We are delighted to present this week’s selections from the Brain Mill Press Poetry Month Contest. We received many outstanding entries, from which these pieces by Imani Davis, Lynn Marie Houston, and Jiordan Castle stood out. We hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we did.

Grave Robber Digs with a Pen

by Imani Davis


When a Black ______ dies and they last breath is played on repeat, must we still paint the forest?

I debate this with my hands.


They say Ain’t nobody else to remember the blood.

I say they ain’t the ones bleeding.


I interrogate every poem about the dead.

There they go, robbing the grave and settling in the boy’s place.


What do we grow with this?

While I ask, the poem picks lilies off the casket.


The grief is not all (a) mine.


Vulture’s talon ( be ) artist in  my hands                     say

look how                                  the skull shines in your light.


Watch: ____. _____.

You ain’t flinch? How you used to forcing reincarnation?


I get it. Shut the news off and the screen’s a mirror.

You don’t ask to be reflected in the black of its pause.


You here though:

Dense tangle of light hostage


in God’s 3 dimensions. Or maybe not

You. (the faces all blur together,


Ghost shadowed and inadequate.

It’s hard to tell the difference.)


My hands mimic a bullet’s carnivorous twitch. Say it ain’t

me, but it could be. It ain’t me



I say the fear of the bullet is not the bullet itself.

Some folk never get the chance to flinch.


I translate the body of a boy into language.

The lines will never break as

clean as his bones.


After the show, the check

cuts like the scalpel do.


I eat. I buy

my mother something


she can never lose.

It is not security.

About Imani Davis

About Imani

Imani Davis is Black magic. She currently works on Urban Word NYC’s Youth Leadership Board. Her poetry has appeared in Rookie Magazine and the occasional trash can.

Fall Break in Paris Was a Mistake

by Lynn Marie Houston


After you’ve done all the things in this world once, you just

want to sleep. Like after you land in Paris and realize you don’t

really want to be there, that the man you’re travelling with is a

bore, on his best days, and that Parisian restaurants are too

chi chi frou frou to serve la chasse, fresh game meat paired

with Brussels sprouts and mashed roasted chestnuts,

which you can get everywhere in neighboring

Switzerland when the Beaujolais Nouveau

arrives in November.


It’s like this with all the things you’ve ever longed for—

hungering for flesh from the Jura Mountains, you wind up

eating bean cassoulet at a tourist cafe. You desire a partner,

a significant other, and end up with a guy who, while you are

trying to sleep on an Intercontinental flight, keeps

tickling your nose with the end of his scarf asking,

Are you awake yet? Are you awake?

About Lynn Marie Houston

About Lynn

Lynn Marie Houston‘s poetry has appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, Blue Lyra Review, Melancholy Hyperbole, and other journals, as well as in her first collection, The Clever Dream of Man (Aldrich Press). She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and twice for a Best of the Net Award. Her poems have received distinction in contests sponsored by Broad River Review, Whispering Prairie Press, Prime Number Magazine, and the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. She is currently in the M.F.A program at Southern Connecticut State University and runs Five Oaks Press.



by Jiordan Castle


When I was still in college                                                 there was this one night

when              if you’ll forgive my melodrama

my world split open

and spilled out.

The room was dark             and endless:

the ocean at night

no                   a flash flood.


I sat cross-legged at the edge of the stage

the auditorium too crowded and small

to seat every ticketholder.

But they kept selling and seating

until the lights went out

to reveal         a mass of 15- to 17-year-old girls:

some with big breasts       some small

some with stained lips       some with deep hips

some who wouldn’t get cute for years

many who were uninterested in cute

all dressed in black with no shoes on

doing what I was told was like

the Vagina Monologues     for the younger set.


It was called SWEAR Words

and every girl had something to say:

be it in dance scenes                     or dialogues

                                                                                                            or monologues.

There was one black girl

punctuating a mostly white group

and a harp

if you can believe it.

This was an urban private school:                       no grades

just feelings.


Some backstory:

It took these girls 30 hours

to compile 40 stories          all to be read or reenacted;

an anonymous collective

so you didn’t know which story                 belonged to which girl

if the girl talking about her rape

was talking about her rape.

If the girl who spoke triumphantly of having a period

really trashed the evidence each month

maybe loathed the commercials with dancing women

you know the type:                                                   slim and happy

always dressed in white.


We the audience

took them in                                      first with our eyes

then with our ears               our mostly female ears

save for the bottle-blonde boy seated beside me

and someone’s father

who I heard softly sobbing                                                                        behind me

when his daughter

or I imagined her to be his daughter

fixed her gaze on the crowd

and announced                   You don’t know me

because he didn’t know                                                     about her wanting to jump

from her bedroom window some nights

her not having the courage                        to push the handles

and be gone.


She didn’t use the word                                                     the word being feminist

but she still shoved it down our throats

and rubbed               until we swallowed it                      like medicine

me                  a dog              she                 my owner.

She talked about the difficulties of          

making friends                     and keeping them

                                                and feeling beautiful                       or passable.

The impossible revolution our bodies want to start;

            how she dreamed of a world

without men’s roving eyes                         or their wandering hands.

She was my favorite

with her caked-on red lipstick

and her smile                       like a pack of Chiclets.

When she said

that she didn’t feel like living anymore

I imagined her as two girls.

In this life       she remained;

in another life

running parallel to this one

she unlatched the second-story window

                        nailed the high dive

and made peace                 with the brick patio below.


I dug my thumbnails into my palms during her performance

occasionally eyed the two girls     along the stage wall behind her.

Both had spoken earlier.

Their faces contorted like masks as she spoke

this a Greek tragedy                        where the hero has to die.


Such a tiny body                                                       such a violent wave.


When she returned to her stool

in the back row with the others

knees pulled to her chest

face in her hands

all of her anger

seemed to erode                 and reveal a reservoir of deep sadness

that came my way                and curled up in my lap like a cat.

It sounds impossibly cliché like that

                                                but I tell you               this is how it happened.

And I don’t even like cats.

Those crimson cheeks

                                                aflame                       awash

                                                            with shame and fury

her body an accordion folded in on itself.


What kind of feminist am I?

A bad one                  a good one               (what’s a bad one?).

I wonder what it means that I am attracted to men

and wearing makeup

that I am guilty

of not bludgeoning every man who catcalls me

but also of                 abusing the men who abuse my friends.

                        How I once hit a man in the face              for grabbing my waist.

                                    How not long after I see SWEAR Girls

                                                            I will fall victim to some of the same things

these teenagers fight to destroy               or expose                  or even just survive.

And if their cue cards were true

if one in five women are raped     in this single             connected lifetime

I should have guessed                  my night would come.

Had I known then

I would have pulled four from the stage

and whispered

Not you                      not you                       not you                       not you

if only                                      to make them feel better                on the drive home.

But I don’t get to choose the four

don’t get to keep them safe                       because there is no safe.

There’s only you

and me                      and how loud                       and unrelenting

one scream can be.


Rape is like feminism in exactly one way:

we as a society                    accept multiple definitions.

What was the feminist                     wearing?

                        Was the feminist                  walking alone? 

                                                Had the feminist been                    drinking?

                                                            Did the feminist say yes                 before no?

Have you heard the saying

“Don’t teach girls how not to get raped

teach men not to rape”?

SWEAR girls no doubt know this phrase

recycle it                    probably print it on pins

and t-shirts               wear it like a heavy cross.

Even so

that night      

                                                                                    I caught myself wishing

that rape                                                                                            like these feminists

could somehow stand before us on stage:

mouth agape                        pissed off;

ready for a new definition

ready to do away with                     all of its evils

                                    ready to dive two stories                escape this life

                                                                                                            and begin again.


About Jiordan Castle

About Jiordan

Jiordan CastleJiordan Castle is a writer from New York living in San Francisco. Her work has appeared elsewhere in print and online. She gets personal at and can be tweeted @jiordancastle.

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