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Two Poems by Mecca Verdell

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My little sister is beautiful.

She has our father’s eyes, brown.
Her mother’s skin—light, blinding.

Something in her skin draws me
and I look like a confused scribble,
a Black mask, in comparison.

I’ve never felt like this before.
She is so blinding I can’t even see her
as my little sister, just competition.

She looks like the women my dad left mom for;
I remember her crying at how beautiful they were.
Will my daddy leave me for a new daughter?
I could leave my body for hers.

She looks like the girls the world prefers.
She looks like the revised version of me.
I used to follow the edits, rubbing my flesh with
lemons, or my mother’s chemical peels.

I must understand my role is to be Big Sister.
I can never tell her this, keep this darkness at bay.

Even when this darkness is in my eyes, my skin,
when it’s all around me, we never know what it is,
but our bodies do.

My skin always burning at the sight of her light,
I could be her shadow. Always watching her back,
but always behind.

I must protect her from myself.
Even when her mom teaches her to hate me,
and the world teaches her to hate me,
I love her with my eyes open, even when it hurts.

Even when she’s all blinding,
even when she’s all beautiful.

Thrift Shop

It feels like every Black house runs
a thrift shop, with the ways we trade trauma
like old clothing. In our house, we are bursting
at the seams cuz all the bags we carry.

I still have the pajamas I was molested in.
And no matter how many times they are washed,
they will never be clean enough to give up
like I did.

I told my cousin I didn’t wanna go in the closet.
Not only did I see his skeletons, I became one.
Every caress on my breasts felt like a hanger
being pushed through my chest.

I told my mom that this shirt was too big for me to handle,
that these hand-me-downs got too much space
for curious kissing cousins to hand-you-up bad memories.

All she did was take my shirt to be washed,
to be baptized, to be pressed and prayed.
She gave me another one to cover up in
but even she knows trauma is one size fits all.

See my mom knows abuse like the back of her dress.
I wish she would’ve told me what that looked like
before my cousins put the same dress on me.

We still know how to laugh.
They make fun of my height,
of how I will never grow out of old clothes
owned by my mother and her mother.

And my father forgets every time I tell him.
He can’t believe he didn’t save me
but leaves me in a pile of healing
that I have to make my responsibility.
How do you fold a memory?

Tell me: if every Black house runs a thrift shop, why aren’t we
Giving anything away, to be burned like a plague?
I want to make love and therapy a flame thrower,
Watch these pajamas twist and curl over the embers
like sleepless nights I’ve had.

These clothes will never find their way on my child.
I will never prepare them to be a sheep in my clothing.
God, make me a salvation army the second hands lay on them.
I pray they never live in a thrift shop.

Mecca Verdell is an author, actress, teaching artist and poet. She first gained national attention after winning Brave New Voices, an international youth poetry slam. Since then Mecca has been traveling the country performing, teaching and building upon the intersection of activism and art. She is a voice for Black women everywhere. Verdell won Day Eight’s annual DC Poet Project competition in 2020 and her book, Things to Unlearn, is forthcoming. Malik Crumpler wrote, “Mecca Verdell’s Things to Unlearn is a memorable unbinding of insights enriched with allegorical documentation of contemporary American’s wear on the soul. Beautifully tragic confessions of living with trauma flow effortlessly into humorous coded moments with family and friends.”

Image by ParentingPatch – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22192169

Three Poems by Chloe Yelena Miller

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Mid-Thirties

Toddler, pigtails loosening,
hides behind her mother’s legs,
two tiny hands around one adult knee.
Mother leans down,
whispers in her daughter’s ear.
Child smiles,
tilts her head to one side,
knee-grip loosens.

I, too, know what I would say to a shy child,

given the chance.

Mothers

My mother’s mother
gone, an aunt
in the kitchen
rearranging the cupboard.
Lineage of women
and their cupboards.

My grandmother’s Christmas tree pin,
one aunt’s tea cups,
another aunt’s wristwatch,
my mother’s ceramic boxes,
and what will I leave?

To whom?

Searching
eight weeks old

For years, I looked
for you around corners, between
small hours of morning.

And now, here you are in my arms,
limbs sodden with sleep.

You weigh less awake,
head bobbing, as you push your legs
against my lap, hands against my chest,
to look behind me,
out the window –
towards the sunshine.

 

Chloe Yelena Miller is a writer based in Washington, D.C. She teaches writing at the University of Maryland Global Campus and Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., as well as privately. Her debut book, Viable, is forthcoming in 2021 from Lily Poetry Review Books. She blogs at chloeyelenamiller.com and tweets at @ChloeYMiller.



Image by Moyan Brenn from Italy – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40605004

Two Poems by Carol Poster

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Sheltering in Place

The desert wind outside my window howls.
Tree branches, desiccated by the rainless winter,
toss and rustle with eerily sibilant sounds.
The wind itself moans as it angles up the wash,
tenor crescendo diminishing to hollow baritone,
with crickets performing a monotonous percussion
in the background.
The wind shifts, striking my house head on.
The screen rattles against the sliding glass door.
I am fragile and alone.

Game Night

My friend’s parrot talks,
or at least whistles and squawks
over voice chat as our team kills
orcs, demons and even evil gods.
The video game over, my friend
drapes a towel over the cage
to calm the parrot to sleep.
I lie in bed, restless with the full moon
casting a stark white light into my room.
I draw a blanket over my head,
and with my eyes shaded
like the caged bird, sleep.

Carol Poster is the author of three chapbooks of poetry, most recently Returning to Dust (Finishing Line Press 2017), and verse translations from Latin, Classical Greek, and French.  She has also published three books of commercial nonfiction and currently lives in Tucson, Arizona where she works as a freelance writer and photographer. Her books can be found at: https://www.amazon.com/Carol-Poster/e/B001JRUYTA




Image by Sue in az – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2397970

Five Prose Poems by Laura Costas

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Ariadne Awakens

  She smoothed the creases in the bright blue sky, and when he arrived, there was barely time to clear the space between them of ash, coffee grounds, today’s paper, and flammable liquids scented of anise, of orange.
  Her dune, his dromedary; their islands with violet horizons. He carved her initials in a cloud.

Instrument

  There was lightning in the night, and this morning, pitching horses are in the branches of trees. Fragrance bursts from their wild-eyed blooms, and sound is shaking their semilunar leaves. In the sky, the sun is wrestling blanketing clouds. Either way, warmth awaits around the corner.
  Love is original, ours, or it’s a tool, lost.

Vine

  A snail stands motionless in the kitchen. She, a finite spiral of delicate, edible flesh with pleasure at the center, suggests but does not speak of egg and bone. There are birds imprisoned in the cupboard; weather fossilizes over the stove. In another room, named grains of sand flow past a narrow opening and back again. How long before the furling leaves trail slowly into the doorway and carry the plaster shadow into the light?

Spacecraft
for SM

  A doe the color of iron steps out of the dripping woods to place a finely wrought foot on the desert pavement of your sidewalk. You may offer your hand, but in it she will place a question that you can’t answer, try as you might.
  It’s a start. You pass an evening beginning at dusk amid smoke and conversation, effortless, ephemeral, yours, until, alert to the near-earth passing of an asteroid, she lifts her tail and sails.
  The hum of the Sun, who spent his entirety last night but is fully back again this morning—how does he do that?—will carry you on. Apply to Neptune for tears.

Lepidoptera

   On a pin, in a box, in a drawer, in a cabinet, in a dusty annex, there it is, your smile, the one upturned on both sides in symmetrical pleasure.
  A long-ago clerk handsomely quilled its number, 34, or 558, or whatever, and here today it sits, a lonely representative of its continent of gone-tomorrow wonders. Immortality is a lot to ask of a couple of square inches of pretty iridescence.
  If we gave our specimen a sky and a sun again, would it lift from its disenchanted inventory and join all its fellow wings who light momentarily on puddles and brilliant, perfect things and then are never seen again?
  What are you saving it for? Let us try.

DC native Laura Costas wonders if she is an artist often overtaken by words or a writer whose poems intermittently become pictures. She has won grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and the Montgomery County, MD Arts Commission, and an award from the American Institute of Graphic Arts. She is the author and designer of two books, Honest Stories published by DC’s Gut Punch Press, and the autonomously produced Fabulae, Tales for an Age of Ambivalence. These poems are from a forthcoming collection, Ariadne Awakens, Instructions for the Labyrinth.


Artwork by Laura Costas.

Three Poems by Bernardine Watson

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ANNIE

I. Lament for Annie

The pink door on Locust street
sits slightly ajar.
Once grand,
now suffering at the hands of too many strangers
who have no idea where they are going.

The vine covered church across the way
still casts an afternoon shadow on the sidewalk
as if nothing has changed,
yet twenty years and you are gone.

Am I the only one who knows
that there has been a disappearance?
A vanishing?
Am I the only one who remembers
what was behind the pink door:

Two rooms on the third floor
filled with the secrets and dreams
of a fragile black girl.
A girl with a distant smile
that never seemed anchored
in anything I could truly understand.
A soul longing to exist in some other place.

There are days when I take Locust street
just to stand in the church courtyard across the way,
searching for a time
that has fallen through the looking glass.
Watching as people walk through my memories of you
carrying away chips of pink paint
on the bottom of their shoes.

Oh Annie,
that door is always open
waiting
for
you.

II. Annie Speaks

Pink is no color for a door
that must withstand
the harshest elements,
the unseeing eye, the unfeeling hand.
How well I know this frailty,
having always craved the rarest tenderness,
the unattainable heart.

Imagine the pale, pale rose
near translucent with innocence,
too delicate for touch.

Have twenty years flown by so wingedly?
Here within the shadow of this hallowed place
time is nothingness. I am everywhere.
My secrets ride aside the wind.
My dreams ascend the vines toward
heaven.
Come. Walk with me across the courtyard
and know that I am home.

Please: A Soulful Sonnet

Do not swear you love me so unquenchably,
with verses blooming sweet and blooms as rare as truth.
So rare is truth, dear sir. I fear you do not love me as you swear!
For this, I dare not hold your tender gifts
too close to head or heart,
Or lay too long inside your outstretched arms.

What is this love to you, I ask?
Four letters? An ancient hieroglyph of spheres
and lines to tie and bind my mind, my very soul?
A bid to own my woman-ness,
that deep and cavernous mystery
in me that riles your rest and haunts you so?

I do not know. But I watch your favor turn to dust,
your fervor cool to almost nothingness when I am most myself.
So rare is truth.

THE DANCE 

Must I forever dance the bewildering labyrinth, 

wandering circles

ever widening   

searching for the starry heart? 

Sometimes I ride the dizzying pilgrimage to mecca, 

ascending sound and the shifting light. 

Sometimes the vortex sings my name, 

and I wonder if I must answer. 

Just yesterday, the vortex beckoned,  

swing low swing low— 

sowing my name 

into the roiling tempest.  

I sit at the brink of a reckless world, 

listening for the sound of circles widening,  

waiting for the labyrinth to flower   

within. 

Prior to taking a serious interest in poetry, Bernardine (Dine) Watson worked as a social policy writer for major foundations, nonprofits, and media organizations. She has written for The Washington Post, The Ford Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation and Stoneleigh Foundation. Dine’s poetry has been published in the Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Indian River Review, by Darkhouse Books, and by the Painted Bride Art Center.  She was a member of 2015-16 class of The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ the Poet in Progress Program, and the 2017 and 2018 classes of the Hurston Wright Foundation’s Summer Writers Week. Dine serves on DC’s Ward 4 Arts and Humanities Committee and on the selection committee for the Takoma Park Third Thursday poetry reading series. She’s read her poetry in venues throughout the DC metropolitan area with More Than A Drum Percussion Ensemble. Dine is a current member of DC Women Writers of Color.


Image by By I, Wildfeuer, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7671573