Tufts Observer

Volume CXXXIV, Issue 4
March 13, 2017
The Literary Issue

Letter From
The Editor



For as long as I can remember, I’ve seen things in color. Songs, feelings, foods, moments; each holds its individually wrapped shade that invades my head when they pass me by. Holding the hand of someone I love is deep midnight blue like the sky in Somerville after a rainstorm. My best friend’s laughter is swirled with rich mahogany and chestnut. Getting in bed after a particularly arduous day is the dark, metallic orange of pennies. Fear is gray.


The world we live in continues to be flat and colorless, filled with violence, terror, and brutal imaginations. I spend each of my days striving to collect colors, to break open and split apart the fear that clouds my life as a Black woman, and the lives of marginalized people everywhere. Often this collection comes from the words I read. Words, for me, give off the brightest, most brilliant colors. They are an antidote for the powerlessness that I feel in the face of structures that demand my demise. They remind me that while this world may not have been built for many of us to survive it, the people before us and those who will come after have used their hands (and their pens) to see through the hopelessness and imagine a new world—one throbbing with hues that reach into each splintered corner and start the process of transforming and mending—and call upon us to do the same.


Inside the pages of this Literary Issue are an abundance of these colors. They are the words of people whose voices are normally silenced, cast aside, forgotten, and erased. They are the words of people of color, queer and trans people, poor people, Disabled people, the words of people who are often overlooked on this campus and in the world. Their words are words of fear, of hurt, of melancholy, of questions without clear answers. But they are also the words of warmth, of strength, of hope, of resistance. They are words that demand to be read and heard. They are the stories that need to be told. So, I hope you, Reader, open these pages with tender care and let them flood you with color.

Carissa Fleury

editor's signature

The Spectacle of Black Life

By Kriska Desir


My least favorite icebreaker is the one where you go around in a circle and share what superpower you would choose to develop if you could, what superhuman ability you would will into your existence if given the chance. I nearly always choose mindreading because, admittedly, never knowing what other people are thinking is the Anthony Davis in the NBA All-Star game of sources of my anxiety. Yet, I’ve always found myself in icebreaker situations with people whose superpower of choice is invisibility. It’s funny—invisibility is the superpower I never got to choose.

To be in my skin—to be a fat, mentally-ill, poor, Black woman—is to be both hypervisible and invisible, to be seen but never truly seen, never quite human, heard but never quite understood. It’s not that I think all White people see me and see the demon that Darren Wilson saw when he murdered Michael Brown; it’s more so that Black people in the liberal White imagination are still more enigma than human. Black people in the liberal White imagination are still the code that needs to be cracked, objects lost in translation. After the murder of Walter Scott, Brittany Cooper wrote about what she calls “the spectacle of Black death,” the cultural phenomenon of Black people nationwide scrolling through their Facebook friends’ vacation photos in the same breath as videos of Black people being slain in the street. Yet, I’ve come to know that not only is Black death a spectacle to White people, but so also is Black life.

On my best days in the predominantly White spaces I inhabit—whether it is the New England boarding school I left my home community to attend or the New England university I attend now—I feel like an exhibit in an exclusive, expensive museum. Except, I am missing the little white label that gives me context, that makes me comprehensible. On my worst days, I feel like a beast trapped in a zoo, a beast to be gawked at, a beast that somehow managed to learn how to perform humanity well enough to attend a university among White people who, no matter what the circumstances may be, are afforded humanity.

I don’t remember the exact moment I realized that my New England private school had given me training rather than education—training to assimilate into a White corporate world that will never truly accept me. The romance of sending a Black girl to New England so she can chase opportunity fades when you realize the cost of that opportunity. The romance of Beauty & the Beast quickly fades when you realize that Beauty could not have loved Beast without first training him, without teaching him how to hold a spoon, without teaching him how to ice skate, without teaching him to be more like her. The romance of Beauty & the Beast fades when you realize that Disney slimly averts tragedy

through Beast’s transformation into a handsome, European prince, Adam, just in the nick of time. The movie in which Beast does not remain Beast aborts his realization that he will never be like Belle. I wonder what happens in happily ever after one morning when Beast wakes up next to Belle and the realization that she will only ever see him as unhuman sinks in.

On my worst days, I struggle to reconcile my pride in being the first person in my family to attend college with the shame that comes from being a symbol for my high school and university to use. It’s a very particular shame to know that an institution can parade me around as if to say, Look how well we trained it. Look how generous we are to have given it the opportunity to attend our school. Isn’t it darling how it’s learned to act just like us? It’s a very particular shame to know that the Black scholarship kid is symbol rather than human. To know that I serve to allude to diversity, to the changing times, to some hackneyed form of inclusion. To know that, on some level, I serve as a placeholder.

Some of you will read this and twist your way out of complicity just as you maneuvered your way out of the complicity of Trump’s election—just like you shifted the blame onto poor, rural, White America. Yet the relentless and ghoulish fingers of the spectacle-making of my Black life extend beyond the institutional and into the personal every day. Yet my experience as a Black woman among a community that claims liberalism is surreal at best and at worst, traumatic.

When I listened to my American Literature class discuss a text on Black womanhood, I, the only Black woman in the room, wondered if anyone else felt like they were watching a scene in an absurdist film. If a room of forty White people discussing Black womanhood as symbol, as an object of curiosity, all while protected by the red brick walls of Eaton Hall, reads to anyone else like a scene in a dark comedy.

When my peers shyly admit to me that they at first found me intimidating, I have to wonder if they would find me intimidating if I were a White, chubby girl from New Jersey rather than a Black one. Why White girls get to be soft, get to be vulnerable, and I am forever the angry, scary, sassy one. Why a boy read an article I wrote on women in rap, looked me in the eye, and reported to me that I sounded “so angry.” He said it and he smiled as if a childish grin would excuse the racist and sexist implications of dismissing my critique of misogynoir in (White) criticism of rap as mere anger. As if his not-too-subtle “angry Black woman” comment was just a joke.

When my peers ask me to explain “slang” to them so they can co-opt it and scream it to each other across the academic quad, I have to wonder why they feel entitled to African-American Vernacular English at all, why they feel the need to insert themselves into a culture that was not at all created for their consumption. I wonder if they think that “dead ass” came out of thin air, if “bae” came out of thin air, if “shook” came out of thin air. I wonder if they ever think about the Black people who created those terms to communicate with other Black people. I wonder if they will ever stop inserting themselves in spaces where they have no right to be.

When White social justice fanatics perform monologues on the Black plight to me, when they recite their readings from The New Jim Crow to me, when they apologize to me “on behalf of White people everywhere,” I have to wonder if they have ever for a second considered that I am not a vestibule for White guilt. That I am a human being. That I am never going to hand them the Woke White of the Year Award because that award doesn’t exist. That they’re not doing me a favor by being “woke.”

We like to call these exchanges microagressions, but the term minimizes what is truly at play here: the denial of my humanity. There’s nothing micro about ignoring the humanity of another person. That’s just racism.

I saw Noname at The Middle East this weekend and was struck by the moment during her set where she briefly left the stage. Noname had been building to a moment with “Casket Pretty” after a few of her more upbeat songs, weaving the opening bars of the delicate and powerful discussion of Black death in and out of her set. However, when she finally got to the song, she stopped after the first verse. She said, “This shit so awkward to perform in front of all these White people. You don’t even understand. My niggas is casket pretty.” She continued, “Y’all obviously ain’t feeling this so let’s just move on.” I was struck by the gravity of a Black woman sharing her art with an audience who only enjoys her so long as she doesn’t remind them of their role in her oppression. I was struck by her refusal to move on without first acknowledging the implications of performing Black music in front of a mostly White crowd, a White crowd that likes a good beat, a good sing-the-nigga-long, but not a frank discussion of what being a nigga actually entails.

I was struck when I realized that none of my friends were thinking about the denial of humanity inherent in a crowd of White people singing along to a song about Black death as if it were a campfire song that everyone there could relate to.  This is the surrealism of my Black life, this is the spectacle—a mob of White people singing a mourning song as they tie a noose around a Black woman’s neck, and I, a Black woman too, must watch the lynching helplessly. And I, a Black woman, am dying too.   

I am trying to imagine a Beauty & the Beast where Beast rejects Belle’s lessons in civility. The Disney movie where Beast points out that Europe is the true savage, not he. The Disney movie where Beast does not want Belle’s love. I have been thinking a lot about what it means to seek recognition of your humanity from institutions built on your unhumaning, institutions that continue to thrive from the fuel of your unhumaning. I like to think that my joy when Moonlight won Best Picture at the Oscars was in the turning over of the awards from White and, in my view, undeserving hands to Black, deserving ones. Yet, if I take a critical look at myself, a small part of me still believes that White recognition holds some stock. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been upset at all at the thought of Moonlight losing Best Picture. I wouldn’t have been upset when Beyoncé lost Album of the Year for Lemonade either.

And still, I am trying to imagine a world where White recognition means nothing. Where I don’t even think about it. At the end of it all, I’m not sure that I need White recognition of my humanity anymore. I’m not sure that White recognition of the validity of my life, White recognition that my life “matters,” is the answer.

I have been fascinated by the thought of destruction as a form of creation—how a jazz artist like Coltrane might create through the systematic destruction of a framework of chord-patterns or how a poet like Baraka might create through a systematic violation of a lingual structure. Dissonance, disruption, and destruction are so unholy to Western ears, yet so inherent to Black art.  Dissonance, disruption, and destruction are so unholy to Western consciousness yet so inherent to my liberation.

A conversation with my friend Jonathan took this train of thought a step further. We discussed the conceptualization of Black as unhuman as woven into the fabric of the White understanding of its own humanity. It is only human because it exists in juxtaposition to Black unhumanity—one cannot exist without the other. White supremacy can function without Black unhumaning no more than a car can function without fuel. Yet, so many people who would call themselves my allies reach over destruction for platitudes and niceties, and at times, I don’t blame them—the former calls for their own undoing. In “Refusing Blackness-as-Victimization,” João Costa Vargas and Joy James write, “A genocidal logic cannot be altered or remedied without the erasure of both parties, the colonizer and the colonized. Without the disappearance of blackness as ‘evil’ or ‘sin’ and whiteness as ‘value’ or ‘virtue’ there is no fundamental change.”

For years, I wondered what my non-Black friends saw when they looked at me, wondering if they saw a full human being or if they saw their loud Black friend, their funny Black friend, their sassy Black friend. Sometimes I still do. And still I look at my non-Black friends knowing that the choice between my liberation and their undoing is not a hard one. It is barely a choice at all. The only choice is whether or not to look them in the eyes when I say, “I love you, but you’re killing me.”

And still, I am here. I am human whether or not you believe it.

a photo of a woman in a dark room

rain

By Jaanvi Sant

a language

bloomed


beneath my tongue

long before i


learned

to speak


//


lotus-eyes:

i will meet you


where the sky spills

All Grown Up But Still Sifting Through Pebbles

By Liza Leonard

The heel of another afternoon melts into

another dusk.

Dregs of a sunshine warming

from distant shore.

 

Everything wanes, glows, erupts

catches in hands, in divets, in shallow valleys

changes in a breath, sighs.

 

Bloodlines grip and swell,

siblings gather round, holding pinkies,

holding telephones across oceans.

 

Froth and churn.

Hurling grit up to the surface

into the speckled day.

Silence is a specialty of those

with whom we first learned to speak.

All Grown Up
But Still
Sifting
Through
Pebbles

By Liza Leonard

Etsi
Udiditlv //
Our Lost
Mother

(ah-chee ouh-dee-deet-lun)

By Josie Watson

I wonder, was she invited to the table?
In this country of plenty,
the Fatherland,
where wedding feasts abound,
Catholics, Muslims, Protestants, Jews, Hindus often compromise
with their spouses, on how their children will worship,
be taught to transcend their minds,
and connect their spirits to the world.

Was she consulted?
Asked, while holding each new pale, ash-headed infant,
what language they would speak, how they would know the world?
Did she come to understand how her new world would pull her babies
from her breast, and make them strangers to her?

And her Mother, did she become a stranger to her?
How did she live, severed from her roots?
She who built my fathers, my grandmothers, great-grandfathers
noses like the Sentinel rock, gave them skin that browns like clay in the sun,
she who blessed them with storyteller tongues,
she whose soul breathed into their spirit
a temperament, “a gentle manner,”
a peace-loving disposition that often awakens
with reverence for harmony
and connection with nature, with all children of the earth, with life itself.
The ancient Cherokee status quo.

Did they handle her spirit gently, or swing their fists, beat it down?
Did she live like a ghost, haunting,
not inhabiting, their Whitewashed land,
as she now haunts our family bloodline; quiet, unknown?
While during the day she wandered, through Georgia pines and magnolias,
was her soul swept into the buzzing universe of souls that surrounds us–
even us, our information hungry, spiritually blind generation–

into that world which is not caged within wood, stone and stained glass,
not stringed to the hand of an omnipotent Father, but is in and around us?

The sun, water, snow, air, rocks all as filled with life
as any human
did she converse with them, feast at their table, was she that free?
I often dream of her with silver hair, in a stiff English gown,
her tongue having lost touch with her nation’s words
imbued with the power to open ears and eyes to earth’s symphony,
not alone, but dejected,
not depressed, but lost,

as my mind stretches and aches to inherit her wisdom,
in dreams, day and night,
but always wakes to find
this country has left it behind.

Why is it that my family should forget this mother,
even as her blood courses through our veins,
her voice whispers in its mother tongue
through the depths of our consciousness?
Her energy is so remarkably hers that I feel it
as it passes me in the wind, through the trees,
or enters my dreams at night
rustling the feathers of my dreamcatcher.

Don’t you,
your feet grounded in American soil,
feel her
seeping between the fingers of the Father’s closed fists?
I wander, through magnolias and pines, seeking a seat at her table,
ears straining, spirit thirsty

I was told
it was too nappy
too unprofessional
too wild

I had grown accustomed to
people laughing
at its dead ends
and unwillingness to lie down

No one told me
that my hair was learning how to sing
and that every time
it faced the scalding relaxers
and red-hot flat irons,
I was erasing
the tone of my hair’s voice
its unrelenting texture
its powerful volume

Those scissors freed me
as I watched the straight pieces fall away
I began to love myself
for everything I am
for my afro that rises towards the sun
for the strength to break combs
for the power to revert back after being abused

I am no longer drowning in the sea of white wishes,
feeling weighed down by my Black gifts wrapped in gold

Big Chop

By Melanie Horton

outline of a woman's hair outline of a woman's hair

Mira Que Si Te Quise, Fue Por Tu Pelo

By Leticia Rocha

outline of a man's hair outline of a man's hair

(Look, if I loved you, it was for your hair...)
these lyrics spin around my head
each note like a dagger to the ear
as I sit in this barren room,
sickly-sweet melody echoing your absence.
cold silver scissors find their way
into my hand, destined
for the coarse, dark strands of hair
you once ran your fingers through.
snip, snip, like a surgical blade
across the umbilical cord,
clumps of black pouring
heavily, each curl burdened
with stories of you.
my fingers clasp the last lock,
an emblem of sacrifice.
I am obliterating this carcass
you betrayed and ravaged,
ready to rise as a newborn babe
out of the black tendrils I slayed.
...ahora que estás pelona ya no te quiero.
(...now that you are bald, I don’t love you anymore.)

Blackberries
& Brown Sugar

By Kayla Williams

The amber skin you swim in
Sits atop a magic dark and pure
A night sky eternal
Body tangled in the shackles of a supremacy that will forever remain
Jaundiced and pasty

Sugar cane cracks in palms
The cash crop slices the life line
the fate line
the heart line
This is what you’re destined to be
Bloody broken and loveless

Men don’t like brown girls unless they have fat asses
And corporations won’t hire you without the white assets and even then
Money doesn’t buy freedom
Even then
You will be exiled from the kingdom
I promise you
There will never be a seat for you beside the almighty whitey
No, that just ain’t something you can be
Not unless it’s for you to feed the monster your own insides
marinated in the blood of your most mutilated ancestor

Baby you just gon’ have to build your own throne
There is nothing wrong with being a self-proclaimed queen
Plant seeds and when they are nourished by enough spilled Black blood
Watch a revolution sprout at the foot of your throne
Call it your own because it’s for you
Call her your sister

Every root carries water back to the same tree
Nude thick Black skin that smells of cinnamon and shea butter
You are a colored girl shaded by a soil so fertile it birthed the first black brown porcelain woman
with lips like rose petals and hips that curve like the Nile

Mary's Grandbaby (something like a goodbye for my grandmother)

By Carissa Fleury

my nana is
backyard peach trees
dripping in california sunshine but
her heart was always in
nashville

when she was forced from that home
because of fear of strange fruit
& trees & picnic postcards, she
breathed a sigh into a bottle and
buried it in the hot tennessee soil

my nana just gave her last sigh and
all I can think of is
charcoal women and how
she couldn’t remember me but
when she lay dying
my auntie told me across miles of land,
over crackling telephone lines and in cracking voices
that my nana’s eyelids fluttered when
she heard my voice

when I was a Black baby
(born with dusty dark skin
that lightened over the
years and a full head of hair)
she pressed her grammy kisses
into my cheeks and called
me “little peach” for the first time

as I grew up, I got gangly,
then
melancholy and every summer I
ran around picking peaches off of her
trees as she played jazz on the radio and told me that
my laugh sounded like a
miracle, taught me to
love the color yellow and long for her
Black fingers oiling my scalp when
I left at the end of each summer

my nana was the first one
who showed me Billie Holiday
on her back porch with sticky
fingers from homemade
pies and as she lay dying, I sang
her Billie Holiday—
for years, I was dreading
this day becoming a marked-on-the-calendar day
this same day as her daughter’s birthday
she passed away and
my papa was an oak tree but
my nana was a warm breeze

my nana taught me that this Black
body is holy, wholly
she taught me to love each inch of my skin,
to oil it up
because nobody else would love it like I did
to braid my hair each night with my fingers
(the same as hers)
to stand with a straight spine (when I could)
to speak in a red brick voice and
to never let no white men tell
me I wasn’t worth nothin’
because I was Mary’s grandbaby and ain’t
nobody gon’ tell me I’m not worthy

papa went first and now my nana,
my two Black strongholds
& now they’re ghosts
or maybe spirits
or maybe they’re nowhere
or maybe they’re everywhere
and maybe this
black queer body of mine will
always tingle when I eat peaches or hear Billie

and when I braid my Black girl
students’ hair and
my fingers twist as
second nature, and they ask me
where I learned this, I will say
with a warm breeze smile
“my nana taught me.”

illustration of a young black girl picking a peach from a trea

Fault Line Swell

By Aishvarya Arora

I’ve been gazing hard so my memory for it   is better now than when I was a child,
but still I blink   and everyone seems to be better than me at remembering I’m not
White. I thought I managed to   Be assimilated   which means: (of information)
to take in

and understand fully; or (of an organism) absorb and digest. The organism
assimilates nutrients from outside its body to   make structures needed

inside of it to survive. Would you believe me if I tell you, I am
the organism swallowing,   I am full of American structures inside   but I wasn’t
told they wouldn’t make my face any Whiter   I’m the only one who knows they
are there   even though I put them there

for everyone White. To know me better   friends ask questions (they’re the reason
I don’t know how to answer)

David and I are becoming friends, we even get sort of drunk together some nights
walking fast stumbling

on a dark street he says, I have been wondering, so your nose ring—is it ‘cause
you’re Indian? I assimilate Whiteness I thought I had learned to offer
answers (a blackberry gushing

with sweet juice and ruined, pressed for a secret   I want to have) so well I can’t
believe the first thing he sees. There have been no reasons to put up Indian
structures inside   (I gave up the chance to have the secrets I want to have). Or
Look

at my dot thing, announces the child I tutor in math. She can finally add fractions
the best place to   paste the Earned Gold Star

  is between her eyebrows. I tell her mother who says, Seems like a great teaching
moment! What does that Indian dot mean? She wants   to learn too, reminds me
I am here to be an educator   but I never learned about bindis never learned about
India   didn’t lose that part I never had it I

lost my chance at it.
Now I’ve been gazing hard

Be assimilated   (of information) to take in and understand fully   I did only part-
one of that   it was never meant for me to understand fully   I’ll spend years
trying to come back to India   a country I don’t remember leaving.   You teach

me the organism America   never did
take me inside.

illustration of a bee illustration of a flower illustration of a blackberry branch illustration of a butterfly illustration of a heron illustration of a pelican

Star Ferry

By Emily Ng

sometimes I forget
about the blood
that lurks under the blue liquor of the harbor.

if I wait long enough
I can hear the echoing sounds of machines,
of hands on tilling hoes,
of clicks on buttons,

because all the hurt
on people’s hands
sheds a bit on everything they touch.

I hear the hurt everywhere
it opens the world to me.

but sometimes I forget,
because the wind of the South China straits
unfolds hair from the back of my ears

whispering a sweet sound

that tomorrow will come

i don't feel trapped anymore but i still don't feel free

By Anonymous

i see my doctor, ask her about top surgery, ask her about bloodwork, ask her to raise my dose. these are decisions i made a long time ago that i thought i’d take my time with. there is no time anymore.
my doctor asks why i want my dose raised and i tell her i still get cramps. “for two years you’ve had cramps?” i nod. it’s not something i want to talk about. before i leave she remembers i’m almost 21, right? yes. well, soon i will have to decide between removing my uterus and getting pap smears. i do not want to remove my uterus. i do not want to get pap smears. i may not be a Woman but i am not ready to give up bearing a child. i know what the procedure entails but i look it up anyway when i get home. i cry.

no one has seen my body but me since i was very young. and it doesn’t feel right. i love it, but it doesn’t feel right. i love it, but there are things i want to change. i love it, but it took me a long time to love it and every day i worry that no one else has the time, or the patience. i finally believe i am beautiful.

only some days is that enough.

Limbo

By Tiara Bhatacharya


i. it bothers me sometimes that there’s no place to go back to. bodies, tension, string. snap, snap, ash, fuck, i never should have come here. you don’t know what it’s like to bathe in blood no one shares. to nurse my own diaspora. ma, forgive me for leaving you at home, my heart thinks of you and weeps, weeps, weeps. i am only a child, and i should have been a vessel. last week when i couldn’t sleep at night, sweat clouding my neck, i thought of you. you don’t know what it’s like to nurse my own diaspora. shoulder blades and dirty necks i had to nurse my own diaspora. i scrubbed the yellow out of my fingernails. shoulder blades and dirty necks i had to nurse my own diaspora. ashed a cigarette on fresh snow and called it home.

ii. it bothers me sometimes that there’s no place to go back to. horizons in limbo. she looks at me and holds my heart in her eyes and she looks so gentle i feel my heart slow and then weep. shoulder blades and dirty necks and an expired time sheet. god saw me turn orange and i knelt in front of her. i couldn’t tell if it was sandpaper or her tongue but i bled anyway. he plunged his fingers into me and i wondered why i even bothered. he plunged his fingers into me and i felt her hand brush against mine. it was an accident but she looked at me and my hair grew heavy, fuck, fuck, there’s no going back.

illustration of a tree

A Slow Brunch

By Anonymous


My grandmother forgot my name when I saw her over winter break.

She has been forgetting for years, a process which has dulled her. At brunch, I ask her questions about her life that I know she will not be able to answer.

She sips her coffee slowly and compliments a meal that is objectively bad. The entire decade of the 80s appears to have vanished.

In the fourth grade, I realized something was wrong when I was assigned a family tree project. My mom pursed her lips, a tightness forming, and sent me to school the next day with a white paper.

This whiteness is my grandmother’s memory. In my family, we call violence forgetfulness. We call it old age.

My grandmother has forgotten.
But my mother remembers those years, and all the years that have followed. Sometimes she weeps openly at the kitchen table, late at night when she thinks we are asleep.

In my family, we don’t use words like traumatic brain injury from domestic violence. In my family, we cultivate silence, practice roundabout ways of speaking.

My mother prefers to engage in conversation when we are in the car so that we never make direct eye contact.

The truth is, in my family, we rename violence absence.

My grandmother has become this forgetting. I have never known her when this trauma was not a part of her. At brunch, her eyes are vacant. I want to ask her: how do you claim a history that you do not remember?

I want to ask her about the reverberations of this trauma, how its roots trace through our family tree, and why my aunt died slowly, and then all at once.

Instead, I ask her about the eggs she ordered. It’s okay that you don’t remember my name, I tell her. I’m Katie.

My Curly Hair Routine

By Morgan Freeman


wake up at 5 a.m.

wash hair

shampoo

condition

detangle

detangle

d

e

t

a

n

g

l

e

 

use whatever product you can find

mom’s TRESemmé® mousse will do

let air dry

 

arrive at school at 7 a.m.

sit at your desk

let the stylists get to work!

you may not always recognize them

don’t turn around

 

pens and

pencils and

paper will do

don’t worry if they use gum

Orbit® has all day hold

 

excuse yourself to the bathroom

remove any excess debris

tie hair back

 

repeat daily

illustration of a woman with curly hair

You Can Keep Your Love

By Cayla Brown


Does love trump hate?
Does love keep us safe?

Will Black boys hugging cops stop bullets
From piercing their backs?
Will my march keep the off-duty officer from drawing his gun on
A “Trespasser?”
Will my resistance exonerate the innocent,
convince the “witness” to recant her lie?
When will this “love” shine on melanin like the sun
Remind them that life is birthed from generous Black women.

Does love eat fear?
gobble up the anxiety that shoots through your muscles like lightning

when you are stopped by the police,
border control
any White person

seeking to enact their makeshift justice;
demanding English to be the only tongue you employ,
says the hijab is unsettling,
equates nationalism with destabilization of the other,
calls you out of your name
tells you you’d be safer if you didn’t resist
didn’t burn shit
didn’t make them notice the anger
tell me
when is the "love" supposed to kick in?

We have been waiting
in the street
online
on the phone
on standby
for this love to swoop in,

massage our feet
pour honey on the pain
call us sacred
thank the melanin
for our struggle
our service
our time
pluck out the thorns
soothe the memories with aloe

and reparations

Yet love stays absent
Does this kind of love exist?
Has it ever?

illustration of an upside-down American flag

For Colored Women

By Anonymous

I cannot escape my Blackness
I cannot escape the body that identifies (targets) me
I cannot escape the body that betrays me
I cannot escape
The color of my skin,
The size of my hips,
The curl of my hair
Too much
Too big
Too hood
Too sexy (I am 10 and you smell stale, like cigarettes and sweat)
Too much of a tease (I am 17 and you reek of entitlement and your dirty uniform)
Yet somehow not enough,
I am not enough to be loved,
I am not a human,
I am a receptacle.
I am trapped in my body
Shattered
I am the damaged goods
That no amount of bubble wrap and cardboard box was ever strong enough to protect
I don’t (can’t) dream, I cry
I shove my face into my pillow and try to suffocate myself
I want the darkness to swallow me
I pray to God that I don’t wake up
(can you hear me?)
I can not love
(have I ever been capable of love?)
(are objects worthy of love?)

I meet you
now I am 19 and my skin smells like fear
your skin tastes sweet like rain and a little salty because of the tears
(are they yours or mine?)
Together our bodies lay exhausted
But your eyes are so bright
We are a mess
A tangle of limbs
my fingers run through the waves of your hair
While you trace the curve of my arm
I have never been touched so gently
This time I cry sweet tears while your sweeter name sits on my tongue
We are damp, sticky and almost the same shade of brown
I cannot tell where I end and you begin
I have never been more in lust
I have never been more in love

For the colored women who hold a mind consuming love for other colored women
For the colored woman who saved my life

A Guide to Helping Depressed Parents

By Michael Fogg

1. Count how many parents you have that are depressed. This number should be somewhere between zero and two, not including any additional step or foster parents/ guardians. If the number is greater than zero, continue with the rest of this poem.

2. Try to determine which of your parents are depressed. Now, some have said to consult a psychiatrist, or a psychologist, or WebMD, but I usually just look for the 50 million excuses why someone can’t get out of bed.

3. Attempt to approach your parents and talk about depression. If you have one or more depressed parent, do not be alarmed, this may be difficult. Asking them if they have depression will ricochet like arrows on steel-plate armor, telling them will get you a broadsword through the stomach. You have to pick apart the cloud that 50 years of fear has put around them water molecule by water molecule, you have to hold their parental pride in your hands like your own child and nurse it back to health, you have to drive an SUV through the walls of the dark, heavy box they are trapped in.

4. Ask them to get help. Ask them to put depression on their back like a cape and fly like the super hero you always knew they could be, ask them to accept society’s view that they have done something to make them this sad, ask them to look at themselves in the mirror and believe they have failed you.

5. When that conversation is over, walk out of the room. Keep your mind there but put your body elsewhere.

6. Watch for signs in the followings days, weeks, months. Look for the appointments on the floral kitchen calendar, look for which hand is dragging them through this mud, look for the empty chair they leave when they go on their stress walks. Pray to god every night that you see these things, and if you don’t, pray they haven’t spiraled so far you can’t catch them.

7. Find ways to put in gentle reminders. Ask them how their bodies felt today when they moved through molasses, ask them what the name of their therapist is and how many kids or dogs or cats he/she has, ask them if that hopeful silver star is in the sky again.

8. Be disappointed when they tell you it isn’t. Make your room a bunker, and accept that this is not a battle but a war, and wars are won in trenches. Watch the pill-shaped bullets fly in and out for years, as they change from blue to green to white and back again. Cry with them, cry without them, cry for them and about them, look down the cliff and hope they still see the ladder up to where you are standing.

9. Recognize they may not. Recognize that loving someone with depression is still not being someone with depression, and that you will never totally understand why they can’t seem to dance today.

10. Enjoy every moment you have with them, for the days full of freedom come in unexpected bursts. Eat french fries, walk your dogs together, laugh, love. Go on surprising road trips and bring home unexpected trinkets, write with them, make fun of them and hug them. Shake off whatever feels normal, and when it comes knocking, wait for one more moment before you open the door again.

Unmasked Friend

When I see the spaces
Between your masculinity,
I know you
Still
Have a chance
at being a person.


When you feel,
I see your person.
When you hurt,
I see your person.
When you cry,
I see your person.
They are beautiful.


And I have loved you despite knowing
That the pain of Our bodies
Is in your hands.
Despite knowing that it is
Because of masculinity
That I have hated myself.
And yet you cling on to it
Like a lifeline.


Why do you still persist
In a jailed life
With you and Him?
He is not your friend

Do barriers bring you joy?
Because I am weeping at
You
yelling at my humanity.
Trading it to your Friend.


He cuts me.


Do barriers bring you joy?
Because I am weeping
That I have lost you
to a monster that doesn’t let you breathe.


Your barriers are so hard.
My tears cannot break them.


I am trying to tell you
That masculinity has ripped me apart,
As it has torn my people,
As it has hurt our voices,
As it has taken over our minds.


Our mistake was that we had no manhood
To mask us. Yours
was that you believed
That it could mask you.

By Saba Kohli Davé

mother

By Sarah Chin

what I can
glean
from her

body, is that
I must give thanks for
what I can.

I see
how it’s all been taken
from her,

feel her fear
and do
what I can,

brush her hair
as she lounges in the tub, puckered
from her

bath salts; lend her my skirt
on the nights when
what I can

do is not enough and she is restless
and she wants to go out and escape
from her

rutted skin. she doesn’t tell me that she is dying
in the way that all women are, that
what I can

do is irrelevant because there is nothing
any of us can do to make it stop because it comes
from her.

so the only thing left
is to do
what I can

and take
what I can
from her.

I'm allowed to have dreams

By Nazifa Noor Sarawat

We talk about how I’m doing and our eyes avoid each other’s.
I try to look at you more: your skin
browned from years of baking under the American sun,
valleys plowed into your forehead, grease etched into
your knuckle creases. I’m not sure what it is
that keeps me from you but I flinch
whenever you touch me.

The tips of your fingers are wide and flat and calloused
and carefully separate little white pills
into plastic compartments marked for every day of the week.
I take pills now too and when I hear their rattle I think of
falling bottles and scattered dreams, stars against a night sky,
small specks spilled against a dark kitchen carpet,
and me, looking through the black expanses
trying to find the pinpricks of white. They’re harder to find in Brooklyn.

We sit at the kitchen table and you separate your pills
and Ammu empties pots into containers
to store for tomorrow. You hear metal scraping against metal
and tell me the story of your brother
who heard the same sound every night as they scraped out
the blackened bottoms of pots to feed him.
Here at the table the light is warm and yellow
but you are in another place
where tomorrow’s meal is not as certain.

How many sounds take you back to stories of abuse?
Abbu, you have a lot of stories. So now you laugh
when you see death on the news.
I don’t know what your laughter does for you
but my teeth are like yours, and my smile is too.
I couldn’t make you cry with me, so I stopped laughing with you instead
and now we sit silent. Sometimes one of us laughs and one of us cries.

In a dream I was afraid of you
and I tried to escape the you that dream-you had become.
When I woke up, I felt a cold pressing between my shoulder blades
and I knew the fear had stayed with me.
I’m allowed to have dreams, you say, when one of us runs from you.
On the phone your voice sounds folded.
Your words slip off my skin like sweat and I have to ask,
when the dreams are gone, what is left of us?
What is left of your daughter?

Mother's Glass

By Asia Acevedo

Sweat on bodies on sheets in a house
your mother worked so hard to build.
Those plants in the living room are
the manifestations of you. Your mother loves you
and you are lucky.
You are so goddamn lucky.

Your mother loves you even though
you’re sweet talking a trite young girl
into falling out of her sundress
beneath the roof your mother pays for by working six to six
in that crowded downtown city you hate so much.

Your mother loves you and you don’t know
that the girl underneath your kelly green covers
is not naked because you threw her underwear across the room,
but because she hasn’t tasted her mother’s love
since the day cancer chose to curl around her chest.

She is naked and afraid,
Do you see it? Do you see her shivering?
Those easy eyes and promiscuous palms have been burned
more times than the wood in your fireplace;
she is cold because her heart is perspiring out of her pores
and freezing upon contact with your breathy exhales.

You cannot melt her.

While you cradled her like a broken arm to your chest,
she said this was wrong but you retaliated that you don’t even believe in god,
you don’t believe in him, you said as you latched your lips to hers
and stole the breath she’d been saving in a mason jar at the pit of her stomach
for the day she thought she’d drown.

But you don’t realize that she is cold
and she is dark and she is hardened because
your mother loves you and hers cannot.
Your mother loves you and here you are reopening the scars
she painted on her body years ago when you first said she wasn’t worth it.
But now she is worth it,
because she is naked and she is an open invitation.
But don’t forget,
your mother too was once sweet talked into severing the dress from her skeleton
by a boy she thought could thaw that glacier within;
she realized too late that mingling bodies didn’t melt the ice, only solidified it.
And despite being naked and cold and starving for two,
she birthed you from the arctic,
and loved you anyway.

a future, maybe

By Gabby Bonfiglio

1. when someone asks who lives in your heart, you picture me in morning light, my hair (it is constantly growing in) splayed across the pillow. our bed is white, and fluffier than our paychecks allow. the light makes my hair gold among the brown, and you notice.

2. waffles are a routine. you take yours with powdered sugar and sometimes lemon juice, mine always with syrup. i rise to make them—you see that sometimes they are the only idea that gets me out of bed, and you turn over with a moan and it is their smell that pulls you out of your nighttime. you bought me a tray for them, for my birthday, and this is one of the few presents i can remember that have made me cry.

3. we share everything, of course.

4. in the summertime, we make tomato pies and tarts and bloody marys, and we care for the plants in the back gingerly, but we don’t wash them as well, and so our friends get used to dirt in their drinks.

5. some evenings, you burst through the door waving a book like its a flyswatter. “i found one” you repeat over and over. and then we race to the bed—you see that sometimes these are the only words that make me move quickly. we plop down and as we are, you open to a page in the middle of the book and begin reading, dramatically—i sometimes wonder if this is the only way you can. and after a few pages, one of us is in fits of tears or laughter (who can tell the difference) and i confirm “you found one” and we put the book on the shelf that takes up more space than we do.

photograph of a bed
photograph of hands

Web Credits

  • Kayden Mimmack, Hannah Freedman, Deanna Baris, Cathy Cowell, and Greta Jochem

Art Credits

  • Cover: Eve Feldberg
  • Letter From The Editor: Annie Roome
  • The Spectacle of Black Life: Annie Roome
  • Rain: Cecily Lo
  • All Grown Up But Sifting Through The Pebbles: Liza Leonard
  • Etsi Udiditlv // Our Lost Mother: Liza Leonard
  • Big Chop: Lily Pisano
  • Blackberries & Brown Sugar: Annie Roome
  • Mary's Grandbaby (something like a goodbye for my grandmother): Madeline Lee
  • Fault Line Swell: Nicole Cohen
  • Star Ferry: Emily Ng
  • i don’t feel trapped anymore but i still don’t feel free: Nina Hofkosh-Hulbert
  • Limbo: Nina Hofkosh-Hulbert
  • A Slow Brunch: Ben Rutberg
  • My Curly Hair Routine: Jacqueline Enderle
  • You Can Keep Your Love: Rachel Cunnigham
  • For Colored Women: Judy Chen & Ana-Maria Murphy-Texidor
  • A Guide to Helping Depressed Parents: Judy Chen
  • Unmasked Friend: Cecily Lo
  • mother: Nicole Cohen
  • I'm allowed to have dreams: Jacqueline Enderle
  • Mother's Glass: Abigail Barton
  • a future, maybe: Abigail Barton
  • Parting shot: Kyle Scott