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Poetry

American Diorama by Naomi Ling

American Diorama | Naomi Ling

              after Ocean Vuong

              “I am an American; free born and free bred, where I
              acknowledge no man as my superior, except for his own
              worth, or as my inferior, except for his own demerit.” 
              Theodore Roosevelt

Let this be a story of light. Tonight the TV 
              speaks little tragedies into 
existence, throws 
                            home across faceless soil. 
I want 
              nothing more than 
a home / body / girl 
                            to call my own. We can 
be our own flag 
              and anthem: Flesh is not a prayer, 
but let me sing it into creation. 
              Myth or memory, 
                            you decide. 
              
If myth, say anthem of immigrants. I hear 
American Dream and believe 
              bullets-becoming-a-war-cry, 
              bullets-biting-breasts, 
              mountains-leaning-into 
              -a-mother, into anything, everything beautiful. 
The news holds my head 
              against a bright 
                            blue square—propaganda. 
              Good citizen. 
The sky blanches open 
                            over us. So proud & 
              worshipping. 
              
              Back in the day we 
wanted to make clouds. Packed powder 
like a promise and 
              cocked it towards the
sky. It fell like rain. Killed like
              history. The air hewed 
into a thousand choked breaths— 
who would believe us? 
                            They say America was born 
              from a womb. 
There are far too many 
              casualties 
                            for rebirth. 
              
Let us dream our history into 
              hope. My mother tells me of men 
measuring the land with their 
teeth, mistaking the earth for 
bread. Hunger will make every man
              into resilience. Or at least, 
              into everything 
                            we weren’t meant to be. 
              
I say speak and mean anything our tongues
touch. Language: another form of life. To
                            which we love and are 
loved. What I say is 你好 / 안녕하세요 /
                            ہیلو .What I say is 
we are more than our hands. Birds: our wings
                            plucked or unfolded; 
              our wrists 
                            some small act of creation. 
              
America unfurls from patriot to pixels—
you were not born 
              from a womb, 
a dynasty, 
                            a lineage. 
Every man and woman leveled 
like dust. Yet we are not 
              finished. This can be a chapter 
an elegy 
              or sacrifice. We of belonging. 
We of cities that mute themselves
              too late. 
                            What I’m saying is 
not every story 
                            has a storyteller. We live 
              only for our bodies 
not imaginations. 
              
On the news, the ground 
                            proclaims itself a patriot. 
I’m ready 
              to call it home / anything. 
              /

 

About the Author:

Naomi Ling is a student writer on the East Coast, USA. Her poetry most often grapples with growing pains and identity. In her free time, she enjoys eating as many dumplings as she can. 

Categories
Poetry

From the Stem by Daniel J Flosi

From the Stem | Daniel J Flosi


Charles Darwin hypothesized that language emerged from a song-like proto language. 

look! down the misty hillside 
our ancestors 
work the soil 
while soughing trees 
prattle on about their mysteries 
seed laden grasses 
rustle in the breeze 
twin streams of birdsong ripple 
rows of wheat 
teasing apart the meaning 
from the music 
all the while our thoughts pull 
pull the precious memory 
from the stem

 

About the Author:

Daniel J Flosi is an apparition living in a half-acre coffin in the township of Rock Island, IL within the V between the Mississippi and Rock Rivers. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prometheus Dreaming, eris & eros, and Wild Roof Journal. Drop a line at https://entertainedamerican.com/

Categories
Poetry

April is the Cruelest Month by Pamela Sumners

The 2021 Prize Winner in Poetry selected by Douglas Manuel

April is the Cruelest Month | Pamela Sumners

I was watching the trial of a white cop
who put his knee on a Black man’s neck
for almost 10 minutes but my viewing
displeasure was interrupted by breaking
news of a white cop who shot a Black man
and then later on the 10 o’clock news I saw
two white cops taunt a Black guy dressed
in Army fatigues and pepper-spray him
and then a quick cutaway to more breaking
news of another school shooting some
where else in my America today but it’s
all OK because the first Black guy I was
watching on noon TV was an addict pass
ing a fake bill and the second Black guy
was breaking Minnesota law because
they don’t like little pine-tree deodorizers
dangling from rear-view mirrors that
jangle white cops’ nerves because they
impede everybody’s ability to see what’s
behind them and the ability to see back
wards in Minnesota is required so that
is why in the Land of 10,000 Lakes you
should leave your pine trees at home
because if you don’t the poor officer
might get confused by that second Black
guy getting mouthy with his breath about
air fresheners dangling in cars and this might
lead to another tragic accident and you know
it’s sad how in that last school schooling
on the 10 o’clock news it was a magnet
high school where you just do not expect
that sort of thing like you might at a regular
school or a massage parlor in a strip mall
or at the mall so big they call it The Galleria
or at the multiplex movie house inside
the big Galleria or maybe at a market, concert
or someplace that’s already dangerous
anyway like a gay bar within shooting
distance of Disney World for Chrissakes
and the NRA and your representative in
Washington ask for thoughts and prayers
for the victims of these tragic accidents
that could all have been avoided if Black
people all just complied with the law
and reasonable requests from the cops
and if those dead kids and maybe all
of us just had guns to defend ourselves
except the Black people, who should
just follow orders and not resist—isn’t
that about right, if that’s a question?

 

About the Author:

Pamela Sumners is the author of Ragpicking Ezekiel’s Bones (UnCollected Press 2020) and a Rane Arroyo chapbook selection (Seven Kitchens Press, 2021). A listing of publications and literary awards is available @www.pamelalsumners.com. A native Alabamian and former constitutional and civil rights lawyer, she now lives in St. Louis with her wife, son, and three rescue pit bulls.

Categories
Poetry

Waiting to Pee, I Invent My Future By Emma Bernstein

Waiting to Pee, I Invent My Future | Emma Bernstein


At a gas station between Ashland and Redding, 
I sit godlike on the curb in salvo jeans and gather 
chips of orange paint under a sliver of firs and blank 
sky, my mouth an empty cup trembling for a life 
I could have if I asked for it. The highway rumbling
like an easy metaphor, and me, twenty and full 
of cheap chocolate, thinking I can bear anything
as long as it is temporary, so maybe I will drive trucks 
until I am tired of driving trucks or bluff 
my way into some job involving horses. I learned to run
from my mother. I can love anything as long
as it is temporary, even this gas station which peels
and crumbles in my hands, and if a cold wind ever
comes screeching across my exposed nerves 
like doubt, I can always zip my coat up 
to my throat, bury my hands in my pockets,
and walk south until the feeling melts
like cheap chocolate in the newborn sun. 

About the Author:

Emma Bernstein is a poet who lives in upstate New York and can be found most days wandering through the snow with her headphones on. She has been published in Marginalia Review, Spires Intercollegiate Literary Magazine, Kitsch Magazine, and Black Heart Magazine, and won the Dorothy Sugarman Poetry Prize and Robert Chasen Memorial Prize for poetry in 2020.

Categories
Poetry

Twi Phone-ology By Andrew Geoffrey Kwabena Moss

Twi Phone-ology | By Andrew Geoffrey Kwabena Moss

Twi Phone-ology

Mum on the phone speaking pure Twi
I hear the ring of tongue twisting conjuring
I listen in, keenly, to my Kwahu ancestry

Greetings of ‘wo ho te sen?’ from the kingdom of Ashanti
On her lips beam golden regal recognition
Mum on the phone speaking pure Twi

Enunciating ancient graciousness: mepaakyew and medaase*
Akan affricates blend and resound with nasal ring
I listen in, keenly, to my Kwahu ancestry

Lips pursed, teeth and tongue twist in magical phonology
Nasalised vowels, blown like trumpets in rhythm
Mum on the phone speaking pure Twi

The rises and falls of songbirds singing Fanti
Fantastic trills and taps, unknown digraphs flying
I listen in, keenly, to my Kwahu ancestry

Thoughts and expressions of a homeland free
Abruptly 
the 
line 
goes 
dead_________________________________
a glottal stop to linguistic wanderin
Mum on the phone spoke pure Twi
I listened in, keenly, to my Kwahu ancestry.

About the Author:

Andrew Geoffrey Kwabena Moss is a writer and teacher who has lived in the UK, Japan and currently Australia. Of Anglo-Ghanaian heritage, his work seeks to explore and challenge liminal landscapes, complex identities and the social constructs of race. Andrew is a member of the ACT Writers’ Centre. His work has previously appeared in Afropean, People in Harmony, Fly on the Wall Press, Fair Acre Press, Golden Walkman Magazine, Beliveau Books, GMGA Publishing and Poor Yorick Literary Journal.

Categories
Poetry

The Maria Magdalena By Angela Gabrielle Fabunan

The Maria Magdalena | By Angela Gabrielle Fabunan

The Maria Magdalena

for Rayji de Guia

The procession of backs turned is a sea of red
anonymous in the enormous crowd.

Turn to face me, tell me is this all the change 
we will ever see, these coins, scattered at Your feet,

for Your penitencia, in this march, on our way to 
Your crucifixion. I drop the coin, know

Nothing now, not even the things I write about
that I have seen. The likes of Peter will never honor

What I’ve written. In this world, what is texto
but the persuading chronicle of the Papa, while

We progress down the streets, the signs we carry
las palmas scattering in careless winds.

It’s impractical to transcribe, what I scream—
words I copy from You. But I still do it: 

There is no absolution in this world but the next,
We must love one another or suffer.

Underneath it all, I array myself in red, 
as memento, as imagen, as woman.

About the Author:

Angela Gabrielle Fabunan is the author of The Sea That Beckoned (Platypus Press, 2019) and Young Enough to Play (UP Press, forthcoming 2021). Herwebsite is angelagabriellefabunan.com. She lives in Olongapo City, for now.

Categories
Poetry

Half of Klimt’s Water Serpents II By Moriah Bray

Half of Klimt’s Water Serpents II | By Moriah Bray


The painting was a reproduction, only half
of the original depicted and the colors somehow wrong
not enough green, nor yellow. And only one of the four
water serpents, the third girl with ginger hair
at the bottom of the painting, her right breast
barely in frame, her eyes watching the artist or maybe
me. She had wildflowers in her hair,
two blushing on her cheeks, spine and right
hand distorted in the water. She hung
in your dining room slitted eyes cut
toward us. I sat in a wooden chair
sipping tequila and you stood, black hair curling 
past your shoulders, blue eyes 
wide and asked, Do you feel the sexual tension?
I did and I asked you, Are you a fan of 
Gustav Klimt? But you had never heard
of him. 

About the Author:

Moriah Bray is a PhD student at Georgia State University working on a manuscript of poetry in both English and Spanish. She also serves as the poetry editor of Exhume Literary Journal. When she is not writing, you can find her in a yoga flow or petting her cats.

Categories
Poetry

Disintegrate By Wendy Thompson Taiwo

Disintegrate | By Wendy Thompson Taiwo

First the legs will go, then the hearing.

_____

I’m not sure who needs to hear this, you announce 
loudly to no one in particular and everyone in the 
room, but getting old really sucks.

_____

At 38, your stomach began to bulge and droop after 
your third C-section. You ignored your mother’s 
advice to exercise after giving birth likening it to 
the fit religion of hyperactive ponytail yoga 
moms. But then your breasts shriveled to an A 
cup and your body began to sag
like an old couch
like an abandoned truck.

_____

Of course I think you’re still attractive, your 
husband says, his mouth moving like he’s
chewing leftovers
charred brisket
cardboard.

He’ll probably leave, you tell yourself angrily and 
begin wearing house dresses outdoors, 
braless.

_____

Was that mole there two months ago?
Why does it burn 
in your chest
in your throat
in your labia
in your heart
every time you _____?

_____

When someone calls you from the other room:
Do I want eat what with the leftover fish?

You saw whose cousin at Costco?

Why did I leave what running?

Go ask your dad what he said, goddamn 
mumbling ass.

_____

For a long time, all through your forties, you 
insisted that it was other people. 

It was young people 
who were being prioritized in a society 
drunk off their youth while middle-age people like 
you were becoming obsolete. 

It was the city 
attracting too many techies and gentrifiers who 
were over-saturating your beloved downtown 
haunts and sanitizing the sketchy streets where you \
and your girlfriends got your first citation for driving 
buzzed from a tall, dark, and handsome officer 
who gave you his private number 
J Scott (602) 537-XXXX call me

It was this new wave of medical students turned 
feckless doctors too scared of a lawsuit to actually 
diagnose pain, leaving you with a non-answer to 
your, What’s wrong with me? or a, We’ll follow up 
with you in a few weeks, 
after all those tests.

_____

Bitch, we’re old, you say to your friend over a 
glass of wine and laugh. And like in a commercial, 
she turns to you and says, No way, bitch! The 
forties are the new twenties. 
You narrow your eyes.

But then the skin begins to thicken and your odor 
changes and the discharge becomes normal and 
you break in so many places while your doctor 
keeps telling you, It’s normal. 

That area of pain
That creaking sound
That brown spot
That fleshy sore
That dry patch
That blurry effect
is normal.

It’s supposed to fall off, 
fall out,
tense up, 
curl back, 
heal rough that way.
Call and make an appointment if anything changes.

_____

These days, hiking feels like dragging your 
bagged body behind you while the trailhead looks 
as wild, healthy, and abundant as ever. Each bend 
in the road, your hips and ankles click and rotate 
like a child’s model robot. On the way back to the 
car, your ankles swell up and you can’t bend over 
to tie your shoelaces that are always coming 
undone. So for the rest of the week, you resort to 
wearing sandals without socks until the skin on 
your feet begin to chafe.

_____

You stop shaving.

_____

Your saving grace is that you still haven’t gotten 
gray hairs yet, your friend tells you, her own 
baby face framed by wisps of dark clouds, a pale 
sky that looks like rain. But you also still have 
your sense of sight and it disappoints you to have 
to look at yourself every day when being alive 
and getting into your car to drive to work both 
ways in traffic is already a kind of afterlife:
interstate is to stasis
as intubation is to interred.

_____

In your fifties, you know you won’t be able to 
retire in ten years because your grown kids still 
call you for money despite graduating from law 
and business school and marrying into 
upper-middle-class suburban life.
Los Altos. Blackhawk.

You feel like the thread has been pulled at your 
good edges and all the stuffing is billowing out. 
Like I’m just all over the place, you say and your 
coworkers nod thinking that this is just you 
multitasking during a fiscal budget crisis. 
But Tim in HR who is always inappropriate, 
knows there’s something up. Why else would he 
tell you, You still look good for your age when 
you go to his office to return your benefits 
form? And in that moment, you wished you could 
follow him to his Volvo after work and sit on his 
face just so you can call his wife and tell her he’s 
cheating.

(That shade of lipstick she will eventually find 
on his shirt is called Nude Fatale.)

_____

Your physician still can’t tell you why your feet are 
always cold while the rest of you burns white hot.
So hot that your best friend has to wear two 
sweaters while riding in your car because you 
always have the AC on full blast. Yet night 
sweats keep you up at night and now your 
husband sleeps on the couch. Just for the time 
being, to give you space, he says. 

He’s probably already cheating, you tell yourself 
angrily and begin an email draft to Tim:
“For a long time, I’ve been longing for…”
“I just want to feel something, be something different to somebody…”
“I’ve never done this before and hope you understand…”
You decide to hold off on words like “sensual,” 
“discreet,” “fuck buddies,” and “lucky.”

_____

A few days later your physician messages you. It’s 
just a symptom of menopause, nothing to worry 
about, and you wonder if she means the anger or 
the cheating husband or the sweats because 
inside you feel like you’re dying.

_____

You used to enjoy dancing and trivia nights.
You used to take global cooking classes with 
your friends.
You used to keep the numbers of strangers and 
exes in your phone just for moments like this:
Hi, I know we haven’t spoken since that 
night/week/month 
in 
Istanbul
Manhattan
Luang Prabang
Chicago
D.C.
Berlin
New Orleans
but I thought we could get back in touch.
You had plans to travel the world well into your 
seventies.

Now you nurse your bruised and aching heart and 
back and hands with Netflix and DoorDash and 
wine and heated pain relief patches and icepacks.

_____

No one will ever use these words again to describe 
you: 
dewy-eyed, cute, kissable, artsy, fiery, delicate, 
sweet, adorable, bubbly, intoxicating, athletic, feisty, 
skinny, young.

_____

You no longer remember your first love or what 
you had for dinner last night. And I’ll probably 
die tomorrow, you tell yourself angrily despite 
data saying your husband will likely go first. But 
damn this earth and all upon it if you don’t get to 
taste the last few drops and enjoy the good life first.

About the Author:

Wendy Thompson Taiwo is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies at San José State University. Her poetry has most recently appeared in the SantaFe Writer’s Project, Rappahannock Review, Jet Fuel Review, Waccamaw Journal, Hey, I’m Alive, and Typehouse. She is the co-editor of the forthcoming collection Sparked: George Floyd, Racism, and the Progressive Illusion.

Categories
Poetry

August Hymnody By Caleb Nichols

August Hymnody | By Caleb Nichols

Growing up in August Country
August light, the golden twilight
Eucalyptus crowned the canyon
Blue gum towers lit like lampposts

August feeling on the waters
Calm and quiet in the harbor
Past the sun-baked oyster farmers
Past the open estuary

From the dunes an august silence
Toward the inlet tidal marshes
With the stillness of an egret
With the hush of pending autumn

There’s a stand of hollow cypress
With the likeness of a graveyard
Where I sit in august wonder
At the gently lapping waves.

About the Author:

Caleb Nichols is a queer poet and musician from California. His poetry has been featured in Redivider, Perhappened Mag, Cypress: A Literary Journal, and elsewhere. His poem, “Ken,” won an Academy of American Poets University Prize, and his first chapbook, 22 Lunes, is available from Unsolicited Press. He tweets at @seanickels.

Categories
Poetry

I Check the Moon By Caleb Nichols

I Check the Moon | By Caleb Nichols

Lulu writes me
into a poem,
as if I were the moon,
messages it to me.

Night spiders down,
glides along,
spins Santa Anas,
whips the bleach
blonde hills,
the frosted tips of
late spring.

I dream drift back
down the tracks.
A teal discourse
on a rain rusted rail car
reads, momma didn’t raise
no ho
and, more mysteriously,

                  c     
                c o r n
                  b.


Hampsey emails a dream:

                1976
                East Berlin…
                it is night and i am trying to figure
                the street signs up on a low stage,
                next to a dingy curtain,
                you are singing by yourself


Noah texts a new song,
sings like seraphim,
an ode to kissing cousins
then says check the moon.
I pocket my phone.
I check the moon:

                the moon is full—
                slung low
                above the suburban frame
                of trees and children howling.

Morning worms out,
casts threads,
canvases the void.

My eight legs spin
silk, weave a God’s
eye, a dream catcher.
The pitch of these dreams,

                Grandpa’s booming bass note;
                Grandma’s dulcimer lull; sounds
                bounced off yellow stucco; afternoon light


shells I hermit into,

found texts,
tide pools
spilling over,

lunar surfaces
mirroring
moon phases,

veiled in swell, then
revealed in ebb—
and that’s when

the gulls wing in,
to break me out
of my wonder.

About the Author:

Caleb Nichols is a queer poet and musician from California. His poetry has been featured in Redivider, Perhappened Mag, Cypress: A Literary Journal, and elsewhere. His poem, “Ken,” won an Academy of American Poets University Prize, and his first chapbook, 22 Lunes, is available from Unsolicited Press. He tweets at @seanickels.