Many people have said, will say, and will continue to spread: 2016 was the worst year we have ever seen. I won’t comment on that. But, I will say, this year, 2016, was a fantastic year for poetry. The amount of poetry that was published was phenomenal. And for us queer folk of color, we lit the the literature community on fire. That is to say, we made this year. The literature community needs to be bowing down to us because without us, Lord knows, literature would be a hot mess. So, in celebration of our lit (get it?) poems, a list of the 10 poems that crept inside my bones, rattled me, and made me rethink who I am.
All That Is and Is Not Nuclear by Rosebud Ben-Oni (via The Journal
I highly recommend disconnecting.
I realize the strangeness of telling you this over a connection.
But here comes and goes, so I have to send things when it’s working.
Things are a little rough here.
In cities I am everywhere.
I don’t get lonely. I lose faith that how things are
Are also how things will always be. In forever uphill rising
Streets I have a calling. She calls me from her high-rise
Office at the World Bank to warn me after ten years of this
She’s leaving Hong Kong— leaving the country—
For the week her in-laws visit.
You say for ten years your sister’s just teasing.
You tell me that woman is not blood. This is not to say you
Do not treat me well. You humor me
At the shishi dim sum place
Hidden away like a speakeasy. You eat everything
I order. Often I get a pass others do not. If I have too much
To drink, you say my best thing
Is one face, not two. This is not about saving face.
We get it all out in the open, you and I.
We aren’t the kind to get lonely
When we fight. You say I can’t help but look like things meant
To keep you in line. You say I always take your wife’s side.
We are not bad people. We understand the difference.
Difference is flickering neon until the other loses sight.
Now I’m writing this on the rooftop in a little room
You built without permission, next to a washroom
You built to make me more comfortable. Early this morning
You squeezed through the crowds at the bakeshop
To bring me a red bean bun, right out of the oven.
You remind me fish is only fresh when alive
And gasping. On the rooftop, wild cockatoos
Eat the shishi seed I recommended to you.
You never make it in time to see them.
I want to be a good daughter to you.
But then my mind wanders and Icelandic horses
Disperse through Hong Kong skyline where blood-or-not nieces
And nephews clear out of their six-days-a-week offices.
Poetry, you say, is the furthest, furthest thing from you.
What long lines, where and why they break
You won’t see. Here I have no grievances. I still see the island
In this city, and you correct me: autonomous territory.
Autonomy, we agree, is never real in full nor fully
Realized. I say it’s like coming to know a new
Father. You say one day you want to be yourself
Around me. I say once in cities I was everywhere but here
I write to you in a little room while you make your deliveries.
Dinner tonight at your favorite Vietnamese place
And then shopping in a night market. Only your son,
My husband, would chose such neutral territory.
I study the map to Ladies Market, chart the longest route.
Because you ask me to lead. Because you say nothing
When I take the wrong street. I never ask for help.
You never say we are lost.
Bullet Points by Jericho Brown (via Buzzfeed Reader)
I will not shoot myself
In the head, and I will not shoot myself
In the back, and I will not hang myself
With a trashbag, and if I do,
I promise you, I will not do it
In a police car while handcuffed
Or in the jail cell of a town
I only know the name of
Because I have to drive through it
To get home. Yes, I may be at risk,
But I promise you, I trust the maggots
And the ants and the roaches
Who live beneath the floorboards
Of my house to do what they must
To any carcass more than I trust
An officer of the law of the land
To shut my eyes like a man
Of God might, or to cover me with a sheet
So clean my mother could have used it
To tuck me in. When I kill me, I will kill me
The same way most Americans do,
I promise you: cigarette smoke
Or a piece of meat on which I choke
Or so broke I freeze
In one of these winters we keep
Calling worst. I promise that if you hear
Of me dead anywhere near
A cop, then that cop killed me. He took
Me from us and left my body, which is,
No matter what we’ve been taught,
Greater than the settlement a city can
Pay a mother to stop crying, and more
Beautiful than the brand new shiny bullet
Fished from the folds of my brain.
what the dead know by heart by Donte Collins (via Poets.org)
lately, when asked how are you, i
respond with a name no longer living
Rekia, Jamar, Sandra
i am alive by luck at this point. i wonder
often: if the gun that will unmake me
is yet made, what white birth
will bury me, how many bullets, like a
flock of blue jays, will come carry my black
to its final bed, which photo will be used
to water down my blood. today i did
not die and there is no god or law to
thank. the bullet missed my head
and landed in another. today, i passed
a mirror and did not see a body, instead
a suggestion, a debate, a blank
post-it note there looking back. i
haven’t enough room to both rage and
weep. i go to cry and each tear turns
to steam. I say I matter and a ghost
white hand appears over my mouth
To a Straight Man by Eduardo C. Corral (via Poetry)
tall & clean
decolonize the tongue by Adam Hamze (via The Offing)
so whitey likes my language? ha. cute. gonna have to read these books upside down & backwards if you wanna pass me up. oh yeah? you have that good vocab? ha. that vocab is my blood. i came out of the womb with this legacy on my lips. my voice builds monuments, the arabic on its scattered tongue. i speak revolution. i speak not dead yet, not planning on dying any time soon. i speak a plane ticket back home. i speak a pond sure as hell won’t keep me & my people apart. i speak hot metal dipped in holy water: healing, on fire. i speak a fist placed to the oppressor’s jaw. i speak. yeah, i forgot who i was, but i’m not forgetting again. & you? ha. you speak as university arabic program excuses toxic whiteness. you speak racial slurs between cultural expressions. you speak over me, teeth slick with envy. you speak flags in fertile soil, claiming it yours. you speak war on anything that doesn’t look like you. you speak & you try too hard. you speak: eating everything in sight, spilling with greed. but now, you only speak when spoken to. now: tell me my language is beauty. paint walls with these words — still sounds like a massacre from a white throat. still cute, though. try again. ma ahdamak. ya wayli. mashallah. how proud you are. holding a throat within a throat. i pull the sword from the stone. the sword: my language. the stone: your teeth. me: victory. you: in your place. oh, the professor says i’ve got an attitude problem? ha. okay. see you next year. come with a mouth ready to spit my words back out.
This is how you enter the poem: by Taylor Johnson (via Winter Tangerine)
Sitting, at the east end of the bay, eating a salad
after someone you love tells you to stay safe.
And safe you are here, where everyone wants to look
doesn’t want to look at you and you wonder why she tells you
to stay safe. Then you see the man’s body enter
the window of this poem. You’d like to start over.
There is a black man in this poem, dead, as you
might assume. And you are wondering how he got here
and by whose hands. The poem could end here
with you left to consider, perhaps, your own
hands, their violence: how many bugs you’ve killed,
whose face you really meant to hit when you broke the dry wall,
the speed at which you counted out your mother’s pills.
But the poem is saying something else, so
you look to the body, closer, still
idling in the window. You think:
You think guns,
You think black,
You think more guns,
You think feet,
You think more blood,
someone prostrate in the street.
And the poem could live there, in the body,
as some poems are wont to do.
But you are ashamed, the poem
couldn’t even say his name,
the dead man in the window. You wonder if that’s really what
the poem wants to say, the dead man’s name.
Here, you are working to forget
that the man is black. You are worried
the poem will say what all poems say
when the body is black: history, history,
the future!, make it up, music, the future no more.
And you are tired of those poems.
If you think this poem isn’t for you, it is.
The dead man could be your cousin, and not
kin. So what does the poem do now?
You want the poem to unrun the blood
from his body, unkill the man
whose name the poem won’t say.
But this is just a poem. You are listening to
Sam Cooke and he’s pleading, nearer
to thee and it won’t be very long and you
remember the ten guns that wanted
you dead not too far from now,
how you were almost a body
in someone’s poem.
Has this poem brought you far
enough away from the bay, your salad,
and your lover on the phone asking
for your safety? In the poem
the man is dead, dying again.
And what have you done?
This morning you walked
along the highway eating
a peach as if no one you loved
has ever died. And they haven’t:
the moths follow you, they wait
for you against your screen door and
dance as the wind passes through
the trees, and the trees too
are those you’ve loved
and lost, how they are everywhere,
how they keep coming.
The man in this poem mustn’t be
dead, or stay humbly lying on
the window’s edge. No, he’s on
telling you how to walk.
Contract for Social Death by Xandria Phillips (via The James Franco Review)
Being the death of you comes with certain
responsibilities: we must always give you hope, we must
always distract you, we must never really see you: the pin
-cushion body we thread our bullets into.
Know that should we see fit, you will exit this
world twice. Should we see fit, we will be the ones
to steal your breath, and then to steal your mother’s
ability to sleep within this nation, which no longer houses you.
We take our responsibilities seriously. During your first
exit your neck will not turn, will not swing
your eyes backwards. You will taste the taste of sulfur in your
mouth, like blowing a gun. We are just like blowing a gun.
As for your second death, we will broadcast your spilled
vital fluids over your family’s television
screen – over all of America’s television screens. We will
rest our hot guns in your cold hands.
We want your misconducts
lulling off every tongue and your humanity flat-lined,
and after your first death you won’t feel a thing.
making a spectacle of the messiah by Gabriel Ramirez (via Vinyl)
5 doctors sit to evaluate my brother Jon,
to see if he can be released from the psych ward.
“how are you?”
Jon says well. says breakfast. cocked neck,
face implying he tasted crushed pills
in his scrambled eggs. he’d chuckle
at the powder residue on his fork.
a man who laughs at poison knows
he won’t be dying soon.
“are you nervous?”
Jon says no while tapping his foot.
he wants to stomp the snakes
creeping toward him but doesn’t
want to alert the doctors.
they already know he hears hissing
choirs. slimy wingless angels biting
their toxins into his faith. my brother
prayed himself antivenom, could thrust
fangs further into himself. the doctors
would call this a suicide attempt
when he’d be showing how full of life he is.
“what do you think of our facility?”
Jon doesn’t speak at first. wonders if
there’s a cross waiting to be carried
or if one of the doctors needs to be
baptized. Jon says he helps the patients
more than the staff. says the staff
are like family members who wish
they weren’t there. says they’re always
in the way. Jon’s heart is full
of interrupted prayers. half a heaven
coursing through his body & people
want to call my brother crazy.
“have you had any delusions?”
Jon shrugs. says nothing about the seraphim
surrounding the chandelier. doesn’t say
he can feel his brain cracking. he is one
of god’s knuckles. one of god’s works
in progress. he knows assembling
his fingers into vises would only bring
about the hunt. he settles down before
making a spectacle of the messiah
in him. he can’t stop his hands and feet
from bleeding but will bare the sin
of one last doctor asking: “what do you mean?”
Jon shakes his head. he doesn’t want the doctors
to know he could dispel demons with a cocked neck.
how he could nail himself to a cross, call it practice.
they say my brother is unhinged; a cathedral
of teeth. one step away from driving his fist down
someone’s throat. they want to see Jon make a home
of the cage he was thrown in. they know nothing
of holding thorns till their palms become sponges
soaked in their savior’s blood. all they know
of my brother: beth israel medical center,
11th floor, psych ward, abilify, ativan, clozaril,
Last Best Sleep by Brenda Shaughnessy (via Poets.org)
Life, this charade of not-death.
Amnesiac of our nights together,
overheard talking in some other voice.
The great fruits of my failure:
silk milk pills with little bitter pits.
Who talks like that? Says we are
ever-locked, leaving everything
petalled and veined the way nature
pretended. Synthesized within
an inch of its life. O the many faces
of facelessness, breathing in the dark—
as if we could shape softness itself,
mold it around us like yams mashed
against a trough by a snuffling snout.
Our own. There’s no way out. Born
to such extra, we are born to lose.
No hairy fingers tapering to threads,
grasping for some lost last use.
Once we were hungry on earth,
soon buried like root vegetables—
to starve the soil as beets do,
growing in our graves.
But now we must remember
our way back to face-to-face,
to eye to eye and hand in hand,
and lock and step and key in hole.
Remembering how not to fall asleep,
we become so desperately drowsy,
and all cells strain to slow to a stop.
All desire to choose otherwise quiets.
No, no one can say we didn’t suffer,
that we weren’t swallowed whole.
All the Dead Boys Look Like Me by Christopher Soto (via Lit Hub)
Last time, I saw myself die is when police killed Jessie Hernandez
A 17 year old brown queer, who was sleeping in their car
Yesterday, I saw myself die again. Fifty times I died in Orlando. And
I remember reading, Dr. José Esteban Muñoz before he passed
I was studying at NYU, where he was teaching, where he wrote shit
That made me feel like a queer brown survival was possible. But he didn’t
Survive and now, on the dancefloor, in the restroom, on the news, in my chest
There are another fifty bodies, that look like mine, and are
Dead. And I have been marching for Black Lives and talking about the police brutality
Against Native communities too, for years now, but this morning
I feel it, I really feel it again. How can we imagine ourselves // We being black native
Today, Brown people // How can we imagine ourselves
When All the Dead Boys Look Like Us? Once, I asked my nephew where he wanted
To go to College. What career he would like, as if
The whole world was his for the choosing. Once, he answered me without fearing
Tombstones or cages or the hands from a father. The hands of my lover
Yesterday, praised my whole body. Made the angels from my lips, Ave Maria
Full of Grace. He propped me up like the roof of a cathedral, in NYC
Before, we opened the news and read. And read about people who think two brown queers
Cannot build cathedrals, only cemeteries. And each time we kiss
A funeral plot opens. In the bedroom, I accept his kiss, and I lose my reflection.
I am tired of writing this poem, but I want to say one last word about
Yesterday, my father called. I heard him cry for only the second time in my life
He sounded like he loved me. It’s something I am rarely able to hear.
And I hope, if anything, his sound is what my body remembers first.
Now tell me, what inhabits your insides?
– Luther Hughes