author of Little Miracles (Passager, 2015) and Family Cookout (Comstock, 2016), and winner of the Jessie Bryce Niles Chapbook Prize.