a sack of hemp
tied to his shoulders
filled with clouds
of a fruit inedible
his daddy did it we all did it
we didn’t know no betta
he says it was a job
before, it was a life
the only one a black body
could make a dime on
he trails off
sips the whiskey
i’ve brought him
being in all dat cotton
i ‘member the singing
most of all
a great moan
comin’ in waves
like the voice
men call it our curse
she says shaking her halo
but it is not a sin
to bleed for the world
she points at my opening
this is not of God
this is what we women
this is called brave
this is called love
my mother coos
as she dampens a rag
presses it between
a poem for black girls in their twenties
this is more than meal
this is grace
join this ritual
learn to make greens
learn to strip
stem after green stem
clean leaf after leaf
the dead, wet flies
cook the collards for hours
boiling with pigs’ feet
sing while you do this
catch the pitch
of your mother’s voice
comb your sister’s hair
use the best plates
taste how delicious
this is what we made
when they chained us
together like dogs
in a savage new world
and bid us toil
no, we said
we will sing
to white folks
if we can be
hot comb to my hair
while al green whispers
in memphis heat
tellin you ain’t no boy
gonna last as long
as a degree
git yo shit girl
if we can be
so when my children
are being killed
in the streets
you rise up too
you cry into my hair
screaming those were our sons
sat still stonewall
mustard in her hair
she was ten when she got her first black eye
some white man at the counter of a north memphis
deli fixed her with a square jab that sent her flying
knocked off her stool
separated from her mother
who sat next to her with ketchup
adorning her head in a blood crown
my mother was inconceivably calm
amidst the chicken bones on the floor
while whites screamed at her to go back
to the memphis zoo
she knelt there on her hands
and knees and tried to breathe
fought the blackness seeping into her vision
the dizziness trying to overtake her
she said she mouthed thelordsprayer
this woman asks me
i give it
The morning you flung
the earrings you gave me
out on the grass, I dropped
to my knees and tried to recover
diamonds from a patch of earth
battened down by dirt and rain.
When I found one,
post and back intact,
I saw it as a sign—
we too could be saved,
could try to regain
what we both had discarded.
You watched me there,
years ago now, stooped
for the search, denim
besotted with mud, stains
I never really did get out,
and we know what remains—
one widowed earring waiting
to be re-purposed into
pendant, stick-pin, brooch.
What I can’t recall is why
I stopped the search
before I found what was lost, why
I decided I’d had enough
of setting things right, or why,
my dear, you didn’t search, too.
Somnambulism 101: Never Wake A Talker
The first time my screams
guillotined through your dreams
you leapt out of bed,
pulse pounding conga around
the room you had splurged on.
We were in mint condition—
novelty soaked our sheets, skeletons
still strapped below our Saran skins
too soon for the unhinging of demons,
too soon to reveal what lay beneath.
You let me speak; fed me dawn
one slat at a time— sun held captive
by soot-stained clouds dark as fatigue
around your eyes. You were content
to have risen in time to pull me out of myself.
How could we have known
I would forget I felt safe
Sewn into your arms? Harness
that grew too tight, harness
I would have to sever.
You should have run then.
Pruning Black-Eyed Susans On The Day Of Our Divorce
Standing tall above the weeds
my yellow girls flounce green boas,
turn their black eyes toward clouds
and call for the sun who slips away
between linen sheets of sky.
They know he cares little for
down-turned faces left to swoon
in the shade. They know there’s no sense
in pining away into a breakdown
in the way of sunflowers, pupils dilated,
named after the lothario who has laid them low.
No, these Susies have their pride.
They never stoop or submit,
they never depend
on strait-jacket stakes
to hold their heads up.
when it comes
and the gate
of your heart
against the fence
in the yard
of your life
of you now.
Imitation of Immortality
Maybe you already died–January, in the snow
of years. Remember your eggshell ’89
Plymouth, its post-ignition
issues & bad brakes, skidding, flipping, rolling over & over to the foot of the hill? No
doubt laundry day & you, like your laundry–
the shit-scorched shorts, lucky tube
socks & t-shirt from Mystery Hole–turning, violently
turning, the profane world in spin cycle. Maybe
this is death–another string plucked on
a gaudy gold harp as you light
on all fours & go on, snow still falling,
treacherous ice patch far behind,
laundromat open all night.
Even I don’t linger with the long drives,
the schedules shredded, always late and hurried.
I don’t linger here even though I did,
talking about anything for time to become
sticky, a glue between, adhesion.
Still connection did not mean a sale.
Yet the sales rose and so too the mileage.
Cars. Cars. Cars. And signals. And afternoons
that would bleed with the early setting sun.
Yes, sampling wine with people who didn’t know,
some who did, and others it didn’t matter.
We all went on with the weeks. They sold
the bottles. I sold the cases, always prodding
another label, always an obscure unknown.
I don’t think I was much of a storyteller.
I wasn’t glib, but I made a small living,
carved out of days and roads and patience.
It was the last that finally broke me,
not ignorance nor the plateauing sales,
but patience, that stuff that leads you back
to the door, back to the wheel, the stuff that steadies
as you wait at the light behind the long line,
the cacophony of cars.
In the umbra of banks
beneath humid stars
a tumorous magic.
Labors in sour purpose.
Gives birth to good soldiers
like good girls do.
Lives in a country
I’ll soon discard.
John Michael Flynn
When rolling this coastline alone
I like to teach myself how to forget I exist.
I take another hit and rest my eyes,
quietly in motion
without excessive concerns
for gorilla-sized laws against relaxation.
I don’t have players in the industry.
I belong to a church where baptism
means rinsing away original indiscretions.
I understand that behind each hedge
there’s a castle home to visionaries
who’ve funded many a vain
If I had huge money,
I, too, would sit on lies
all day by the pool
letting the sun fry what’s left
of my conscience.
He Sings Obama
Ohhh-bama, Ohh-bah-ma, things are getting better – that’s what the black man chanted as he walked down the street. Well actually, it was more of a bouncy prance. There was a bopping spring to his step. In the 20-degree weather he was dressed in a bulky blue leather letterman jacket that sported the name Jets on the back in large sewed font. I spend a few moments walking about five paces behind him while I try to recall if this sports team plays in New Jersey or New York. The chilled wind teases my face and I speed up my pace. I’m a little peeved by the suddenly cold weather and my mood has followed suit.
Doesn’t he know his term is almost over? I smirk. I am now walking beside him and I can see his face in my peripheral. There is a dopey cluelessness to his expression, weighted sag to his dark brown skin and rounded nose, a familiar resemblance to my once known grandfather. I no longer want to see this man but as I jolt forward and increase my stride I know he has seen me, noticed me, identified my presence. There is a certain creeping feeling one gets when they realize they have been captured and caught by someone’s gaze. It is as if an invisible lasso has been tossed and tightened around your waist – a tethered connection. The lasso slides up and squeezes your chest and you can feel the now audible thump of your pulse.
I am now in his control and he has decided to perform. His baritone voice escalates – Ohhh-bama, Ohh-bah-ma, Ohhhh-bama. Oh yes, things are getting better. I grow a little sad because I realize he doesn’t know the state of affairs. At his 60-sometihng age he does not know that things haven’t really changed much from when he was a little boy; that we are still in danger. He has missed the reports, the videos, the running, and the shootings. Or maybe he has not. Maybe he has been involuntarily knocked in to this happy oblivion, a sort of PTSD because we all have to cope somehow. I am now mourning for the loss of his friends, family, and siblings unknown.
The wind has now intertwined with my woolen scarf and the chill has slipped up my neck. I am tensing, clenching my fists inside my pockets, trying to hold onto what ever heat was left from when I left my apartment seven blocks ago. Why didn’t I watch the State of the Union Address last night? Obama’s final State of the Union Address. They say Michelle was beautiful. I’m sure Barack was well spoken and charming with his usual raw eloquence. But why didn’t I make it a priority.
My friends are already mourning the loss of the president, his family, both their and our time in the big house. But I chose not to watch. I chose not to flip from the Lifetime channel that I was half-watching while scrolling absent-mindedly through my phone. Even then I felt that same guilt I feel when I consciously don’t make an effort to go to church or read my Bible. The magnitude and importance of the event was noted – the blatantly missed opportunity to hear this great man speak live. What would I tell my children when they one day look up and ask “Mommy, where were you on the day that he spoke these words?” What would they think? What would this man think?
My grandparents dreamed of the day we would have a Black president, barely believing the possibility themselves. Their parents and grandparents were bound and their granddaughter… apathetic to her privilege? Is there an excuse for her? Probably not a good one.
I’m sure the old man knows this. He has taken me in and examined me for all that I am. I stop mid-step, pivot toward the corner of 96th and Broadway and wait for my man to pass so that we may once again be disconnected and go our separate ways. And to my surprise he does pass, his gait staying unchanged, unbothered by yet another loss – me.
Ohhh-bama, Ohh-bah-ma, things are getting better.
tmstringfellow (Tara Stringfellow) is a poet and an attorney living in Chicago, originally from Memphis, Tennessee and Okinawa, Japan. Third World Press published her first collection of poetry entitled More than Dancing in 2008. Her other poetry can be found in decomp: a literary magazine, Voice and Vision: An African American Literary Magazine, Prompt, and North by Northwestern. In addition to these publications, the author is an annually featured poet at Chicago’s Printer’s Row Book Festival, Chicago Poetry Fest, Third World Press poetry nights, Bronzeville’s Book Festival, the Northwestern AfriCOBRA exhibit and the Chicago Black Arts Movement.
Ms. Stringfellow has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and African American Studies from Northwestern University and her Juris Doctorate from Chicago-Kent College of Law. Currently, the author is an MFA Candidate for poetry at Northwestern University.
Caridad Moro-Gronlier is the award winning author of Visionware (2009) published by Finishing Line Press as part of their New Women’s Voices Series. She is the recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant for Poetry and a Florida Individual Artist Fellowship in poetry. Recent projects include the Pintura/Palabra Project— Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art in Conjunction with The Smithsonian Institute and Letras Latinas. Her work has appeared in The Notre Dame Review, The Comstock Review, The Crab Orchard Review, MiPoesias, Lunch Ticket, Diverse Voices Quarterly, The Meadowland Review, The Stonecoast Review, Storyscape Journal, Tigertail, A South Florida Poetry Annual, This Assignment Is So Gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching, The Lavender Review, and others. She is Editor-In-Chief of Orange Island Review, as well as an English professor at Miami Dade College and a dual-enrollment English instructor for Miami Dade Public Schools in Miami, Florida where she resides with her wife and son.
Matt Morris has appeared in various magazines and anthologies, for which he’s received multiple nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. His first book, Nearing Narcoma, won the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. Knut House Press released his latest collection, Walking in Chicago with a Suitcase in My Hand, earlier this year.
Bill Trudo currently lives in Nashville, TN. Recent work has appeared in Eye on Life Magazine. Past poems have been published in print and online in places like The Adirondack Review, Slow Trains, and other journals, including several that currently collect virtual dust in Internet archives.
Mike Jurkovic’s poems and music criticism have appeared/are forthcoming in 400 literary magazines, but have yet to generate any reportable income. Second chapbook, Eve’s Venom (Post Traumatic Press, 2014) Purgatory Road (Pudding House Press, 2010) Anthologies: WaterWrites & Riverine (Codhill Press, 2009, 2007) Will Work For Peace (Zeropanik, 1999). VP, Calling All Poets in Beacon, NY. Producer of CAPSCASTS, recordings from CAPS, available at www.callingallpoets.net Music features, interviews & CD reviews appear in Elmore Magazine & the Van Wyck Gazette.
He loves Emily most of all
John Michael Flynn’s newest collection of poems, Keepers Meet Questing Eyes, was published in 2014 by Leaf Garden Press (www.leafgardenpress.com). He’s earned writing awards from the US Peace Corps, and New England Poetry Club. Find him on the web at www.basilrosa.com.
Amber Burton is currently pursuing a master’s degree in communications at Columbia University. She holds a BA in English from Wake Forest University where she also studied Creative Writing and Journalism. She enjoys writing non-fiction and poetry about her experience as a young black woman in America.