Osahon Oka is a Nigerian poet who sees writing as an opportunity to experiment with language, a way to show the world what he thinks, and a means to offer a reflection of his lived reality. His writing has appeared in several literary spaces including, but not limited to, Jalada Africa, Lit Quarterly, Lucky Jefferson, Down River Road Review, Dust Poetry Magazine, Lit Break Magazine, Afreecan Read, and elsewhere. He serves as Lead Correspondent at Praxis Magazine. He can be reached on twitter at https://twitter.com/OsahonOka
I remember in high school, explaining to friends
the racism of the cartoon, Speedy Gonzales. His
“arriba arriba” grito just a Chicano shuck and jive.
His campesino hat too big for even the sombrero dance.
And don’t even get me spit balling about Slowpoke
Rodriguez, Speedy’s boozed out cousin from el campo.
It can be hard telling your friends, in the warmup
layup line before basketball practice, that
imagining being different than the people who came
before them is scary, but may signal a reckoning
a Clyde Frazier crossover of potential.
Then the coach, plastic whistle in the corner
of his mouth like a chewed stub three day old
cigar, asking, “What are you guys talking about?”
And George, the fearless one with a strong baseline move
to the rim, says, “the perpetuation of stereotypes
in our culture.” Which made me smile all the way down
to my Pumas. This was like watching the firemen
arriving at the fire with their gear ready for business.
There are surprises and amazements left in life.
But the coach licked his thin train rail lips,
The whistle dangling covered in spit, “let’s
focus on our practice, our game.” The world is such
an imperfect place consider the ant-eater, the mole.
I am sure the coach was who he told us he was. And
when he spoke sometimes all the team heard
were the bubbles coming out of his head. His
smile looked like it pained his face.
My favorite word to say in Español
es mota. It is the final word of a wild song
on a long road through
Aztlán tequila lime kisses.
It’s the pan dulce and café
on a cold morning.
In college I’d sing the word
with emphasis and my gringo friends
asked, “what’s that?”
I could not suppress my giggles
and belted out the word
blues style slower, louder, dragging
the two syllables over sleeping
dogs, “you sabe, moh….tah.”
I often helped others with their
Español tarea. Them thanking me, asking,
“where did you learn to speak Spanish
so good? Really? You don’t look
Mexican…..aren’t you Jewish?”
My Spanish was not perfect, but it must
have sounded like a Chavela Vargas ballad
ripped full of damage and desire
to their gringo and gringa ears.
Once in high school a teacher yelled
that I spoke Spanish on purpose. His words
confusing and silencing me. And each day
in class I reckoned the smoldering power
of his border raged words.
My mother asked why I did not recognize
the historical patterns of oppression. She smiled
when she asked. But it was a counterfeit grin.
Español was the idioma
in my grandparents’ casa in Douglas.
Espanol was the gritos of my grandfather
and tíos as they watched the 8 millimeter
boxing films my grandfather kept in alpha
order in an old shoe box (Canto, Cuevas, Duran).
Español was the weekly phone conversations
between my mother and grandmother on Sunday
afternoons when church ended.
Mota is a one word narrative
of mystery and rebellion. The word
that begins the discovery that no
one is who they want to be.
Christopher Rubio-Goldsmith was born in Mérida, Yucatán, and raised in Tucson, Arizona. Growing up in a biracial, bilingual home near the frontera, and then teaching high school English for 28 years in a large urban school with a diverse student body created many experiences rich in voice and imagination. His poetry has appeared in Fissured Tongue, Amuse-Bouche (Lunch Ticket), the anthology America We Call Your Name, and in other publications as well. Kelly, his wife of almost 30 years, carefully edits his work. He can be found at https://www.facebook.com/chris.goldsmith.16
I stand in an American Foursquare
two and a half stories tall
in a space a thousand miles from where lines of my blood have shed.
Currently, I am the last step.
I look up to my ascendants,
though now they are all down in the ground,
wondering if I’ve descended or ascended.
Strayed far from their grace,
in attempts to reach levels that they could not.
With each step,
my bloodline has shortened.
My greatest ascendant,
great grandmother Neva Nell
nearly six feet tall,
baked the sweetest of sweet potato pies
from her two bedroom, one story Henderson kitchen
where bitter tea in a round red pot sat on her gas stove.
Red was the dirt along East Texas
all the way up north to Texas’ hat.
She cleaned white men’s estates and
cooked their dinner for her dimes,
making their spots shine,
while her daughter was raised by her mother.
Weekend burger dates,
then back to work.
Her daughter’s cries had to be denied
to earn what bits she could give.
Back to work,
back to back.
The same work ethic was not lacked
by her daughter
who left middle-of-nowhere Rusk county and ventured to the big city of Houston –
Texas Southern University
Black excellence sought and obtained by those whose names remained
ignored and exchanged for ‘girl’ and ‘boy.’
Itty bitty, five foot tall Ressie Mae worked
but could not make the grades.
She married a soldier
made a 3-bedroom one-story house a home
with her husband and child.
Not too shabby, not too fancy –
a happy middle class.
As white flight took off
Ressie Mae wasn’t too far behind
after Prince Charming revealed himself to be a Beast.
Laws left her with the home
upkept by work
work, work, work
Waitressing in a diner,
janitor at banks and businesses
night school in nursing
grades never made
stuck scrimping, saving, and fighting
to hold onto the next step.
A second story of her one story.
A life far from the red dirt roots
to sustain the livelihood
where little Alicia flourished
like the landscaping Ressie Mae planted
of banana plants, roses, and ivy.
Her new roots were to stay, at least for one more generation.
The third story is that of little Alicia.
She never made five feet tall,
but lived larger than life itself.
Neva Nell’s girls appeared to slope down from her tall frame
their drastic drop in height jarring to see.
Resemblances lying in moles, smiles, and cheeks.
Deadbeat daddies’ phenotype dominates
but the mighty matriarch mentality moves the line forward
with relentless dedication to thrift and laborious night and days.
The house’s interior unchanged from 1960.
Outdated, but pristine,
the lawn meticulous, but never gaudy.
Little Alicia in uniforms, praying hands, and parochial school
paid for by a relentless mama
who would not allow the line to backslide.
Stepping forward to attain that which her mama could not grasp
as her mother before her,
and her mother before her.
A graduate of Texas Southern University
with an English degree
And membership in Delta Sigma Theta,
a historically Black Greek sorority.
A banker, a teacher, a janitor
because nothing in the big city comes cheap.
Neither do law school dreams
that she’d sadly never achieve.
I was the second generation born and raised at 11214 Jutland Rd
two hundred miles and three generations away from 1000 Wilson St.
I was the second to put on a uniform and pray my way into educational opportunities.
Another step forward
With each generation there would be an ascension of a descendant,
though not in physical inches.
Another step forward
to the dreams deferred for the one before.
A top Texas scholar, I left home to pursue
that which I could not see, but what I hoped was out there for me.
Another step up
But did I step up,
Or step away?
Praying ended once I left parochial school
Two graduate programs
One failed marriage
One baby boy
I broke the line of ladies
Bought a two-story house one thousand miles away from home base
My tethers had their lifelines snapped at
78, 72, and 31
I was 11, 23, and 6
Did I run to the future they wanted for me?
Or away from the future I feared would be?
I’m living a repeat of working night and day,
As a single mother
To not only provide,
but to elevate
They held such strength
I felt that I could fly
so I leapt
knowing the ripcord safety net belay were in place
Until they weren’t
Freedom in Their Bindings
lines on shelves
organized by the predilections of the ladies of the house
grandmother, mother, daughter
Mrs. Sirles, Ms. Sirles, and Ms. Lyons
in their living room stood a large homemade bookcase
boards cut and sanded
taking up an entire wall
nearly eight feet tall
housing the paper and heavy boards
printed letters to elevate
the bookcase was the handiwork of matriarch Mrs. Sirles
she had more books than she could ever read
more books than she’d ever need
in possessing them I believe she felt freed
or possibly attaining a key
to a world denied her,
but access granted to descendants
by words both living and dead
A’Ja Lyons was born and raised in Sunnyside, the oldest African-American community in southern Houston, Texas. Her writing centers on self-reflection and analysis. A’Ja was a book reviewer and column contributor for Pennsylvania Diversity Network’s Valley Gay Press, as well as an article contributor for Gallaudet University’s The Buff and Blue. A’Ja’s work has been published in Sinister Wisdom 85’s Youth/Humor issue, Lucky Jefferson’s Digital Zine Awake, and The Bitchin’ Kitsch. She is the proud mother of an athletically gifted and animal-loving child. She can be found at https://twitter.com/ajalyonsroars and https://www.facebook.com/ajalyonsroars
Keishla Rivera-Lopez is a poet, writer and scholar. She received a PhD in American Studies at the Graduate School-Newark at Rutgers University where she was a 2019-2020 Dean’s Dissertation Fellow. She was born and raised in Newark, NJ to Puerto Rican migrants and reflects on what it means to be a child of diaspora in her scholarship and writing. Currently, Dr. Rivera-Lopez is an Assistant Professor of English and Latinx Literatures and Cultures at Millersville University. Keishla enjoys writing poetry, short-stories, and essays from her travel and everyday experiences as a Puerto Rican woman. She also enjoys experimenting with different sazons and sofritos, hiking, dancing and traveling. Find her at https://twitter.com/Ohh_Kei
(On May 31, 1959—as she lay dying at the Metropolitan Hospital in New York, aged 44—Billie Holiday was arrested, handcuffed, and put under police guard for possession of narcotics.)
This busy bee, at the end of a life like clockwork,
a symphony of service to everything but herself—
wings snatched in a world blinded by the way it is—
slowly expiring in the sweet nectar of stillness, stung
with bittersweet poison, an alchemy of blinded faith.
And even this they could not abide.
Their white-hot burden, unappeasable,
like anti-gravity drawing light inside
its sense of self: righteous, obdurate,
enfeebled from all their inherited fears.
Who are these men that know nothing
about the blues? Inspiring jinxed history
with officious ink—corrections bled red
outside the margins, ignored or overcome—
their shared voice, warning: Be more like me.
Or worse still, stay separate, apart, unheard;
entitled or at least allowed to live: strange fruit
that rots inside dark spaces, or gets torn down
from trees, weeping their weary psalms of silence,
caustic smoke signals blown from burning crosses.
What do they know about beauty, their hatred the only thing
honest about them? What do they know about the helpless
ones: helpless for song, helpless for love, helpless for a fix,
helpless for joy, helpless for hope? God bless the child that
backward men would scorn, ignore, or erase—if they could.
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 Pop Matters his work has also appeared in Salon, The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, The Good Men Project, Memoir Magazine, and others. His chapbook, The Blackened Blues, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and served as writer-in-residence of the Noepe Center at Martha’s Vineyard. He’s Founding Director of 1455 (www.1455litarts.org). To learn more, and read his published short fiction, poetry, and criticism, please visit seanmurphy.net/ and https://twitter.com/bullmurph
Wearing a black dress she
bobs in and out of rolling waves
and swells. Daily sea bath.
Sea foam sprays and hugs
her frock. Still fully dressed,
she rinses off at the outdoor
shower. Fresh water cascades,
rivulets spiral down to bare
Now dry and on her way down
Avenida Tacna she stops at the
plaza. Her black shoes, laced up
neatly, show signs of wear and
tear. A street canillita deftly
buffs her shoes, almost new
using rags and bits of
Most women in town wear
mantillas, go to misa often.
Her veil is solid black. No lace
frames her ivory face. She
is well known, but never
seen at church. Doña Maria is
the despenadora, the one who
takes care of the suffering.
La que quita penas.
We all run to the window,
peering above the cornice
and spot her porcelain profile
as she stops in front of the
ornate iron gate of our casona.
Our doorman lets her in. The
entire family is waiting in the
sala de estar. My uncle, dressed
impeccably in a black suit, stands
stiffly. His starched white collar
frames his long stern face.
He hands her a tiny wrapped
bundle, she quickly hides it
within her bosom, discreetly
looking away. He gestures towards
Doña Maria’s heels click softly
over the ornate azulejo tiles.
She slowly backs her way into
the bedroom using both hands,
carefully drawing the french
We wait and wait.
The adults go in, I catch a
glimpse of my grandfather
laying there. No more moans
and heavy gusts of breath.
Bedding is neatly tucked, ivory
sheets tightly folded under his arms.
A giant gift wrap. Long bony
fingers splay out like branches
of the algarrobo tree. His face
is drawn, eyes now closed.
Bundles of palo santo burn
in a bowl next to his bedside
table. The aroma floats out,
thick white plumes of smoke slowly
make their way up, towards the
tall colonial ceilings.
Veronica Scharf Garcia was born in Concepcion, Chile and lived in several countries of South America, as well as Africa and the Middle East. She continues her itinerant life now in Europe. Her last home base was California, three years ago. Scharf Garcia has read her poetry at the Miami Book Fair, the Rosemary Duffy Larson Gallery in Florida, the OHI Center in San Diego, and at The Table in Hollywood. Her poems and artwork are published in various books and literary journals. She can be found at https://www.facebook.com/veronica.s.garcia.79 and https://www.instagram.com/verogoart/
“Control, prosecute, sanction” –
These are the words of the French President on October 2, 2020.
unintended I presume,
to Discipline and Punish by Foucault.
It seems that the image of war is the favorite of our Republic en marche,
at the heart of all speeches.
The first time,
in celebration of those who were closest to the hospital reality during the health crisis.
These were gone
at the “front”,
we were told.
I did not know that the choice of the white blouse meant that of the military dress.
If the nurses,
agents of hospital services are in a fight,
for years now,
it’s that of a cry,
and violently repressed,
in the French streets,
denounce the lack of resources,
call for the need for humane and decent treatment.
we don’t want this struggle,
a face to the ground under police violence,
and a ticket for
Congratulations and applause by way of gifts and then of coats of arms,
for service to the nation.
The war resumes today,
Aux armes citoyens
sounds like we are sinking.
like that of a detergent,
a sort of purification,
So in the name of right and freedom,
War against Islamist separatism,
neologism in a French style,
for a Franco-French delirium.
An Islamist separatism,
which we must fight against,
Who is we here anyway?
This is how the stage play,
of a republic called “en actes”,
against the evils of religion.
A new government,
and a vocabulary now in use in cottages:
literally ‘the getting wild’
of a fragment of the French population.
Sounds like Hidden Forces.
France is contaminated
and apparently it’s not a pretty sight,
it is swarming on all sides.
So school at home is over,
unless for exceptions.
Pay attention to associations,
which are a nest,
we are told,
of Islamist separatism.
But the law will become an alchemist,
they opt for a right of dissolution.
Based on what criteria?
I will be asked.
Political strategy in the run-up to elections?
Xenophobia is naturalized,
no need for Le Pen,
Macron is in charge,
Darmanin is on the clock.
The media saturate the public space,
new wording and wordling appear,
stronger than ever,
the Republic struts around,
takes up arms.
a people to preserve,
new barbarians to educate,
to the soft and sweet light of our know-how.
In the face of the law,
in the face of these in charge of its enforcement,
in the face of police forces,
in the face of its fellow citizens,
in his own country,
a french muslim,
cannot but feel the untold role,
that will come for him or her,
in the Republic theatre piece.
Sarra Riahi is a third year student at Maastricht University (Netherlands). She is a French citizen of North African descent who is highly interested in postcolonial departures and critical studies. She plans to become a reporter, correspondent abroad, or opinion journalist. She views writing as a means to provide a critical analysis of current events that relate to colonial legacies. She can be found on https://www.linkedin.com/home
impress lands where
sun never sets
flagrant em pyre
smoke sugar cloth
Latinate (no accident that)
Lynnda Wardle was born in Johannesburg and has lived in Glasgow since 1998. Her own experiences of family, adoption, and immigration are the material she draws on when telling stories about identity and belonging. Her work has appeared in various publications including Glasgow Review of Books, Gutter, New Writing Scotland, thi wurd, New Orleans Review, PENning Magazine, and the Tales From a Cancelled Country Anthology. She is currently completing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow and working on a novel about Scottish emigration to Africa in the 1800’s. She can be found at https://twitter.com/lynndawardle5https://www.lynndawardle.com/
Nothing could be,
more off key,
than the lack of sympathy
we receive in this symphony.
But, you mustn’t miss a beat
because, although you may be
on the horns of a dilemma,
you have been instrumental
in this rhapsody.
I don’t mean to string you along,
but please note: Compose yourself.
Conduct yourself with vigilance;
play your own instrument;
and toot your own horn,
before the coda’s come
Jack Conway’s poems have appeared in Poetry, The Antioch Review, The Hiram Poetry Review, The Columbia Review, “The Norton Book of Light Verse,” and other poetry journals and anthologies. His book, “Outside Providence: Selected Poems,” was published in 2016. He is also the author of seventeen nonfiction books and teaches English at a community college in Massachusetts.
Jazz was discovered by Black musicians,
but it was invented by light passing through outer space.
Look up at the sky, notice the moon during daytime,
like a scoop of vanilla lopped onto an invisible cone;
know that you are seeing not the moon of now,
but of 1.3 seconds ago. See through the night sky
and see the past, different pasts,
all shooting through the Universe’s cold blackness
like racing hands reaching to the human iris.
A billion light years here and there, a solo from Sirius.
Most people don’t know that when John Coltrane
wrote “A Love Supreme,” all he had to do was stargaze.
Matt Moment (he/they) is a writer and performer based in New York. He will be graduating from SUNY New Paltz this spring. Find him at https://www.instagram.com/matt_moment/
A Biko manifesto for the ages:
Black man you are on your own
In your own unmarked unknown grave
In your own land you do not own
With your own hands you own but lend to owners
With a job only to own bread
With the yield of your hand being owned
Forbid them to own your Black mind too
Black man you died on your own
Only the Black skeleton is left
By slavery, coloniality, Apartheid, and continued oppression
Your skin skinned by old and new cacophonies of violence
Your skeleton — a witness to timeless tragedies befalling your skin
Rising in the Eastern Cape,
to awaken Biko’s consciousness
Setting in West Africa’s Ghana,
where Nkrumah settles for African unity
It heats the ripe red soil,
That warmly blankets sleeping souls,
Of Lumumba, Mandela and Nyerere
The Sun is African
Diliza L. Madikiza lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has published his work in various literary journals in South Africa and the UK. He has worked in the media and communications professions and, more recently, has been a lecturer at the University of South Africa in Communication Studies.
Black was a color of a nation
It was unity against separation
It was us when we understood struggle.
Black was deemed evil and unfit to associate with.
It was duct-tape on the mouths of those with an opinion.
It wasn’t freedom to roam and wander about.
It was a trap in the smallest of places like animals.
Now, black is a color not a nation
Black has lost what made them Black.
Black shuns not in the respect of one another
It forgot the struggles of the previous generations.
It isn’t unity anymore, everyone for yourself.
Safe to say, once we were Black.
My March for Africa
People here are scared and they should be
Presidents hold high to their titles
Africans leading Africa back to its roots
The roots that were weeded out before
From the soil, ripped out from around
They wish to remind them of exploitation
Once again, the people with loans and phones
Emerged since they with-held their earnings
Drew taxes and chewed them thin with whim
Thought they were smart and corrupt like no other
Doing nothing for a 30-year developing country
How much more time do they need
Move from suffering and jobless futures
Evictions for urban, hunger for rural
Where do they face and on whose shoulders
The people here are scared and they should be
Government holds peace in their hands
gripped tight without light in a fist
Spoon feed a little to those who threaten
Their secrets that hurt mother nature herself
The people who march and shout in anger
Do little to scratch the itch forever
The same leaders impeached re-emerge
in a new face who brings water to the thirsty
Who makes believe he understands their pain
Gets up on the title and does it all over again
All Africans who lead are greedy and misleading,
not for good-will, like all others he leads
My hope for them with mine is forsaken
I march in anger with words on a poster
‘Cause the hopeless are driven to damage themselves
And we are hopeless, imagine the pain we will herd.
Selma Haitembu is a high school teacher in Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia. Her writing was published earlier this year in the online journal Fleas on the Dog. She describes her love for any written genre as hypnotic.
We are women of the wild
Skin like the soil and mountains at night
We drank from the rivers
And feed on the moon
We hold hands with our grandmothers
We talk in traces of holy footsteps
Can you see them
Those wide women
Wide like the earth
Dressed always in white
Ready soldiers of love
They breathe blessed texts
And sing in tones of the soul
You can feel them in your bones
Have you seen them?
They collect in the kitchen
Laughing recipes for survival
While keeping warm the fire
Holding the universe
They cultivate love
In swamps and deserts
She whispers: The forests and friends can both kill or heal you.
Walking in the curative realm
Returning to Freedom: Land Back
And Then there are those who are magical and hunted
She who lives on the intersecting edge of oppression
Carving out a reality
Wings unaccustomed to wind
Learning the sky
With ropes pulling at her throat
What’s it like to breathe in a loose noose
Careful not to lose her footing
Standing on the borderline of death and liberation
Holding a shot gun with a baby in her belly
Surrounded with bitter poison
Yet, guided by her grandmother’s song for the moon
Finding the forest
Deciphers its fragrances
And then back in the city they’ll say. . .
This the tea…
She resigned to live the old way
Living with her family’s land down in Texas
The mission of Rava Chapman is to create and maintain healing spaces. She is invested in the traditions and legacies of Africana Indigenous people. Her work centers around developing healthy relations with the self, one’s kin and community, natural ecology, and with the Great Spirit. She is a copper-colored, Africana Indigenous woman and both a descendant of the Maroon people and those who were enslaved. She is an Afro Chicana and Pan Africanist. She was raised in Black Folk culture and the Black Church.