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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.