This is not a small voice
you hear this is a large
voice coming out of these cities.
This is the voice of LaTanya.
Kadesha. Shaniqua. This
is the voice of Antoine.
Running over waters
navigating the hallways
of our schools spilling out
on the corners of our cities and
no epitaphs spill out of their river mouths.
This is not a small love
you hear this is a large
love, a passion for kissing learning
on its face.
This is a love that crowns the feet with hands
that nourishes, conceives, feels the water sails
mends the children,
folds them inside our history where they
toast more than the flesh
where they suck the bones of the alphabet
and spit out closed vowels.
This is a love colored with iron and lace.
This is a love initialed Black Genius.
This is not a small voice
From Wounded in the House of a Friend. Copyright © 1995 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press.
won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
Lucille Clifton, “won’t you celebrate with me” from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
I have this, and this isn’t a mouth
full of the names of odd flowers
I’ve grown in secret.
I know none of these by name
but have this garden now,
and pastel somethings bloom
near the others and others.
I have this trowel, these overalls,
this ridiculous hat now.
This isn’t a lung full of air.
Not a fist full of weeds that rise
yellow then white then windswept.
This is little more than a way
to kneel and fill gloves with sweat,
so that the trowel in my hand
will have something to push against,
rather, something to push
against that it knows will bend
and give and return as sprout
and petal and sepal and bloom.
Copyright © 2016 Jamaal May. Used with permission of the author.
The river is famous to the fish. The loud voice is famous to silence, which knew it would inherit the earth before anybody said so. The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds watching him from the birdhouse. The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek. The idea you carry close to your bosom is famous to your bosom. The boot is famous to the earth, more famous than the dress shoe, which is famous only to floors. The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it and not at all famous to the one who is pictured. I want to be famous to shuffling men who smile while crossing streets, sticky children in grocery lines, famous as the one who smiled back. I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright © 1995. Reprinted with permission of Far Corner Books, Portland, OR.
Assétou Xango performs at Cafe Cultura in Denver.
“Give your daughters difficult names.
Names that command the full use of the tongue.
My name makes you want to tell me the truth.
My name does not allow me to trust anyone
who cannot pronounce it right.”
Many of my contemporaries,
Have a name that brings the tongue to worship.
Names that feel like ritual in your mouth.
I don’t want a name said without pause,
muttered without intention.
I am through with names that leave me unmoved.
Names that leave the speaker’s mouth unscathed.
I want a name like fire,
like my hand gripping massa’s whip—
I want a name from before the ships
A name Donald Trump might choke on.
I want a name that catches you in the throat
if you say it wrong
and if you’re afraid to say it wrong,
then I guess you should be.
I want a name only the brave can say
a name that only fits right in the mouth of those who love me right,
because only the brave
can love me right
Assétou Xango is the name you take when you are tired
of burying your jewels under thick layers of
Assétou the light
Xango the pickaxe
so that people must mine your soul
just to get your attention.
If you have to ask why I changed my name,
it is already too far beyond your comprehension.
Call me callous,
but with a name like Xango
I cannot afford to tread lightly.
You go hard
or you go home
and I am centuries
and ships away
from any semblance
of a homeland.
I am a thief’s poor bookkeeping skills way from any source of ancestry.
I am blindly collecting the shattered pieces of a continent
much larger than my comprehension.
I hate explaining my name to people:
their eyes peering over my journal
looking for a history they can rewrite
Ask me what my name means...
What the fuck does your name mean Linda?
Not every word needs an English equivalent in order to have significance.
I am done folding myself up to fit your stereotype.
Your black friend.
Your African Queen Meme.
Your hurt feelings.
Your desire to learn the rhetoric of solidarity
without the practice.
I do not have time to carry your allyship.
I am trying to build a continent,
My name is the only thing I have that is unassimilated
and I’m not even sure I can call it mine.
The body is a safeless place if you do not know its name.
Assétou is what it sounds like when you are trying to bend a syllable
into a home.
With shaky shudders
And wind whistling through your empty,
I feel empty.
There is no safety in a name.
No home in a body.
A name is honestly just a name
A name is honestly just a ritual
And it still sounds like reverence.
Copyright © 2017 Assétou Xango. Used with permission of the poet. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 9, 2020.
EyeAmBic performs “Love Game” at Winthrop University.
“Real quick all the people in love? Anybody in love? All the people that’s like forget like, I ain’t never want love, I ain’t gonna have love? Ok. Anybody have a boo, cuddle buddy, bae, whatever ya’ll call em these days. Snuggle bunny. So, so kinda like the second part to that poem, so like growing up as a man, well as people in general, but especially as a man I felt like love was kinda like a game right?”
So When I was a kid I had this great fascination with sports.
From soccer to football to tennis
I played any game that involved a ball and a competition I could win.
Favorite sport of all time was basketball.
I wanted to be like MJ and play in the NBA.
So everyday after school I would practice layups, jumpers and triple threat stance
Until the street lights came on.
Hoping that one day I would make it to the league.
If you haven’t figured it out by now,
That career ain’t quite work out for me.
Now I work here and write poems.
But I was always a fan of any game I put my heart
Mind, body and soul completely into.
Except when it came to the game of love.
See when it came to the game of love
I was more like a rookie.
A benchwarmer trying to fight my way
into the starting lineup.
I was never on the first string.
Never picked up on the first run,
So I had to sit on the sidelines and watch
Other players score when I was struggling to get a shot.
I had to find out very quickly
That some women will always put you on their roster,
But would rather choose men with less skills
And more swag.
More J’s than A’s.
More willing to run and shoot than to throw you an assist.
Obsessed with tight ends who only wanted
To touchdown between your legs.
Mark your private parts on their scoresheet
Rank you on their ESPN top lays of the week
And then when they traded you for a new pick,
You always came running back to us.
See relationships are alot like sports.
Everyone wants to play but no one shows up to practice.
Put in the hard work on the hardwood,
Grind for glory on the gridiron.
Fight on the ice.
Go the distance for 12 rounds ‘cause this is more than just a game
From the first kiss to the first fight
You will find yourself in nonstop action.
Your first date is a scrimmage,
Where both sides are feeling each other out
Trying to determine if you are worthy of playing time.
Your argument is a heavyweight fight
Full of low blows and sucker punches
Jabs and uppercuts designed to KO your opponent.
The first time you show your physical love
Will probably be after that first argument.
And if it ya’ll make sure it feels like the olympics.
Make her long jump from long strokes.
Turn his baton in a pole vault.
Turn a javelin into a discus until it shotputs
And then when you are done remember to never
Make them jump over hurdles for your affection.
Treat them like your star player.
The only option in your triple threat offense.
Cause if you don’t, there will always
be players on the sidelines waiting to get drafted.
Fans in the stands
Looking for you to drop the ball so they can pick up your fumbles
So if you want them
Then show how them that you want them
Put down your guards and power forward
By making them the center of your attention.
Treat them like your teammate and not your sparring partner.
‘Cause relationships don’t come with playbooks.
No sets and schemes to beat the opposing team.
You have to play as you go, work out
Put in the overtime hoping that you can win the game
But remember ya’ll this is more than just a game,
It’s an experience.
See in the game of tennis, when a player has yet to score a point
In a match it is called “love”.
Cause they know it's not about keeping score.
It's about starting with nothing and adding more on top
To build something beautiful.
And ya’ll love is beautiful.
Love is the only competition worth living and dying for
So we run suicides
Cause sometimes you have to kill the person you are
In order to birth the lover you’re meant to become.
So, no I am not in the NBA.
I will never get drafted to play in the major leagues.
But every time I look at the scoreboards in her eyes I
know there is no way in the world
I could possibly ever lose.
Copyright © 2018 Angelo Geter. Used with permission of the poet.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes published by Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. Permissions granted by Harold Ober Associates Incorporated. All rights reserved.