The Book of Mormon, questioning the representation of Uganda in the musical:

In recent years, burgeoned by efforts to decolonise education, literature and general popular culture, we’ve seen an increase in critical engagement with classics and their depiction of what is considered as the racialised “other”.

These include Shakespeare’s plays Othello (1603) and The Tempest (1611), Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness (1899) and Camus’ novel The Stranger (1942). However, what is still needed is a greater scrutiny of plays which are currently running — plays which are offering up diversity and inclusion as a facade, and by doing so reinforcing racial stereotypes, rather than combatting them. 

You might have heard of The Book of Mormon, a Broadway musical first staged in 2011 and still celebrated today. When I went to watch it, I knew nothing about it other than that it was hailed as “the best musical of all time” and had won a cabinet of Tony Awards. My analysis comes from the fact that I am African myself working on colonial, postcolonial, and decolonial issues. Therefore, the musical was racist rather than humorous to me.

From the outset, Uganda is represented as an undesirable location. Upon hearing their destination, the two white missionaries who are sent to Uganda are not only shocked but also unhappy and jealous of their counterparts with missions in other countries like France, Norway, and Japan.

As soon as they arrive, their belongings are stolen by armed men who terrify them and the whole village, which goes back to what Edward Said (1978) referred to that “the East has always signified danger and threat”. People of the village also laugh when the missionaries ask for the police, which mirrors the dichotomy of order and disorder, developed and underdeveloped.

The staging highlights a gloomy yellowish and dull green landscape, mud huts, dirt , and other disturbing images (a cast member pulling a dead animal around the village, another one pulling a wheel around, and a skeleton of another dead animal kept outside in the open).

These images correlate one of the Mormons saying, “there are a lot of disturbing things in Uganda”. These images differ from the residence of the Mormons in the village with light, a colourful sofa, a board, and books with bright colours around them. This depiction accentuates a dichotomy of “civilised”, “uncivilised”, and “primitive, developed” that implicitly insinuates how the “racial Others” and “white civilisers” are seen and understood.

Other problematic aspects of the play are the stories of rape (raping babies to cure AIDS), circumcision of women, AIDS among the people, militia threatening the villagers, poverty, and violence. However, it did not seem that people were aware of the stereotypes and the racist depiction of people from Uganda while the stories of AIDS among other issues made people laugh in the room.

So how is this depiction of Africa, precisely Uganda, different from other works and depictions that postcolonial and decolonial studies have tried to deconstruct? How is it different from the negative representation of Africa and Africans in Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness that the postcolonial author Chinua Achebe criticised for its racist illustration of Africa and Africans?

The theatre plays an important role in the quest for decolonisation. The Theatre can have a positive impact by raising awareness, educating the public and bringing people together while addressing past and present inequalities.

However, it can also have the opposite effect by emphasising certain stereotypes. Some shows problematically enforce labels using comedy.   This idea  is referred  to as “Ironic racism” which has been criticised in the media for tolerating  shows’  absurd racist tropes by actors and comedians.

Jason Osamede Okundaye discussed ironic racism in comedy considering it naïve and dangerous. What is alarming is that racism often hides behind humour. Thus, there are limits to humour especially when it is racist. Moreover, the world is moving towards decolonisation, which means speaking against stereotypes and labels attached and following certain people (in the play, Africa) from the past.

White Missionaries and the colonial image of Africa in the musical:

In colonial times, missionaries were sent to colonised lands to spread their religion and educate the “uncivilised Africans,” while colonised people were seen and portrayed as “primitive”.  Frantz Fanon highlighted the role played by the missionaries in colonised lands as calling to the white man’s ways rather than to God’s ways (Fanon, 1967). In the musical, one of the missionaries taught false information to the villagers because he had not read the book himself.

The people of the village are portrayed as naïve and simple-minded in accepting the new religion even when the information communicated by one of the missionaries is an invention. For instance, one of the Mormons convinced the people of the village to have coitus with frogs to treat AIDS. Therefore, the dichotomy thinking of civilised and uncivilised, victim and saviour, white and black (one of the characters was referred to as Nicotine), East and West, order and disorder, developed and underdeveloped are strongly and directly accentuated throughout the musical.

The white missionaries are portrayed as the rescuers of the village and its people from their “primitive uncivilised” ways. One of the characters said “the Book of Mormon will do those Africans a lot of good”. The message implies that the two white missionaries and their book are bringing a positive message and way of life to Africans, and that they need it. This mirrors the past through the role played by white missionaries in colonised countries reinforcing the stereotypes that have long followed Africa and Africans.

While the show title centres around the Book of Mormon calling it a religious satire musical, the story centres around the racist depiction of Africa. It emphasises colonial legacies of a set of stereotypes attached to Africa in general, and Uganda specifically (Aids, violence, superstitious beliefs, poverty, rape, primitiveness) that the “white man” can change, and which the show reinforces. It is the image of Africa through the lens of colonialism, which Edward Said (1978) refers to as the “recurring image of the other” (p4).

The show could take place in France, Norway, or Japan. Nevertheless, there is a deliberate depiction of an African country, stressing colonial stereotypes, not challenging them. It was not France or Japan or Norway that was laughed at in the show; it was Uganda.

The arguments presented in this article serve to raise awareness about the reproduction of racial stereotypes in the theatre and decolonise these reproductions. Decolonisation is about depicting and speaking about these issues that are racist, dangerous, and provoking. It is not only the show, but also the laughs across the room and the silence around its racist messages and depiction of people in Africa which is dismissed by people saying “it is a joke”.

Decolonising the theatre means educating ourselves about the past and using it to raise awareness. It is acknowledging how the past, shaped by colonisation, still has an impact on today’s national and international landscape between “the West and the rest”. The theatre can and should be used to combat stereotypes — not reinforce them — and change the colonial narrative about locations and people outside the Western world, decentring white supremacy.

Decolonisation is not only for academics to tackle but also for everyone. Decolonization of the theatre “rests with the people, the theatre audiences”. Depicting and speaking about racism is not only for academics as well as it is for everyone, everywhere to reach a level of decolonisation.

Who is Edward Said?

Edward Said (1935-2003) is one of the pillars of postcolonial studies. He authored several books that are still the starting points for colonial, postcolonial, and decolonial theory. Some of his most celebrated books are Orientalism (1978) and Culture and Imperialism (1993).

Concepts and terms:

The dichotomy references in the article come from the representation of the East and the West, self and other, orient and occident in Edward Said (1978), orientalism, as well as the dichotomy of coloniser and colonised others in the work of Franz Fanon. This dichotomy thinking underpins the colonial system at the time as well as the colonial legacies of our time.

Decolonisation’s definition in general can be a contested concept that bridges different foci from Franz Fanon (1967) questioning the colonial system and structure to Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (1981) writing on decolonising language and the use of colonial language to Chinweizu decolonising the literature and the mind (1980/1987). However, the definition used here is thinking about decolonisation as a “way of thinking about the world which takes colonialism, empire, and racism as its empirical and discursive objects of study” Bhambra et al, 2018, p.2

  • For further readings on the subject please check:
  • Ben Luxon (2018) The Book of Mormon is as racist as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
  • Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin (2002) The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literature.
  •  Chinua Achebe (1975) An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
  • Claire G Harris (2019) “The Book of Mormon Musical Is Extremely Racist”
  • “Colonial Legacies”
  • Dane Kennedy (2004) “Decolonization: A Very Short Introduction”
  • Decolonisation inpractice The strangers case
  • Edward Said (1978) Orientalism.
  • Gurminder K. Bhambra, Dalia Gebrial and Kerem Nişancıoğlu(2018) Decolonising the University.
  • Herb Scribner (2020) “It’s Time to Talk About Race and ‘The Book of Mormon’ Musical”
  • Johnston, A. (2003) “The British Empire, Colonialism, and Missionary Activity,” in Missionary Writing and Empire, 1800–1860.
  • Udengwu, Ngozi (2018) “Decolonize or Else – Negotiating Decolonization through Popular Theatre”

Sarah Elmammeri is a final year PhD candidate at the University of Liverpool working on refugee and border policies in Europe from a postcolonial perspective. She tackles issues surrounding the othering of refugees and asylum seekers at the level of external, internal, and everyday borders in Europe. She is interested in issues surrounding migration in general and refugee and border policies, specifically colonial, postcolonial and decolonial theory, inclusion, and diversity.

I beg permission to trample emotions

I am writing to only one of the twenty-eight

outraged lovers of Peru

(who have now become forty-one)


Perhaps I stand alone in wanting

to be certain that there are bodies

that the bullets didn’t harm or leave cold?


That there are deceased similar to those, to those that

sometimes result unharmed, when the martyr

is completely transformed by martyrdom?

So much so, that his retina took in the casing

that killed the assassin?


What fault do I have in wanting to know today the person

who no longer exists?


In wanting to know how many barefoot kids

were in the school,


How many elderly remained

sitting in the walkway,


How many sisters sell in that spot 

that which matters to no one anyway


How many names of girls were tallied

in the evenings

or if it was just one that kept him from sleeping.


I will speak in a low voice near the place where they buried you

That many have remained quiet and she

didn’t wait.

But these are the emblems worn by all the defeated.

It is because the passion of this predisposition

Has been forgotten by humankind.

Listen: they said that death attracted you more

than your own spine.

That remains true beyond doubt.


Song for Aida

Against a background of green paint chipping

a rude white cross stands out

shields surge in a line

In the embroidered backpack, full of pebbles

the boy is missing.

The rebellious woman has become an atom

Violet bruises call our attention

One more jarring movement and order established.

She is one with her flag

contemplating her Wiphala.

We now are all brothers

A bandage falls apart

as if exhibiting his thigh finely sculpted

by labor both urgent and primitive.

You realize how we need each other.

Today they carried away Aida.

Meanwhile, in the hills,

the female relatives rock in their arms the hard stones

Barely twelve noon… and already scheming!

Not allowing even a slit!

They close ranks!

She disappears…

Into pure heart!

They want to hug you comrade.

They Sat on Stones

They are not women, they are vigilantes

Who sat on the stone

Out of love for the land, and thus

their discussion carried their dreams

They are not women, they are warriors

Who put pardons in storage

Out of loathing for the sky, and besides

they didn’t give in to beatings or insults

They are the mothers of martyrs

Who remain complete and their fabric is sincere

They become fired-up miners

in tunnels where explosion is imminent

They are moms, sometimes, of traitors

Who don’t know the monologue of power

They discuss the commands of the powerful in conversation

And their desire is adulterous and parricidal

I understand them and even approve of their reasoning

They have made of suffering a work of art

They are the birthers of this battle for Humankind

Alex Anfruns is a professor, an educator, and a Spanish militant anti-war activist. Co-author of the documentary, “Palestine the Besieged Truth” (Agencia Catalana de Cooperación, 2008), he has lived in Spain, France, and Belgium — the country where he worked as a journalist (Association des Journalistes Profesionnels, AJP). His articles have been translated and published across a wide array of international media outlets. He has worked as a political analyst at Telesur, RT, and Abya Yala TV. The topics he investigates include international relations between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and development in Latin America. He can be found on his website AlexAnfruns and on twitter.

Laid off from my job, given one day to pack

thirty years into two copy machine paper boxes.

Rolled them out to my car with my bike and never looked back.

I hear school buses come and go in the morning and late afternoon

and witness light shifting and shadows pouring out

like ghosts from another life.

I go to the thrift store, buy a new top

in case for a zoom interview.

Make chicken noodle soup and write sad poems.

Inside of every poem is a God trying not to forget you.

Pick fruit from the abundant tree

bake crisp, pie, bread.

Apply for jobs, apply for jobs, apply for jobs.

Change my middle name to Wait. 

Apply for jobs some more

Inside of every poem is a God saying

Thank you for your interest but.

Browse the internet, sweep the floors, do the dishes.

In the seconds between rejection and acceptance

look in the mirror to see who I am.

Fold the laundry, wait for a delivery

fumble then rise, fumble then rise.

Upload my resume, then retype the whole thing

into a separate application page.

Watch the spinning death of my computer.

Weed the garden, plow through mail.

Watch my severance dwindle.

Inside of every poem is a God

with nothing left to say.

Labor Day, After A Layoff

We move the chairs

from shade to sun and back

as September light cascades.

Shadows, fickle, move and change

like memory into our minds and out.

The sky spills blue from its dusty cup

as a glossed, glassed stillness seeds us with inertia.

Somewhere an apple waits upon a desk.

I taught and more for forty years. 

When I was young before the first bell rang,

I bought new socks and underwear

for everyone in the house. 

The day yellow now

has changed the sound of traffic

even the engines are filled with less desire.

I taught them words for living

One student wrote

After my mother died,

I stopped playing the piano. 

Ann Iverson, writer and artist, is a graduate of both the MALS and MFA programs at Hamline University. She is the author of five poetry collections. Her poems have appeared in a wide variety of journals and venues including six features on Writer’s Almanac.  Her poem “Plenitude” was set to a choral arrangement by composer Kurt Knecht. She is also the author and illustrator of two children’s books. She is currently working on her sixth collection of poetry, a book of children’s verse, and a collection of personal essays.

I am from somewhere, in Africa.

I am from Eastern Nigeria

a region where foods speak our traditions.

where roasted yam means the New Yam Festival,

is used to celebrate the New Year,

to celebrate the god of yam.

I am from Igboland

where pounded yam is the emblem

of a good beginning,

where a nursing mother eats pounded yam

with ogbono soup

to revive strength,

and to celebrate the naming of her new child.

I am from Eastern Nigeria,

where the power of the wrestler

comes from Akpu and egusi soup,

a region that eats Abacha

to celebrate harvest season

when Abacha is used to tell about

the birth of cassava, the time of cassava

which tells the representation of Abacha

and it becomes the new beginning of cassava,

the rebirth of a season.

I am from a region, a land

where garri tells a new moment

of life, where we eat to survive

the long time of harvest.

I am from the Eastern part,

where okpa tells our logo

and it becomes our breakfast.

I am from Eastern Nigeria,

where every food feeds

our traditions.

Oliver Sopulu Odo is a Nigerian writer who has been published by Okada Books. His poetry has been published in the fifth edition of the Chinua Achebe Anthology as well as the End SARS Anthology 2020, organized by the society of Young Nigerian Writers. He was a contributor in the J.J. Rowling Anthology, 2021. Oliver was longlisted in 2022 for both The Green We Left Behind Contest, organized by Arts Lounge Literary Magazine, and the Spectrum Poetry Anthology. He won the Kepressing Anthology prize (Rebirth) in 2022.  He can be found on instagram at oliver_sopulu_odo and on Facebook at Oliver Sopulu Odo. 

Braudel of France said live in London a year you will not know London

but France you will know deeper[1]

I say

live in Cape Town a year

be uniquely dazzled   冰糖葫蘆[2]  

syrup lacquered fruit ice water dip

live in Johannesburg for seven 

tap the expanse of Southern Africa   barazi[3] 

peas ample from two night soak

visit wine capital Stellenbosch twice   الشاي[4]

mint rinsed in first splash of boiled water

be scalded by inequalities sousing all of these

[1] See On History, by Fernand Braudel (University of Chicago Press 1989), originally, Ecrits sur l’histoire (Flammarion 1969).

[2] Latin: bīngtáng húlu/rock sugar calabash; snack of Northern China

[3] Breakfast dish of Swahili coast

[4] Latin: it-tay/Moroccan mint tea

Salimah Valiani is a poet, activist, and researcher. Her poetry collection, 29 leads to love (Inanna 2021), is the 2022 winner of the International Book Award for Contemporary Poetry. She has published four other poetry collections: breathing for breath (TSAR), Letter Out: Letter In (Inanna), land of the sky (Inanna), and Cradles (Daraja). Her story-poem, “Dear South Africa,” was selected for Praxis Magazine‘s 2019-2020 Online Chapbook Series. Her audio book, Love Pandemic, has just been released by Daraja Press. She lives in many places and crosses borders regularly. Find her on Facebook at SalimahValianiPoet.

Be wary of anyone filled with confidence,

insisting that everything was better before

the world went insane, suddenly too small

to satisfy the untold exigencies we inherit.

For one thing, humankind has always been

unbalanced: people with skin in the game

seldom tire of telling us it’s good business

having the powerful slice the pie of society.

And few of us feel unfairness more keenly

than artists caught between buying bread

and selling their souls, our markets incapable

of sustaining those who bear beautiful gifts.

To create one needs to live, and staying alive

means feeding the machine, so it’s impossible

to find peace, unless you abandon your Self—

believing that The Creator Has a Master Plan.

Sean Murphy has appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and has been quoted in USA Today, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and AdAge. A long-time columnist for PopMatters, his work has appeared in Salon, The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, The Good Men Project, Memoir Magazine, Decolonial Passage, and others. His chapbook, The Blackened Blues, was published by Finishing Line Press in July, 2021. This Kind of Man, his first collection of short fiction, is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press. He has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize, twice for Best of Net, and his book Please Talk about Me When I’m Gone was the winner of Memoir Magazine’s 2022 Memoir Prize. He served as writer-in-residence of the Noepe Center at Martha’s Vineyard, and is Founding Director of 1455, a non-profit literary organization ( To learn more, and read his published short fiction, poetry, and criticism, please visit and twitter @bullmurph.

Ripened mangoes, sliced watermelons

Discovering the girth of our throats

As our tongues paddle the depths of their fleshly rivers

We make sure to slurp on our elbows even when

Rivulets attempt to meander off.

We desire rock-hard abs and snatched waists

So will worship these murals of health

Even if we are not willing acolytes

We will crunch hard and swallow deep

Our bodies have to be cleansed of the fat

And paraded to the world,

Cathedrals of desire,

the Olympic flame.

David Agyei–Yeboah is a young artist from Accra, Ghana. His poetry, fiction and hybrids are published/forthcoming in The Lumiere Review, GUEST (from above/ground press), Ethel Zine & Micro Press, Afritondo Magazine, Ta Adesa, Tampered Press, and elsewhere. He was long-listed for The Totally Free Best of the Bottom Drawer Global Writing Prize 2021  from the Black Spring Press Group, UK. He was also shortlisted for Ursus Americanus, 2022 and was a finalist for Harbor Editions, 2022 (Small Harbor Publishing). He scarcely tweets @david_shaddai and posts mini covers on Instagram @davidshaddai. David is a dedicated fan of Frank Ocean, Asake, Gyakie and Oxlade.

i heard out of the corner

of my ear, my grapevine,

the tv guy droning on about

what the condemned

order for their last meal

before execution,

how thoroughly unpalatable

the statistics, like pre-chewed cardboard.

if it were i, i’d refuse to eat,

or else demand something

impossible to make and with

ingredients such as truffles,

requiring a world search,

or so deathly sweet — rows and rows

of death by chocolate

decadence and hot fudge,

that i’d bulimia

it back on the executioner,

or i’d order singing, stripping waiters

to bring me in my dinner.

why is food

the last thing of earth?

is it the christ deal, this last meal?

or is it because

we come bawling into

this world for food,

and that’s how we must go?

how can anyone eat,

knowing their destination is the hot seat?

and why is there

this primal, human need to murder,

to frenzy feed on empty greed?

then, i considered a message

from a lawyer to his friend,

that he was going to attend

a death penalty conference.

what can you say? some things you wish

not to contemplate.

so, i’ll have the happy meal, with fries,

and dish it up on a limoges plate.

Juley Harvey is a prize-winning poet who worked as a journalist in California and Colorado. She was recently featured at the Tall Grass Writers Guild Virtual Open Mic from Chicago. Her work has appeared in more than forty-five publications, including nine of the black-and-white series of Tall Grass Writers edited by Whitney Scott. Recently, she joined the Tall Grass Writers board of directors. She is a member of the Writers on the Brink writer’s group in Estes Park, led by award-winning Western author, Kevin Wolf.

When you were a little boy

You once got so mad that it bled

out of your nostrils

Leaving an enraged mess of molten magma

that would burn you as it flowed.

“Oh no!” Mama said, when she saw it

“You better clean that up!”

You looked at the boiling pools of lava

on the floor and cried

You tried to gather it all up,

but your hands were too small

and the pain was too great to contain

Your hot tears formed rock hard mounds

filled with thick greasy matter

You watched them in awe,

Suddenly realising what to do.

You scooped a lump of the mixture

into your hand, dipped it into the angry lava and swallowed it

lump by lump until it disappeared

Now you’re an adult and people whisper

when you walk by

How does he stay so calm?

Doesn’t anything make him mad?

But they don’t know that the anger

is still there leaking, simmering inside you

You don’t even know

Do you?

Lola Labinjo is a London-based writer, linguist, and educator whose work has appeared in Postcolonial text and Black Lives Anthology. She is a self-confessed recovering plantain addict who’s not really recovering at all!  When not writing, she can be found travelling, discovering, and creating. She can be found on Medium at Lola – Medium.

For a whole week they spoke habanero — and coconut pottery,

lime squeeze, bright mint walls with piggy pink trim, papaya

lintels and periwinkle roofs, yuba on a goatskin stretched

across a rum-barrel, delight in the bite of night midges,

and fermentation of everything:  mauby, pikliz, chicha, pulque.

They believed it was their real life, real language, real food:

primordial, liberating, and they wanted nothing else.

Back home, they stammered.

The language from that magical week

suddenly sounded dense and incoherent.

The food was too hot, too sour, too fierce.

Only upon resuming compliance with familiar

curfews and deadlines, the snipped words and matte

colors of the censor’s list, and flavors in identifiable

shapes, did they accomplish their important tasks.

And their first accomplishment was to abolish

everything carnivalesque and everyone

who reminded them such vivacity was possible.

For they preferred clarity to episodic joy,

assurance to memory, prim food and cautious words

to anything syncopated or too too



Let’s start over — before

there was a before,

year 0, 

the year after before

Christ and before anno Domini —

the Capsicum annuum growing on a shrub

outside Teotihuacan before

the fibula from Praeneste declares in Latin,

Manios me fhefhaked Numasioi, and before

Latin can reclassify chiltepín, the flea pepper,

as the potato pepper — before

Latin begets Spanish begets Latin America, before

the flea pepper seeds the jalapeño, bell, and cayenne.

When fiery seeds spit laughing

on La Calzada de los Muertos upon a dare

turned to a lick was still just a harmless lick,

and there was no one else to be.

The flaming seed grew to a flea.

Steven Ray Smith is the author of a two minute forty second night (FutureCycle Press, 2022). The book was shortlisted for the Steel Toe Book Award in 2020. His poetry has been published in Verse Daily, The Yale Review, Southwest Review, The Kenyon Review, Slice, Barrow Street, Poet Lore, The Hollins Critic and others. He is an assistant editor for THINK: A Journal of Poetry, Fiction, and Essays. More information about his work can be found at

FROM THE HOUSE OF COMMONS                     


            We must acknowledge the Irish are dense,

            superstitious; count on God for magic

            interventions: pots of gold, good crops,

            rents forgiven. One must admit it’s tragic,

            them shuffling to the work-house,

            with their pack of little monkeys, clinging.

            We’re the ones deprived of maids, drivers;

            we knew the Irish lack ambition; they can’t

            even stay alive.  

            ELLEN O’CONNOR A BABY DYING                  

            12/3/ 1848

            You will always be my babe, my sweet.

            I did not see us dying on the same day

            in the rain and starving, cold; I did try

            to keep you clothed and fed, there was

            no way to find sustenance. Or warmth.

            I know God will soon visit us, take us

            to a place of eternal rest, vast food.

            It’s not hard to go; I shall hold you, kiss

            your pale face.



            DAMNING THE GUARDIANS                              

            6/16/ 1847

            How dare they call themselves guardians;

            men who deny clean water to the poor.

            They should see hundreds of the decomposed,

            then be forced to say their names; and to pray

            they never see their own dead children laid

            next to rotting paupers, in the jaws of dogs

            and rats. And their ample wives afraid to starve,

            tossed in a ditch with the unloved.

            ENDLESS BURIALS                                               


            More deaths, less relief; the dearth of coffins

            and plots have shaken me to the core. Some are

            of the belief trap coffins give dignity

            to the dead. A hinged box, stuffed with two

            or three deceased, is brought to a pit, and bodies

            are fed into the earth; then re-used to increase efficient

            burial. Poor lads can build only so many each day,

            they are weak and scarcely fed.

            A FATHER’S CHOICE                                            


            A cat has little meat on it; when one is mad from hunger,

            anything will do. The father’s choice is brutal. Eat nothing

            or eat the poisoned cat. They knew the cruel lord’s men

            would soon be at the door to throw them out. It would

            have been human to dig them graves in the seized field,

            what more could they ask for: a place for their remains. 



            They are right, the farmers; they hear the fields’

            bleating, feel decay with their own hands, cracked

            and calloused, the smell of rot. They know yields

            are nil, the starving season has them backed against

            the wall. They’ve all been driven to madness.

            Food grown by the famished is laid waste or pilfered,

            shipped to the English who never miss meals.



            The widow cannot speak, is always at the mercy

            of such men who unearth small growings from her

            sparse plot, quite aware that she and five children

            will die in cold fall. She watches them dig raw

            potatoes out of her patch; praying it would yield

            something this time. Who loosed these thugs,

            marauding louts, on paupers who have little to nothing.

            A CONCERNED READER WRITES         


            His days were spent starving; his life was deemed

            extinct, a miserable creature. His fate was sealed,

            being Irish. Pat’s Ma had dreamed her boy would

            be safe and fed; not a plate of nettles for his last meal.

            He was sawed open by the coroner: who would eat

            what sheep eat? This man, a bag of bones clawed

            at dirt to loosen roots, having no meat.

            A READER DESPISES THE QUEEN        

            10/26/ 1850

            The Famine Queen is so pleased to eat our food, tons

            and tons of meat and butter; the Monarch’s

            not keen to see our cankered fields, the skin

            and bones our children are. We are not her

            kind, no fancy tea at four, we do not eat scones;

            or anything, having nothing to grow.



            Where do we go, our Ma dropping dead right

            in front of me eyes? She’s not a wretch or creature,

            she’s been a good mother. It might be a crime

            to hunt turnips, it’s food for us, not jewels

            or cattle, she would never steal from the rich,

            just root vegetables. How do we live

            without our Ma? Don’t ever split us; we’re one,

            not three, she made a vow.

Catherine Harnett is is poet and fiction author. She has published three books of poetry, and her work appears in numerous magazines and anthologies. Sheretired from the federal government and currently lives in Virginia with her daughter. Her short fiction has been published by the Hudson Review and a number of other magazines, including upstreet, the Wisconsin Review, Assisi and Storyscape. Her story, “Her Gorgeous Grief,” was chosen for inclusion in Writes of Passage: Coming-of-Age Stories and Memoirs from The Hudson Review, and was nominated for a Pushcart. She can be found at

Inspired by We Wanted More by Justin Torres



Our veritable stock-house bulged at the seams. My father would order prime cuts

of lamb, clams and mussels, saffron, soy sauce, and pickled ginger. Pastries from

miles away, baklava, croissant, linzer torte, black & whites, and rugelach.

He reinvented himself as a wholesale candy and tobacco dealer in Poughkeepsie.

If we wanted a Mars bar, he brought home a case. We have mouths full of

mercury. Two of my mother’s brothers, both dentists, filled our cavities.



There were four of us—David, Paul, Laurie Ellen, and me. We never went hungry

unless our father locked us in our rooms without dinner. If Mother failed to sneak

us a snack in her apron pocket, we ate toothpaste to fill our grumbling bellies.

We were always hungry, but food had nothing to do with it. We hungered

for a cease fire. For a cessation of screaming. For doors to close gently

rather than slam as my father left in a rage, spewing epithets like shrapnel.

We were hungry to be called our sacred names, given at birth.

Names never sullied by our father. When he called me cunt,

Shanah Leah could only do so much.

Leslie B. Neustadt is a retired attorney, poet, and collagist. The author of the book Bearing Fruit: A Poetic Journey, her work is inspired by the beauty and power of the natural world, mortal joys and struggles, and an unwavering commitment to human and civil rights. Her poems have been published in numerous anthologies and journals. She is artistic director of Women Writers and Artists Matrix, and a former board member of the International Women’s Writing Guild. She produces a bi-monthly workshop series for the Guild and has taught writing workshops in the Capital region of New York.

Emma stares at the mound of ice cream

you gave her, silver spoon dangling from

her index and thumb, an air of perplexity

on her small, square-cut face. She won’t

touch it until completely melted. She sits

on a metal chair in the patio. Her eyes

shift from the cup to a coiled garden hose.

You have told her again, with perfunctory

grace, she looks pretty. Your words slid

down her double-breasted suit.

She is your bodyguard, not your mistress.

Leave her alone. Her black hair, thick like

rope, has a luster of wax in sunshine.

Her features are sewn up, sealed, mute.

She guards both your body and the wealth

of which you are the symptom, the

cause, the result, the cherry on the pie.

Now you are crossing the emerald lawn

towards the main entrance like a knife

bisects the top floor of a wedding cake

its blade drowned in frosting.

Toti O’Brien is an Italian accordionist with an Irish last name. Born in Rome, living in Los Angeles, she is an artist, musician and dancer. She is the author of Other Maidens (BlazeVOX, 2020), An Alphabet of Birds (Moonrise Press, 2020), In Her Terms (Cholla Needles Press, 2021), Pages of a Broken Diary (Pski’s Porch, 2022) and Alter Alter (Elyssar Press, 2022). She can be found on Facebook at Toti O’Brien.

Chop the red onions small. Don’t worry about cilantro stems; you can throw them in. Roll the limes hard to release the juice. Sea salt if you have it.

And yet.

If you hold that impossible plumpness in your hand,
if you tickle that leathery peel with a paring knife and
press firmly with your thumbs — oh, don’t let up!

There are worlds in here.
There’s golden fire, a moon and a sunset both, a dusky pasture, a sweet sweet rain.
There’s a farmer in a hat, loading his cart for the walk to a town you will never see.

You’ll take one quick taste, but next you’re swooped low over the bowl.
The pieces slip, make a run for it, but you’re faster,
and soon you’re gnawing the stones, the skins. Another. There must be another.

Forgive us.

Jane Ward is a poet, healthcare communications worker, and sometime adjunct writing professor who is delighted to be included in this important issue. Jane has been published once before in Green Briar Review. She holds an MPhil in Irish Literature from Trinity College, Dublin and lives in Northwest New Jersey with her husband. They have four children. She can be found on instagram at janesays6.

My body lies down

in muck and mire,

taunts me with its needs—

food, water, a place

to rest.

My body walks,

talks to people

asks for fifty cents

or a dollar, for a bus ride

to some place where it

can eat and drink.

I no longer know where this body

came from, ghosts

and signs from God telling me

I must keep moving

or the loud ugly crowd

will close in.

Sometimes other bodies blur

on the sidewalk,

they are me, too, or

they would not be here,

would they—?

Where my body lies down

is not a created space.

Sleep comes quick and hard.

I wonder why I still wake up,

every morning pushing hunger

upon me.

I don’t think about

an ending.  Every moment

is the end.  Every minute

dies in a luckless line

of unfed breaths.

Yet in faded dreams

I can almost see

green lands where yams

and plantains and children grow strong,

even though I’ve never been there.

Yes, my body breathes

wherever it wanders,

sits or lies, but because

in this city I can barely

see the sky, I no longer know


Patrice Wilson is poetry editor at Decolonial Passage. She was born in Newark, NJ and has a PhD in English with concentrations in postcolonial theory and literature. She wrote a poetry thesis, “Between the Silence,” for her MA. She has three chapbooks with Finishing Line Press, and one full-length book, Hues of Darkness, Hues of Light, with eLectio Publishing. Her poetry has been published in several journals. Having been a professor and editor of the literary magazine at Hawaii Pacific University, Honolulu, HI, where she lived for many years, she is now retired and resides in Mililani, HI.