Anthology of Poets – Azania to DC

Elizabeth Acevedo
Thabang Mashile
Shayla Johnson
Xitha Makgeta
Modise Sekgothe
Nesha Ruther





It Almost Curdles My Womb Dry

Imagine the boys:
they will help me carry grocery bags.
Then whistle. Whisper.
Crook fingers in my daughter’s direction.
She will accept their invitation.
Chill behind paint-chipped staircase.
The cheap vodka will burn her throat.
But not how they will later.
They become more thrust than thought.
Watch them grab wrists and ankles.
She is now a rope they jump.

For the years that follow.
When she wakes me. Her bed puddled
in piss. I will scrub these hands raw.
Tremble at what they couldn’t prevent.

I hold all the smiles of my daughter.
Tipped up to the milk of this promise:
she will not walk hunched.
Forced to turn herself into a corner.
Taught her body it is a place to huddle.
She will not smile polite as men make war on her.

She will be carved from hard rock;

sharpened shrapnel a spearhead.

Her whole body ready to fling itself arrow
the hand of the first man who tries to cover her mouth.





What That Mouth Do?


a pair of spreading swan wings
a black hole seaming itself closed
a puckered up plum… intact pit

fuchsia tinted window
pushing tongue out for a drive-by
it be sawed-off it be saw

a wolf trap an open bird cage
a water-colored chinese lantern—
tea candle in womb

it split spill suctions knives
it be snake and fangs
and tangles a pout

women like us have one answer:
this mouth stacks itself rows of bricks
narrowing walls that close in crush











She Autumn

Cross between a sunflower and a winter jasmine
She’s a seasonal breakthrough leaning against the breeze; that last leaf tanning at the spine of a branch. Head held high, as though veiling masculinity – she is walking masculinity.
She, glimpse of sunset. Bitter sweet dark orange. Celestial alignment at your service. She is both wonder and gaze. A maze of discovery, willing to wander.
She is era embodied. Taking time and pacing self to create this time piece and not to be caught up in this day and time on another’s watch.
She autumn, a summer dress by a fire place. Calm and warm. Surface of wild waters. Shedding leaves while listening to songs of spring. She is mother of transition, a book at the edge of a shelf – about to touch a life.
She’s character. Playing wind and blowing horn. A pilgrimist full of soul. Knowing heart is the only home.









I bow my head
Until declared officially dead
I bow my head and clench my fist
Positioned for a boxing match against the cursor of my skin color
I bow my head to search the soil for direction
Mournfully etched by black blood steering my brothers and I back on course to rectify the learned who have classed us as overgrown domestic pets, a threat to the human race.
I bow my head and clench my fist
I elevate it high above a leveled mentality
Which has become a sad spectrum of reality for the youth of my day
The inevitable reality which saw my parents kiss the ground in attempts to abort a generation.
A generation falling victim of decades of uneducated education
They said:
“Let’s lock them up in a corner of their land, have them board on a train to temporarily evade our terrain, feed them our impoverished hand downs – these are implacable trades in their transformation from the Bundu state to the Bantu state. A state of real nurture for the cowards
I bow my head and scribble these notes to you dear child
Not for you to lament
Nor to condone a mentality of entitlement
Merely in acknowledgement
And commemoration of the struggle for liberation
It’s a cushion where my conscious finds rest
And from time to time draws the purpose of my pigmentation.












To Echo

Plaid skirts bubble gum and headphones
She sits silent
Wondering how soon she’ll be forgotten
A stolen memory to the ones who knew her least

Is this all that’s promised to her
Is this all her country has to offer
A tune in the breeze whenever her name is spoken
A grimacing smirk at old photos
A flower for the tomb of the next girl just like her

Her petals breathe so much better above ground
I will not wait ’til she has fallen to make monument of her being
I will not wait to celebrate her spirit after her limbs lose life

She will know of her value
She will know of her birthright
She will know her black is
And nothing worth apology







Weight (Sister Poem)

In elementary school whenever the class had to go somewhere
we always had to line up in a single file line according to height
I’ve always been tall for my age
the biggest out of all my friends
and I was always the last in line
I was taught early on that
those of us too big to fit society’s mold
were often put on the back burner

So I taught myself how to be small
started perming my curls
so they would lay flat and lifeless
started crouching in my seat
so I wouldn’t block anyone’s view of the white board
started speaking softer
so that my voice wouldn’t be the boldest in the room
started running track
so that my thighs wouldn’t take up so much unnecessary space
started losing myself
so that I wouldn’t take up so much unnecessary space

And I wish that I could tell you that at 19 I’ve outgrown these practices
but old habits die hard
and bad habits are the hardest to get rid of
So I’ve been unlearning all the things that made me want to disappear
and relearning how to be big
how to take up as much space as I feel like
how to be the biggest, boldest voice in the room and not give a single fuck if anyone doesn’t like it or me
how to demand that people see the whole of me instead of just the parts they deem beautiful
how to claim the necessity of my being

And I won’t lie
it gets hard sometimes
to always be spectacle or museum
which is to say that the biggest things about me like my brain or my heart or my voice or my body won’t be appreciated until I’m clean cut casket
which is to say that my beauty won’t be beautiful until I’m no longer around to claim it as such

But I remember to tell myself that this poem is bigger than me
That this poem is for my little sisters who are growing up in a world that’s telling them everything they are is unworthy of love and acceptance

So to Jaylee and Jayda:
when the world tries to tell you that you’re too big
or too black
or too proud
or too loud
remind it that black girls have a long history of carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders
which is to say
It wouldn’t be shit without you
















Pen Point


This pen vomits compositions of a dread scribe

He mimic dance of silent monuments

That watches us like scarecrows

Secret agents season, see son serving serpents

And mother fathers come out of the closet

To frown at painting in galleries of explicit content

Where artists attempt to recycle their voice silenced

What’s with this freedom of expression?

That some get insulted when art raise vexed questions

Proposing discussions of topics that disgust us

But we throw stones at messengers

They harvest our screams for exhibitions
















A Song Sat With Me


A song sat with me,
Stark naked with the stars pasted on its genitals.
It moved into my bloodstream
And burst my ventricles.
It proved that love seeps
Through and through in our insides.
It sounded like milk,
Tap dancing on my ear-drums.
It pounded them with its feet,
Slowly vibrating my ear-ducts.


It surrounded me with bliss,
And told me to be patient when fear strikes.
To be grounded when it lifts,
And not astounded by my minds flight.
We were all founded by a kiss,
That escalated into a steamy night.
The result of an orgasm,
Premeditated by an angel’s flight,
Into the prison that is this planet,
Inescapable until you endure sights
Unexplainable to your parents.
In a space where you can grow to heights
Unimaginable to mere humans.
Your inner-space is where the truth lies,
Untainted by all illusion.
Behind its face laid my true eyes,
On which it painted what’s within us,
The truest of saints who write to ease the pain
Of those we see as sinners.


A song sat with me,
Stark naked with the stars pasted on its genitals.
Two moons orbiting its chest
As its breasts, suggested miracles,
Of how writers are to mirror mysteries
And operate as oracles,
To murder misery
And collaborate in writing the chronicles.
To further speak to me it spoke to me
of how words can rearrange our molecules.
How a heart can beat,
To the rhythm of a poem
And how this art can speak,
When you listen or perform,
From your utmost deep
Until our minds start to transform
And depart from their sleep.


When we remember that we’re angels,
With the pages as our wings,
And our poems as our prayers,
And the stages as our rings.
Where we fight away the layers,
Of our fears and shortcomings,
And transform into the heirs
Of a kingdom that has come,
To rekindle our flames,
And a wisdom that succumbs,
To no swindler of truth.


It told me that every poem is a rainbow,
And our hearts the pot of gold.
So at the end of every one,
Is the start of an infinite soul,
Projected into a prism,
To reflect on those who behold
And the many who are held
By the magic in our poems
That are mainly from our hell,
But are heaven to our audience.

Inside the matrix that we dwell
Is a system of accordions
Playing the music of the sphere
To inspire our performance.
What transpires is beyond us,
When a man is no longer,
What resides is a being
Who brings the angels among us
And through his eyes we begin to see,
All the beauty that surround us
When our inner-space is clean.


All the duties of a Magus
Are interposed with those of he,
He refuses to be a menace
And to his rage he’ll never heed
Instead he chooses to be the lens
Of all the beauty that he sees
And to show it to those who look
And those who listen to the seen.
He’s a man, he’s a woman,
He’s a poet and he bleeds,
Then lets it drip onto the stage
As a sacrifice to his audience.














The Cape by the Water


I am envious of this city

How it reeks of your skin

I am sorrowful ship slipping away from your shoreline

Seasick and vomiting over balcony railings

City lights pierce the distance

How I dreamed of seeing them with you

Point your house out

Smile with your mother’s cheekbones

Am I nothing but another leaving girl?

Nothing but another attempt at understanding your overgrown moss mystery?

Nothing but another maze for you to lose yourself in?

I want to be soft enough to not feel your ache when other lovers try to pry me open

I want to be ship

To celebrate this churning

I want to love you still knowing there are going to be others to make me sick

Beginnings become endings and endings become harbors


I dreamt of returning here before I ever left.












A letter to me from my grandmother’s Star of David:


Darling, you have grown so beautiful
Look at you, dark curl and sharp nose
Such Semetic skin you carry
Skin of sand and stone
Buried bedrock and nameless grave
Darling, have you stopped your mourning?
Put your black dresses on the bottom shelf
Forgotten the stench of burning in bright America
Forgotten your flesh in finances and good education
Forgotten your lungs in liberal bastion
Kristelnact an old sharp word, scarred over and forgotten
You wear me like you have something to prove darling
Like you get brownie points for not being just another white girl
You put Hebrew in poems to get a higher score but don’t even know what these words mean
you still place me behind pen and poetry
Write about a culture you so clearly have forgotten in your short skirts and pork and activism
that leaves me an afterthought
We didn’t fight for you to denounce me on stage darling
For you to praise this place called Palestine
Speak of our reclamation as genocide
Darling I know genocide
I have seen it in the blue and white stripes of your t-shirts
In the tattoo you wear like this flesh has ever been empowering
Like your ancestors had a choice in what to have printed on their skin
In what they were and where they ended up
Like they didn’t have to die for you to do what you do
and You use your culture as secret
As party trick
As a something to make you a little less dull
But reject us for all your young revolutionaries
But they don’t know what we know
Try to find your family in the dirt darling they burned my children now they are scattered across
Try to remember your prayers like history didn’t cycle through the murder of all our languages
I have been blacklisted by too many empires for you forget where you came from. For you to
manipulate me in your favor.
Don’t you know there is no room for criticism In a culture that has never stopped burying their dead.
No room to disown a state that is the only place for us to call home
The only flag I can live on
Zionism the only air I can breathe
For you to call me oppressor is to summon seas of anti-semitism
To dig all our graves
sound familiar?
I watched my children bury themselves at gunpoint I have no problem watching the people of
some other son perish in the name of our survival
In the name of your survival darling

Without this land we are nothing
without you we are already dead
And I am just six sides of an always fractured diaspora, hollowed and holy

So Light your candles, toss back your wine and next year, we will be in Jerusalem, no matter
whose bodies we are standing on
Me, around your neck, hanging from the heavens


More entries in the anthology are forthcoming.