All of Him

2018 Forthcoming Poetry Books by Queer People of Color

(Full-Lengths and chapbooks are both included in this list.)


Stereo(TYPE) by Jonah Mixon-Webster (February).Mixon-Webster is a poet, sound artist, and educator from Flint, MI. He is a Ph.D. candidate in English Studies at Illinois State University, and has been awarded fellowships at Vermont Studio Center and Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. His poetry and hybrid works are featured or forthcoming in Barzakh Journal, small po[r]tions, Shade Journal, Propter Nos, Spoon River Poetry Review, Blueshift Journal, Assaracus, Callaloo, LA Review of Books’ Voluble, and the anthologies Zombie Variations Symposium and Best American Experimental Writing 2018.


New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Tano), edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani (Apr. 10, box set, $32.95) continues the African Poetry Book Fund project to identify the best poetry by African poets working today and ensure their publication. This 12-piece, limited-edition box set features the work of 11 new poets, including the chapbooks, Dancing Tongue by Omotara and The Origin of Butterflies by Romeo Oriogun.

Alice James

DiVida by Monica A. Hand (April 1, $15.95). Marilyn Nelson says, ““DiVida: divided? DiVida: of life? The imaginary character who carries the name and sings her life is both DiVida and Sapphire, who sometimes replies to her musings, as one voice speaking for a universe of black women. Like syncopated masks, the voices of Hand’s book offer a new sense of double-consciousness. Her untimely death at the zenith of her career lends the last few poems, which anticipate death, a special fullness and poignancy.”

Big Lucks

Like Kansas by Simone Savannah. Savannah is from Columbus, Ohio. She is currently a PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Kansas developing her interests in sexuality, Modern and Contemporary women’s poetry, and African American literature. She served as the Assistant Poetry Editor of Beecher’s 3. Her work has appeared in Blackberry: A Magazine.

Black Lawrence

Past Lives, Future Bodies by Kristin Chang (Fall). Chang says, “wanted to explore my proximity to violence and whiteness and historical trauma, and to write towards safety in all its personal and collective forms. I tried challenging myself in these poems – stylistically, they’re more narrative than I usually write, a product of trying to honor the oral storytelling in my family.”


Cenzontle by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo (April 10, $16). In this highly lyrical, imagistic debut, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo creates a nuanced narrative of life before, during, and after crossing the US/Mexico border. These poems explore the emotional fallout of immigration, the illusion of the American dream via the fallacy of the nuclear family, the latent anxieties of living in a queer brown undocumented body within a heteronormative marriage, and the ongoing search for belonging.

Button Poetry

Nothing Is Okay by Rachel Wiley (March 6, $16) delves into queerness, feminism, fatness, dating, and race, Wiley molds these topics into a punching critique of culture and a celebration of self. A fat positive activist, Wiley’s work soars and challenges the bounds of bodies and hearts, and the ways we carry them.

CCM/Siren Song

Mama Wata by Omotara James. James is a British-born American poet and essayist. The daughter of Nigerian and Trinidadian immigrants, she currently resides in NYC. Through the lens of intimate relationships, she investigates the dynamic associated with identity, family, civil rights, social responsibility and popular culture.

The Black Condition featuring Narcissus by jayy dodd.

Coffee House

Indecency by Justin Phillip Reed (May 8, $16.95) is boldly and carefully executed and perfectly ragged. In these poems, Justin Phillip Reed experiments with language to explore inequity and injustice and to critique and lament the culture of white supremacy and the dominant social order. Political and personal, tender, daring, and insightful―the author unpacks his intimacies, weaponizing poetry to take on masculinity, sexuality, exploitation, and the prison industrial complex and unmask all the failures of the structures into which society sorts us.

Not Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen (April 10, $16.95) is a flight plan for escape and a map for navigating home; a queer Vietnamese American body in confrontation with whiteness, trauma, family, and nostalgia; and a big beating heart of a book. Nguyen’s poems ache with loneliness and desire and the giddy terrors of allowing yourself to hope for love, and revel in moments of connection achieved.

dancing girl

They Named Her Goddess by Uma Dwivedi.


Red//Jild//Prayer by Hazem Fahmy.Fahmy is a poet and critic from Cairo. He is an Honors graduate of Wesleyan University’s College of Letters where he studied literature, philosophy, history and film. Poems forthcoming in Apogee, HEArt, Mizna, and The Offing. His performances have been featured on Button Poetry and Write About Now. He is a reader for the Shade Journal, a poetry editor for Voicemail Poems, and a contributing writer to Film Inquiry.

Farrar, Straus, & Giroux

Wild Is the Wind by Carl Phillips (January 23, $23). Phillips reflects on love as depicted in the jazz standard for which the book is named—love at once restless, reckless, and yet desired for its potential to bring stability. In the process, he pitches estrangement against communion, examines the past as history versus the past as memory, and reflects on the past’s capacity both to teach and to mislead us—also to make us hesitate in the face of love, given the loss and damage that are, often enough, love’s fallout.


Black Queer Hoe by Britteney Black Rose Kapri. Kapri is a teaching artist, writer, performance poet and playwright based out of Chicago. A former ensemble member and teaching artist for the Hip Hop Theater nonprofit Kuumba Lynx. Currently she is an alumna turned Teaching Artist Fellow at Young Chicago Authors. She is a staff member and writer for Black Nerd Problems. Her first chapbook titled “Winona and Winthrop” was published  in June of 2014 through New School Poetics.


Don’t Let Them See Me Like This by Jasmine Gibson (July 3, $16.95). Gibson explores myriad intersectional identities in relation to The State, disease, love, sex, failure, and triumph. Speaking to those who feel disillusioned by both radical and banal spaces and inspired/informed by moments of political crisis: Hurricane Katrina, The Jena Six, the extrajudicial executions of Black people, and the periods of insurgency that erupted in response, this book acts as a synthesis of political life and poetic form.

Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated fo Queer Poets of Color (April 3, $16.95), edited by Christopher Soto, is a survey of poetry by queer poets of color throughout U.S. history, including literary legends such as Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, June Jordan, Ai, and Pat Parker alongside contemporaries such as Natalie Diaz, Ocean Vuong, Danez Smith, Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, Robin Coste Lewis, Joy Harjo, Richard Blanco, Erika L. Sanchez, Jericho Brown, Carl Phillips, Tommy Pico, Eduardo C. Corral, Chen Chen, and more.


Haunted Piping by Kamden Hilliard. Hilliard holds a BA in American Studies and is earning an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. They’ve published two chapbooks—Distress Tolerance (Magic Helicopter Press, 2016) and Perceived Distance from Impact (2017, Black Lawrence Press). Kam helps out at Jellyfish Magazine and Big Lucks. Kam has received support from The Davidson Institute, Callaloo, Sarah Lawrence College, The UCROSS Foundation, and The NFAA. Their work can be found in The Black Warrior Review, Salt Hill, West Branch, and Muzzle. Find Kam on the internet at

One World

If They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar (June 26, $16) nakedly captures the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in America by braiding together personal and marginalized people’s histories. After being orphaned as a young girl, Asghar grapples with coming-of-age as a woman without the guidance of a mother, questions of sexuality and race, and navigating a world that put a target on her back.


Self-portrait as the space between us by Trace DePass. DePass is the editor of Scholastic’s Best Teen Writing of 2017. He served as the 2016 Teen Poet Laureate for the Borough of Queens. His work has been featured on BET Next Level, Billboard, Blavity, NPR’s The Takeaway, and also resides within literary homes – Entropy Magazine, Split This Rock!, The Other Side of Violet, Best Teen Writing of 2015, & the Voice of The East Coast Anthology.

Revolving Door Arts

Lighthouse by Kai Wright is a collection of love poems to Chicago written from the “deepest sorrow for the bodies slain in my city.” Her work reflects the difficult relationship of loving a city and accepting one’s self in the complexities of the surrounding world.

The Seattle Review

Reasons for Smoking by Xandria Phillips. Claudia Rankine says, “This work positions snapshots of contemporary black, queer selfhood against an embodied historical backdrop in order to trace the tolls and infringements of white dominant structures and embedded historical violence upon the body. When I read it, I am reminded of the ways in which language can be repurposed as an amplification device against narratives that seek to erase, bury, and diminish. The poems in Reasons for Smoking articulate how living, touching, noticing, speaking, and remembering are necessary and subversive acts.”


Black Girl Sick: Tales from the Library Burned by Goddess X. Goddess X was a 2016 National Poetry Slam Semi-fnalist and a 2016 capturing fire international slam finalist. goddess has been featured in many online magazines such as Nepantla literary journal, Wusgood, Ascend, and others. Heir first book of poetry blk grl sick, was released in January of 2017. Shey like girls, avatar the last airbender and black owned vegan joints. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Patreon being all black and trans and girl and sick.

Sibling Rivalry

The Distractions of Living by Randi M. Romo. Romo is a visual artist and writer. In her teens, she began writing and making art as a means to survive the intense homophobia she endured as a young lesbian. She has worked in a variety of fields, including the actual fields. The last 30 years she has worked for social justice. Romo co-founded CAR, an LGBTQ rights organization based in Little Rock that she led for 11 years. Today she is a cheesemonger/ bartender. She jokes that at age 60 she is living life backwards; the struggling artist/writer tending bar in order to create.

Marianna’s Beauty Salon by Bushra Rehman. Rehman’s first novel Corona, a dark comedy about being South Asian in the United States, was included in Poets & Writers Best Debut Fiction issue of 2013, was a LAMBDA finalist for 2014, and featured in the LA Review of Books among a new wave of radical South Asian American Literature. Rehman co-edited the anthology Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism which was included in Ms. Magazine’s 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of All Time.

Touched by Luther Hughes (January 30, $12). Danez Smith says, “I trust Luther Hughes with the body. In Touched, Hughes is careful with it, he handles the body as deliberate and tender as one would a poem. The bodies here, be they black, queer, animal, living, or recovering, are given an authority only possible in poems, and only executed right in the handles of a capable poem. Hughes is more than capable though.”


Phantom Tongue by Steven Sanchez was selected by Mark Doty as the winner of Marsh Hawk Press’ Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award.  A recipient of fellowships from CantoMundo and the Lambda Literary Foundation, he is the author of two chapbooks: To My Body (Glass Poetry Press, 2016) and Photographs of Our Shadows (Agape Editions, 2017).  He is the poetry editor of Word Riot and his poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Nimrod, Crab Creek Review, Tahoma Literary Review, and The Cossack Review, among other journals.

Tin House

Junk by Tommy Pico (May 8, $15.95) is a breakup poem in couplets: ice floe and hot lava, a tribute to Janet Jackson and nacho cheese. In the static that follows the loss of a job or an apartment or a boyfriend, what can you grab onto for orientation? The narrator wonders what happens to the sense of self when the illusion of security has been stripped away. And for an indigenous person, how do these lost markers of identity echo larger cultural losses and erasures in a changing political landscape?


The Republic of Mercy by Sharon Wang. Cassandra Cleghorn and Jeffrey Levine says, “This is a startling, ambitious debut. In Sharon Wang’s thrilling and corporeal geometry, touch dominates, if often in its “aftermarks”: singes, whiffs, folds of fabric, echoing gestures between bodies. A sureness of craft and extraordinary control of tone enable Wang to move through a range of lyric personae, always believable, never reducible, by turns modest (“here move slowly we are not practiced”), speculative, heart-broken, ecstatic, even giddy with vaulting dreams (“But who wouldn’t want to be the sun”).

Univ. of Pittsburgh

Refuse by Julian Randall (Fall). Randall is a Living Queer Black poet from Chicago. A Pushcart Prize nominee, he has received fellowships from Callaloo, BOAAT and the Watering Hole and was the 2015 National College Slam (CUPSI) Best Poet. Julian is the curator of Winter Tangerine Review’s Lineage of Mirrors and a poetry editor for Freezeray Magazine. He is also a co-founder of the Afrolatinx poetry collective Piel Cafe. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as Nepantla, Rattle, Ninth Letter, Vinyl, Prairie Schooner and The Adroit Journal among others. He is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Mississippi.


Sexting the Dead by Joanna C. Valente & Monica Lewis (November).

Yale Univ.

We Play a Game by Duy Doan (March 20, $45). Carl Phillips says, “For game here can mean as well the strategies for weathering those parts of society that threaten identity itself, at the level of gender (in all its fluidity), or race, of family as history and tradition — of language, too, and our expectations for it. Wide-ranging in subject, Doan’s poems include boxing, tongue twisters, hedgehogs, Billy Holiday, soccer and, hardly least of all, a Vietnamese heritage that butts up against an American upbringing in ways at once comic, estranging, off-kiltering.”

(Last updated 12/12/2017)


10 Poems about Resistance, Resilience, and Reconciliation by Queer Women of Color


I guess this is the part where I talk about the importance of poetry in relation to resistance, resilience, and reconciliation, right? But I don’t want to. I’m tired of explaining myself. I’m tired of giving resources to white people so they can “understand” racism, white privilege, and why saying, “Black Lives Matter,” doesn’t mean other lives don’t. I’m tired of quietly raising my fist. I’m tired of Trump. I’m tired of whack ass poems that don’t talk about shit. I’m tired of whack ass poems that exploit brown bodies. I’m tired of white gays and their constant need to steal the vernacular of black and brown women. I’m tired of Trump. If you’re offended, then I’m tired of you too. 

Nevertheless, a collection of poems I curated that should help you at least for the day. 

Poem about Police Violence 
by June Jordan

Tell me something 
what you think would happen if 
everytime they kill a black boy 
then we kill a cop 
everytime they kill a black man 
then we kill a cop

you think the accident rate would lower subsequently? 
sometimes the feeling like amaze me baby 
comes back to my mouth and I am quiet 
like Olympian pools from the running 
mountainous snows under the sun

sometimes thinking about the 12th House of the Cosmos 
or the way your ear ensnares the tip 
of my tongue or signs that I have never seen 

I lose consciousness of ugly bestial rapid 
and repetitive affront as when they tell me 
18 cops in order to subdue one man 
18 strangled him to death in the ensuing scuffle 
(don’t you idolize the diction of the powerful: subdue 
and scuffle my oh my) and that the murder 
that the killing of Arthur Miller on a Brooklyn 
street was just a “justifiable accident” again 

People been having accidents all over the globe 
so long like that I reckon that the only 
suitable insurance is a gun 
I’m saying war is not to understand or rerun 
war is to be fought and won

sometimes the feeling like amaze me baby 
blots it out/the bestial but 
not too often tell me something 
what you think would happen if 
everytime they kill a black boy 
then we kill a cop 
everytime they kill a black man 
then we kill a cop

you think the accident rate would lower subsequently

My Dad Asks, “How Come Black Folks Just Can’t Write About Flowers”
by Aziza Barnes (Originally published in Winter Tangerine)

bijan been dead 11 months & my blue margin reduced to arterial. there’s a party at my house, a house held by legislation vocabulary & trill. but hell, it’s ours & it sparkle on the corner of view park, a channel of blk electric. danny wants to walk to the ledge up the block, & we an open river of flex: we know what time it is. on the ledge, folk give up neck & dismantle grey navigation for some slice of body. it’s june. it’s what we do.

walk down the middle of our road, & given view park, a lining of dubois’ 10th, a jack n jill feast, & good blk area, it be our road. we own it. I’m sayin’ with money. our milk neighbors, collaborate in the happy task of surveillance. they new. they pivot function. they call the khaki uniforms. i swift. review the architecture of desire spun clean, & I could see how we all look like ghosts.

3 squad cars roll up at my door & it’s a fucking joke cuz exactly no squad cars rolled up to the mcdonald’s bijan was shot at & exactly no squad cars rolled up to find the murders & exactly no one did what could be categorized as they “job,” depending on how you define time spent for money earned for property & it didn’t make me feel like I could see less of the gun in her holster because she was blk & short & a woman, too. she go,

“this your house?”
I say, “yea.” she go,
“can you prove it?”
I say, “it mine.”
she go, “ID?” I say, “it mine.”
she go, “backup,” on the sly
& interview me, going all, “what’s your address– don’t look!”
& hugh say, “I feel wild disrespected.”
& white go, “can you explain that?”
& danny say, “how far the nearest precinct?”
& christian say, “fuck that.”
& white go, “can you explain that?”

I cross my arms. I’m bored & headlights quit being interesting after I called 911 when I was 2 years old because it was the only phone number I knew by heart.

Til the Taste of Free in Our Mouths (Brown Baby Lullaby)
by Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes (Originally published in Split This Rock)

Wake.                  Wake.

These the nights we sing. These the folds,

unborn reverie, ambition marbled mud & shine,

raging anthem born like diamonds out darkest ash & rain

This sky-fist for you, little ones, whose teeth have yet to bud, whose mouths

will sprout, whose tongues will flower sharpest word

This fist for you, our future, our want, our tomorrow-yes,

          Wake.                     Wake, baby, wake, child.

Wake your umber velvet eyelids and cry the sun with us,

these arms around you free

these streets we march, sore grave shaking ground

garnet flooded madness, we mourn

we rake the gravel for teeth so we may have something to bury

we sift the sand for remedy, we ghost-seers carrying our cinnamon dead

we stir the news, history, like an oracle shimmering violent

catching names in our throats before they vanish under starless storm & urge

we vex the spire, trouble the sway

          Wake baby, wake child, this lullaby will break the cage

You will taste the blood of your brothers in our milk, remembering

their glorious beauty as it warms your throat, you will

not know the cold of the concrete that swallowed them whole.

We are a swarm, a pride, a righteous and thick army

          Wake,           wake.

You will see G-d in the faces of your sisters, you will remember

how they fought five hundred years under an archive of scars, you will

hear their steps when you run, when you

march to the beat of the thundering lung

gasping for air, you will know this fight

to breathe beneath your darkest skin

& you will see & you will raze the reddest fields

gather the pulp of every fruit let it whisper your ear up

sculpt a dream, a name, a vow

Til, baby, til, child,

Til the Taste of Free in Our Mouths

A Black Woman’s Burden 
by Isabella X (Originally published in Lambda Literary)

“Sisters there is a hole in my heart that is bearing your shapes
over and over as I read only the headlines of this morning’s
newspaper.” – Audre Lorde

Sisters there are bruises on my body
And bullets in my brain
And knives in my back
And burn marks
All over
In the shapes of our names
Chosen and
As I read only the headlines
Of forgotten news articles
For us forgotten girls.
One day we will all live past our girlhood.
One day they will give us our flowers before we are dead.

Poem (Let Us Live)
by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza (Originally published in Pen America)

I’m tired of abstraction.
No one says what they mean
and people die from it.
Where did this world come from?
Not nowhere.
Not nothing.
The dead trans women
you glance over
for a few seconds on facebook
while deciding if the story is worth sharing
all came from somewhere.
Their bodies are not flowers
for you to whisper
to people you’ll never know.
There were words that did this.
There were hands
and guns
and teeth
and flesh
and hair
and blood
and men
and women
and laws
and policies
and police
and witnesses
that did this.
How long can I keep tricking you
into thinking what I’m doing
is poetry
and not me begging you
             to let us live?

If They Should Come for Us
by Fatimah Asghar (Originally published in Poetry)

these are my people & I find
them on the street & shadow
through any wild all wild
my people my people
a dance of strangers in my blood
the old woman’s sari dissolving to wind
bindi a new moon on her forehead
I claim her my kin & sew
the star of her to my breast
the toddler dangling from stroller
hair a fountain of dandelion seed
at the bakery I claim them too
the sikh uncle at the airport
who apologizes for the pat
down the muslim man who abandons
his car at the traffic light drops
to his knees at the call of the azan
& the muslim man who sips
good whiskey at the start of maghrib
the lone khala at the park
pairing her kurta with crocs
my people my people I can’t be lost
when I see you my compass
is brown & gold & blood
my compass a muslim teenager
snapback & high-tops gracing
the subway platform
mashallah I claim them all
my country is made
in my people’s image
if they come for you they
come for me too in the dead
of winter a flock of
aunties step out on the sand
their dupattas turn to ocean
a colony of uncles grind their palms
& a thousand jasmines bell the air
my people I follow you like constellations
we hear the glass smashing the street
& the nights opening their dark
our names this country’s wood
for the fire my people my people
the long years we’ve survived the long
years yet to come I see you map
my sky the light your lantern long
ahead & I follow I follow

by Ariana Brown (Originally published in Muzzle Magazine)


   I want to talk about white women.
I want to talk about fifth grade
& dominic jackson garcia, the afrolatino boy
                                  whose holy mouth chose the white girl instead.
black boys          shared hot cheetos with me,
                                  held hands with them, more concerned
                                  with aspen & kaedee than my glossy neck.
                                  wanted to swallow a white
                                  girl’s smile, fold it in their pockets
                                  to keep them warm.
I, frozen on the black-
top, red-handed, embarrassment.
               I’m ready to talk
about white women.
                 how the lyft driver,
black man,          blames his black girlfriend
                                  for his inability to pay rent.
how he                                  breaks open his saliva
                                   to drown my body,
says,                        “I’m just gonna get me a white woman.
                                   no offense.”
                   I want to talk about white women.
the ones               who step in front of me in line,
                                   who follow me in stores,
                                   who grab my
                                                                    hair                                 shoulders                        arm
                   I want to talk about white supremacy.
                   supreme, meaning:
                   ​superior to all others.
                                   as in: diana ross and the supremes.
                                   ​as in: moonwalk so supreme
make yours look earthly.                               I’m extraterrestrial.
                                                                                                       got two moons for feet & heaven say
                               my name a galaxy.
is this what you meant                                     when you said I’m too angry?
                                                                                       too sure about the limits
                                                                                       of this world,
that                                                                              I spoke about pain
                                   like a thousand sharecropping grandmothers,
that                                                                              I exaggerated,
that                                                                              I wasn’t                          nice                 
the way white women make you feel?
                               supreme, meaning:
                               ​strongest, most important, or most powerful
                                                so I flash my teeth, catch
                                                light in my mouth, grow
                                                my hair thick as a plague.
don’t speak
when I’m speaking.
                                                white men apologize to me now.
men of color                                  call me difficult. I roll my eyes, hold my heart
                                                                              like the gift it is, hold the hearts of my sisters.
                               ​supreme, meaning:
                               involving death.
                                                ​as in: supreme sacrifice.
                                                              black women everywhere
                                                              you thought we weren’t –
                                                              germany: holocaust
                                                ​              mexico: conquest
                                                              slavery global economy
                                                               – the worldwide girlchildren of empire.
they                    ain’t got numbers bold enough to count the ones we’ve lost.
                               ​supreme, last definition:
                               ​a rich cream sauce.
                                            ​my mother buys
                                            ​sauce packets for 17 cents at the grocery.
they’re                            no good
                                            ​for you. says,
they’re                            all salt.
they’re                            all lot & his wife, city on fire:
                               ​rosewood: burning
                               ​because of a white woman’s expression.
the hair like woven silk,
skin shining like fresh milk, crosses
                                                 my path like an ancient warning.
                              in what version of the story
                                                do black women win?


Happiness Theorem 
by Muriel Leung (Originally published in jellyfish magazine)

The plan is to erect a delicious sounding word connoting both joy and pleasure in its ringing. It relies on fashioning first an unstable box that contains within it a goose egg and some troubled verses. The relationship between these disparate objects is symbiotic in that all rely equally on the other in order to survive if to survive means to make meaning. This is a commendable skill in the schematic rendering of fear operations in the world. To survive at present is no longer birthright but a learned process one acquires through rigorous schooling. Uncertainty opens the attic door to pirating ghosts. Uncertainty lines the bed with metallic devices spliced into brain activity. In its earlier forms uncertainty was a marked derivative of joy making. Time wears on. The connection grows prickly. Joy, more interested in transmogrification in its penchant for contortions and peculiarities, suggests a natural inclination towards uncertainty. The issue is not their likeness but where their tails split. At some point uncertainty subjugates joy and for that reason joy’s genetic composition is eternally altered. One does not inherit joy in the same way as their parent. This is to say we all must wear happiness like a disorder we cannot shake.

The Resistance of the Angler Fish 
by Jess X. Chen (Originally Published in The Offing)

The resistance
of the angler fish

is to end
a billion years
of darkness

by crowning itself
with its own star.

Six Months After Contemplating Suicide
by Erika L. Sánchez (Originally published in Poetry)

Admit it —
you wanted the end 

with a serpentine
greed. How to negotiate

that strangling
mist, the fibrous


To cease to exist
and to die

are two different things entirely.

But you knew this,
didn’t you?

Some days you knelt on coins
in those yellow hours. 

You lit a flame

to your shadow
and ate

scorpions with your naked fingers.

So touched by the sadness of hair
in a dirty sink.

The malevolent smell
of soap.

When instead of swallowing a fistful
of white pills,

you decided to shower,

the palm trees
nodded in agreement,

a choir
of crickets singing 

behind your swollen eyes.

The masked bird
turned to you 

with a shred of paper hanging
from its beak.

At dusk,
hair wet and fragrant,

you cupped a goat’s face

and kissed
his trembling horns. 

The ghost? 

It fell prostrate,
passed through you 

like a swift
and generous storm.

by Luther Hughes


10 Poems That Haunted the **** Outta Me in 2016

How the Leaves Have Fallen

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.

As follows: 

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

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)


All zodiac all
radar your voice
I carried it
across the Atlantic
to Barcelona
I photographed
cacti mosaic
I even photo-
graphed my lust
your voice skimming
a woman’s skin
mattress springs
so noisy so birdlike
you filled her room
with cages
camera bright
in my pocket map
in my mind
I explored a park
leaves notched
& enormous
graffitied boulders
three men


tall & clean

closed in
they broke open
my body
with their fists
your red wool cap
insufferable the way
you walked
away from me
come back please
the buttons
on your jacket
are finches
I wanted to yell
as you vanished
into a hotel
to drink with
your friends
there was nothing
you could do
after my attackers left
before I got up
I touched my face

almost tenderly

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,
                                                      the police,
                                                      You think more guns,
                                                      some crying,
                                                      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
your back

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,
Jon Ramirez.

Last Best Sleep by Brenda Shaughnessy (via

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)

for Orlando

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

No One In My Family Celebrates: A Review on Look by Solmaz Sharif

12079778_10106285764738939_240672169261332420_oSolmaz Sherif’s debut book, Look (Graywolf Press, 2016), interrogates the power structures of language and war; confronting political and social systems, as well as how these systems are deconstructed and used to demean one’s self-expression, identity, and behavior. Look strips away meaning and redefines military-esque language in order to extend our own ideologies circling the Middle East. We are left examining, wondering, unearthed by such in-depth search for what it means to be Muslim in a society such as our own. Look, as defined in the beginning of the book, taken from the Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms: In mine warfare, a period during which a mine circuit receptive of an influence.

The first section is inhabited by the title poem: “Look.” In this opening poem, we are introduced to a majority of the book’s themes, as it were. However, the poem is structured as a proposal; each stanza starting with, “Whereas,” as if trying to provide example or supplements in understanding the opening lines: “It matters what you call a thing: Exquisite a lover called me. / Exquisite.” The poem then follows with a number of stanzas explaining the different ways to understand this word: “exquisite”:

Where Well, if I were from your culture, living in this country,
                said the man outside the 2004 Republican National
                Convention, I would put up with that for this country;

Whereas I felt the need to clarify: You would put with
TORTURE, you mean and he proclaimed: Yes;

Whereas what is your life;

Whereas years after they LOOK down from their jets
                and declare my mother’s Abadan block PROBABLY
                DESTROYED, we walked by the villas, the faces
                of buildings torn off into dioramas, and recorded it
                on a handheld camcorder;

In just these few stanzas, Solmaz introduces us to intersection of; one, the gaze of the female body; two, how the destruction of the female body is pushed aside for male consumption; and three, the lack of familiarity, care, and treatment towards these bodies and its surroundings. However, what really takes me back is the choice words capitalized, forcing us to focus in the use of this language. The phrase, “TORTURE,” highlights is duality within the context of the poem; how it can be seen as “torture” to be in the speaker’s current situation mentally, and how that can easily correlate to being physically tortured within the Middle East. Solmaz uses this duality within numerous capitalized words throughout the book.

In the second section, we began looking at how family structures unravel within these systems. In various poems, such as “Dependers/Immediate Family,” we see a family suffering, questioning their own ideologies of war.

Dependers/Immediate Family
                for Amoo

At the WWII Memorial, FDR thanks women
for sacrificing their sons
and their nylons.
Mothers oil supply lines

of parachutes
and what weighs chutes down,

sailing toward tall grass or rock,

a sky delivered by God.
I’m told to say it plain:

you did not want to fight,
but family sent you to the frontline,

sons in NEATLINES, ON-CALL for the Lord.

Your crib, your teddy bears,
I want to say mother put a GUN
there, blocks and blocks of boys
with pistols in their lunch pails,

lined up at the Army Experience Center
playing Call of Duty beneath the pacing of recruiters,
shit-talking into microphones in select US malls
while mothers shop the bed linens or grind coffee, grateful
for the quiet home, for the empty backyards

where boys would slam plastic cars together, their lips buzzing
like copter blades. Boys, they dream

of invisibility suits, explosive inks,
then grow up to work
in weapons research labs,

formulating rays to knock you out,
rays to make you puke, rays to activate
each nerve ending, gas to make you laugh

and boil. A soldier told me about non-lethal weapons.

He told me about the innards he scooped
then sewed
(with what)
up the toddler and the smell
of copper.

I am older than you’ll ever be

and I keep going in that direction,
older than the boys

printed on state money
after going missing
in the smoke, beneath a tank,
the boys on a sun-faded, car-sooted mural
a wreath of white roses,
our precious, our cheapest

I’m now old enough to hear:
someone has to identify and
someone removes the shrapnel
and someone says not a scratch
when they pulled you out the fridge.

I imagine my father

looking into your cool face,
the difficult work of his knees

staying locked in that frozen place.

Solmaz Sharif

What’s lovely about this piece is the speaker talking to Amoo: “you did not want to fight, / but family sent you to the frontline, / sons in NEATLINES, ON-CALL for the Lord.” By directly speaking to Amoo, we are launched into the suffering or complication of Amoo’s life/the speaker’s own conflicts. We are told Amoo was encouraged to enroll in the military by “the family.” Here, we are drawn to the capitalized words, “neatliness,” and “on-call.” These words are attached to military conditions–being neat and always available. Yet, in this context, there is a double standard to neatness and availability which offers itself as mentally attacking and condescending. To be neat and on-call for the “Lord,” ties into the religious aspect of war and military. Not only do you have to fulfill these attributes, but you also have to do it without questioning the higher power. The “Lord,” here, can be seen as many things. One of those things being the government.

When Amoo dies, there is a guilt that overtakes the family. The speaker understands the guilt and incorporates military language to further perpetuate the conflict between a family pushing one into dangers and a family terrorized because they are perceived as dangerous: 

I am older than you’ll ever be

and I keep going in that direction,
older than the boys

printed on state money
after going missing
in the smoke, beneath a tank,
the boys on a sun-faded, car-sooted mural
a wreath of white roses,
our precious, our cheapest

I’m now old enough to hear:
someone has to identify and
someone removes the shrapnel
and someone says not a scratch
when they pulled you out the fridge.

The line, “I am older than you’ll ever be,” tell us Amoo has passed away because he can no longer age. When the speaker says, “I’m now older enough to hear: / someone has to identify and / someone removes the shrapnel,” we are given the process in identifying a soldier’s body once dead. The speaker announcing, “I’m old enough to hear,” illustrates a coming of age into Amoo’s death.

In the poem, “Vulnerability Study,” the speaker gives us short glimpses inside different scenes.

Vulnerability Study


your face turning from mine

to keep from cumming


8 strawberries in a wet blue bowl


baba holding his pants

up at he checkpoint


a newlywed securing her updo

with grenade pins


a wall cleared of nails

for the ghosts to walk through

Each scene is a moment of vulnerability–two people in the moment of climax, a man holding his pants at a checkpoint–in which involves another person witnessing a person’s vulnerable moment. The title includes the word, “study,” that teaches us, as readers, how to read the piece in a certain light. “Study,” can be lightly defined as watching closely or a constant going over. Here, in these few scenes, Solmaz is telling us to paying attention to some things. What floors me the most is the scene of the newlywed securing her hair with grenade pins. While she is alone in this scene, the grenade pins allude to people having been there before. Aside from this, beauty is platformed over destruction. Or the aftermath of destruction is used to create beauty. As we are not told of the relationship between the speaker and this newlywed, we know that the newlywed has a family (even if it is only their new spouse). Again, a notion towards how family can easily disregard another family member because they are consumed by societal structures.

The third section is addresses how deals with this language. In this section, “language,” is vastly defined as a verbal communication, photos, experiences, etc. Majority of pieces throughout this section or without titles. Having an entire section mostly without titles (however, one could definitely argue that all these poems are titled, “Personal Effects,” as listed in the table on contents) paints a wonderful picture of how we are unable to give these things a proper name without incorporating societal language/definition. In one piece, the speaker describes a photo of a soldier:

your whole body in a photo
your whole body
sitting on a crate
pressing your eyesocket
to the viewfinder
of a bazooka
crouched as you balance
the metal tube on your shoulder
in one you guide a belt of ammo
into the unfiring weapon
your elbow out as if
your frame strong
and lightly supporting the gun
a kind of smile
ruining the picture

In another piece, the speaker states: “Daily I sit / with the language / they’ve made / of our language / to NEUTRALIZE / the CAPABILITY of LOW DOLLAR VALUE ITEMS / like you. / You are what is referred to as / a “CASUALTY.”

Both of these pieces describe a language in which disturbs. In the photo, the speaker announces the soldier’s smile as “ruining the picture.” By stating a “ruining” from the soldier smiling, the speaker is addressing the conflict shown through this picture–the soldier preparing to kill while smiling. The other piece uses this idea of “casualty” and expands it into what it means to be valued as such. Here, we understand the person is not a person, but just another number–and the speaker sits with this title. This language.

The collection ends with one poem elaborating on this idea of “drone.” This word stretches from not only military capacities, but into the family and self. This stretch illuminates what it means to be a drone–a robot controlled by another force. As the poem continues, we see ourselves being a drone. The language, stoic, trapping us in the limitations created by people in power; thus feeding us limited language in order for mass consumption:

:               he strikes me as a misstep away from she was asking for it

:               what did you expect after accepting a marbled palace

:               they drag the man who killed my uncle out a hole

:               they inspect him for ticks on national television

:               no one in my family celebrates

You can purchase Look here.


Falling Through the Silence: A Review on Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

“In the body, where everything has a price,
                I was a beggar. On my knees,

I watched, through the keyhole, not
                the man showering, but the rain

falling through him: guitar strings snapping
                over his globed shoulders.” – Ocean Vuong, “Threshold”


51t5rBcccGL._SX365_BO1,204,203,200_When thinking about Night Sky with Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) by Ocean Vuong, I am captured by the beginning moments of the book–begging from within, wanting more than what was given or offered. And then, that wanting peeking through a limited access, watching a man being loved by nature. But, in these few lines, we fall in love with the lyrical imagery Vuong paints us. Well, it is this act of labor we have come to love from Vuong. The way he scripts a scene reminds us of the endless opportunities language often hides from us. Especially the English language.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds is patiently abusive. There’s a desire for understanding one’s body while watching other bodies linger and love. The voice in these poems are obsessive in this desire–reaching not only for oneself, but for the self seen by family and history. It’s more than an account of experiences, but a cracking open of Vuong’s bare chest–saying look here. Look where I begin. How I see myself searching for an end.

However, the book revels in its own accounts of history. While it speaks of the body and its turmoil, it enters an atmosphere where the familial histories seep into these stories. For example, in the poem,” A Little Closer to the Edge,” (one of my favorite poems, by the way), the speaker is telling a story of the night he was conceived. With lines like, “O father, O foreshadow, press / into her–as the field shreds itself / with cricket cries,” and “let every river envy / our mouths. Let every kiss hit the body / like a season,” Vuong is being completely vulnerable–in not only his own experiences, but in the experiences of others. We are forced to be intimate beyond the constraints of the book itself. 

In the second section, Vuong introduces us to the intersection of Vietnam and his family’s history. As we journey form poem to poem, we begin understanding the making of histories and how we are to measure our own in comparison to our cultural surroundings. In the poem, “Aubade with Burning City,” we see an overlapping of two otherwise contrasting experiences–the evacuation of American civilians and Vietnamese refugees during the fall of Saigon; all the while, telling the story of a man trying to persuade a woman to have sex with him. Here, we see the beauty of two bodies wanting to enter intimacy, while bodies are attempting to escape danger. The poem becomes the true meaning of love and war. Vuong is showing us how he wishes to entrust the body to the acts of love while destruction is literally tearing at the window; “The city so white it is ready for ink”; as if to say this is the time to rewrite your own history. It is sacrifice we are reading in this poem. Giving up the fear of destruction, of harm, for the immediate response to love. And then the pressure to turn your back on this fear or an otherwise erasure of history–“Don’t worry, he says, as the first shell flashes / their faces, my brothers have won the war / and tomorrow … / The lights go out.”

Aubade with Burning City
South Vietnam, April 29, 1975: Armed Forces Radio played Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” as a code to begin Operation Frequent Wind, the ultimate evacuation of American civilians and Vietnamese refugees by helicopter during the fall of Saigon.
            Milkflower petals on the street
                                                     like pieces of a girl’s dress.
May your days be merry and bright
He fills a teacup with champagne, brings it to her lips.
            Open, he says.
                                        She opens.
                                                      Outside, a soldier spits out
            his cigarette as footsteps
                            fill the square like stones fallen from the sky. May all
                                         your Christmases be white as the traffic guard
            unstraps his holster.
                                        His hand running the hem
of  her white dress.
                            His black eyes.
            Her black hair.
                            A single candle.
                                        Their shadows: two wicks.
A military truck speeds through the intersection, the sound of children
                                        shrieking inside. A bicycle hurled
            through a store window. When the dust rises, a black dog
                            lies in the road, panting. Its hind legs
                                                                                   crushed into the shine
                                                       of a white Christmas.
On the nightstand, a sprig of magnolia expands like a secret heard
                                                                      for the first time.
The treetops glisten and children listen, the chief of police
                                facedown in a pool of Coca-Cola.
                                             A palm-sized photo of his father soaking
                beside his left ear.
The song moving through the city like a widow.
                A white     A white     I’m dreaming of a curtain of snow
                                                          falling from her shoulders.
Snow crackling against the window. Snow shredded
                                           with gunfire. Red sky.
                              Snow on the tanks rolling over the city walls.
A helicopter lifting the living just out of reach.
            The city so white it is ready for ink.
                                                     The radio saying run run run.
Milkflower petals on a black dog
                            like pieces of a girl’s dress.
May your days be merry and bright. She is saying
            something neither of them can hear. The hotel rocks
                        beneath them. The bed a field of ice
Don’t worry, he says, as the first bomb brightens
                             their faces, my brothers have won the war
                                                                       and tomorrow …    
                                             The lights go out.
I’m dreaming. I’m dreaming …    
                                                            to hear sleigh bells in the snow …    
In the square below: a nun, on fire,
                                            runs silently toward her god — 
                           Open, he says.
                                                         She opens.


The third section unwraps the character’s body fold by fold. The body is in a constant search to be loved by itself and others. It howls. It scratches at the front door, desperate for the things it can’t find. In the poem, “Homewrecker,” Vuong walks us through a series of love; that, as a result, ruins himself.

& this is how we danced: our mothers’
white dresses spilling from our feet, late August
turning our hands dark red. & this is how we loved:
a fifth of vodka & an afternoon in the attic, your fingers
through my hair–my hair a wildfire. We covered
our ears & your father’s tantrum turned
to heartbeats. When our lips touched the day closed
into a coffin. In the museum of the heart
there are two headless people building a burning house.
There was always the shotgun above
the fireplace. Always another hour to kill–only to beg
some god to give it back. If not the attic, the car. If not
the car, the dream. If not the boy, his clothes. If not alive,
put down the phone. Because the year is a distance
we’ve traveled in circles. Which is to say: this is how
we danced: alone in sleeping bodies. Which is to say:
this is how we loved: a knife on the tongue turning
into a tongue.

By using words like, “wildfire,” “coffin,” “kill,” and “beg,” the underlying contrast between suffering and yearning rears its ugly smile. The speaker is “dancing” with this other (or others), wishing the dance will never stop. However, he knows that this is only a temporary moment–unrealistic to his life outside the moment. The term, “homewrecker,” falls into many categories. “Home” being the wrecked body. “Home” being the broken heart and shattered fantasy. “Home” being another’s relationship. And it is this ambiguity that makes the final lines more realistic for the reader: “Which is to say: / this is how we loved: a knife on the tongue turning / into a tongue.” What does it mean for a knife to turn into a tongue while cutting into a tongue? The image literally makes no sense. But, to think of the knife as something made to cut into something is a beaut in itself. No? This knife; one, inside the mouth, something intimate to oneself–again a contrast between suffering and yearning–then, not only splitting the thing that allows us to properly project language, but becomes the thing itself–made into an object of necessity.

Ocean Vuong

Moreover, this transformation of weapon into necessity brings to this idea of language and language is both weaponized but is essential in society. In the final section we are gifted with just that–the ebb and flow of language. In poems like, “Notebook Fragments,” we are granted entry in the speaker’s inner thoughts through fragmented pieces of note taking. Here, we are only given pieces of stories, yet, as the reader, we are left wondering about these stories and how they relate to the speaker. But, the speaker, in all they generosity, only allows us what is written down. Fragmented, here, does not only mean broken, but it means pieces of. While each instance is relayed to us in a complete sentence, the language we are missing is the overall happening of the event. Whereas, in the poem, “Ode to Masturbation,” all forms of punctuation has been removed. In addition, lines have been broken into one to three words; “because you / were never / holy / only beautiful / enough / to be found”; the lack of punctuation adds to the stillness and patience the book portrays. And yet, as the speaker announces themselves as never being “holy,” we are immediately on the defensive. The poem becomes completely drowned in a moment of discomfort and vulnerability. The poem announces their body as something sinful, or in the process of wanting purity. It’s dirty, to say the least. Again, in this poem, language is broken. The poem starts with the word, “because,” we alludes to both a response and a further breaking of “traditional” language.

In the poem, “Logophobia,” (which is defined as a fear of words), the speaker is necessarily proclaiming their fear of words, but is giving us the instance where they are defeating this fear.

Afterword, I woke
                into the dark
to write
                gia đình
on this yellow pad.
Looking through the letters
                I can see
into the earth
                below, the blue blur
of bones.
                I drill the ink
into a period.
                The deepest hole,
where the bullet,
after piercing
                my father’s back,
has come
                to rest.
Quickly—I climb
                I enter
my life
                the way words
entered me—
by falling
the silence
                of this whole
open mouth

The speaker, here, is having a writer’s block and is trying to address their family on the page. However, the history of their people is getting in the way of this; “Looking through the letters / I can see / into the earth / below, the blue blur / of bones.” And these histories are histories of death. Furthermore, it is these same histories that they are desiring to put at ease, or their thinking of these histories at ease, through the written language. The poem itself becomes a tranquil space for the speaker in wanting to find the language to address a history in which has, time and time again, offered itself as destruction. While the poem seems to follow traditional punctuation, it ends without a period. It is open ended, as if to say the journey to find this language–a language of history, suffering, and a desire to understand one’s body in relation to all of these things–is never-ending.

And truly, Vuong, it is.

You can purchase Night Sky with Exit Wounds here.

Announcin the Shade Journal

logoLet’s be clear, literature, for me, has been more and more about the work. But, that’s what we all keep saying–“the work.” What is this “work,” exactly? For me, the work is providing literary spaces for marginalized voices. It is tearing down white patriarchal systems; in which literature and literary spaces; one, suffers heavily; two, only benefits white writers; and three, creates a world where people of color feel they cannot thrive, both successfully and effectively. Again, let’s be real, a lot of journals and magazines aren’t doing this work. To be honest, most don’t even care to at all. 

Okay, I’ve spent a lot of times explaining the work and I haven’t, once, talked about the reason behind this pieces. For the past two years my blog, Shade, has been dedicated to giving space and exposure to queer writers of color. I created Shade because, as a queer man of color, I felt tossed aside in the literary community. Growing up, we didn’t study writers who looked like me. Or shared my experiences. And for the skim few we did study, their queerness wasn’t a topic of discussion. It literally wasn’t touched. It was like we were a disease. 

As I began studying poetry more seriously, I started reading works by QPOC. It was writers like Saeed Jones, Phillip B. Willams, Franny Choi, Danez Smith, Rickey Laurentiis, Natalie Diaz, and many others that taught me how to successfully write my body in a poetic nature. It was then that I realized the serious lack of queerness, in conversation with being a person of color, across my college classrooms. I had to do something. I mean, what use is it to know queer communities and not spread the love? Or to know writers who are literally slaying the game, if I’m not going to share their work with everyone around me. People, and more importantly, queer writers of color, needed to see and read people who looked like them. Y’all representation matters!

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of magazines and journals that are committed to this work–The Offing, Vinyl, Muzzle Magazine, Winter Tangerine, Nepantla, and a few more. But this isn’t enough. We can’t be satisfied with a mere handful. 

All this to say, I am more than pleased to announce that my blog, Shade, will be transitioning to a journal–the Shade Journal. the Shade Journal will be launching this September online. Peep the mission:

the Shade Journal is an online poetry journal focused on the empowerment of queer people of color (QPOC); publishing poems that inspires, devastates, and howls–work that challenges form and upsets the cannon, but understands its rigorous and traditional roots. 

the Shade Journal believes there is something divine about being a queer person of color in a world designed to destroy these bodies. 

Here, the term, “shade,” is defined as a space for QPOC to all home while fostering a community for themselves and other QPOC. 

Remember–you are beautiful. You are beautiful. You are beautiful. 

Submissions for the Shade Journal open on Friday, July 8th. Watch the link! 

*If you want to get involved or have any questions or concerns, feel free to reach out:

With peace,

Luther Hughes


“I’m a human with a petulant and sensual need for pleasure”: An Interview with Aricka Foreman

Dream with a Glass Chamber (YesYes Books, 2016), is a frightening chapbook. From dreamlike lyricism, to down right obsessive verse, Foreman manipulates the reader from space to space, allowing us entry to, what would be otherwise, a private sphere. The eloquent ways in which Foreman tarries along each dreamscape is damn near maddening. You are left broken, wanting to be broken again. And again. To say the least, I was just that–a black boy wishing to broken by these dreams. These altered realities; in that, they would offer me comfort while scratching at my sanity. Through Foreman’s use of language, imagery, and eroticism imagery, the chapbook is an elegy to critical illusion of time, and how much time the body has left in this world.


What does “dreaming with a glass chamber” mean?

The original title was Dream with an Empty Chamber. The chamber in the poem is specific to a gun chamber, but while editing the book, I kept thinking of different kinds of chambers: where people assemble; the heart chamber; an echo chamber. So much takes place without us being able to see how something takes place inside these spaces. My editor and publisher KMA suggested that the title didn’t hold as much light as the book did, and so I changed it in order to let that light in. As a reader, there’s a lot of time slippage and intricate ways of telling and retelling the same narrative. I’d like to think though that entering each poem helps to navigate them through the larger lyrical maze of the book.


How did Dream with a Glass Chamber become what it is today? What was the process in its creation?

The poems except for “Year of the Molotov” were written during a 30/30 through a writer’s group called The Grind. I signed up after my first grief group session; my therapist made it clear I wouldn’t be able to work through and with my mood disorder and depression until I untangled my “complicated grief”. The diagnostic and colloquial language we use to discuss grief and trauma is so absurd to me. And it’s complicated. Human instinct causes us to catalog and list and make linear the trauma of loss. So I kept interrogating the stages: anger, denial, bargaining, etc.; the process was compulsive, and obsessive. I’m sure there was some catharsis in there somewhere. Mostly I just wanted a safe space to thrash and rage, be out of control with some level of intention.

There are a few references to Detroit, or what could be seen as Detroit, throughout the book. Can you explain how this city influenced the creation of the book? How does Detroit inform your own work?

I mean I watched deer eat from the neighbor’s garden, asking myself whose life I was living. But I’d catch a moment here and there.

I’ll always be from Detroit, no matter how far I run from and back to it. At the time I wrote the book, I was living in Ithaca, NY pursuing my MFA. So much of it wasn’t Detroit: idyllic and pastoral; in that college town way where mostly everything is central to one place. I lived in a lake house I found on Craigslist. The first couple of nights, the silence kept me from sleeping. It was deafening. No sirens, or old men shit talking just outside my building. I mean I watched deer eat from the neighbor’s garden, asking myself whose life I was living. But I’d catch a moment here and there. I’d meet people who reminded me of bar patrons at a place I worked back home, or see a group of homies pump gas when I’d stop to get cigarettes. It’d feel more like “home” in that Detroit sense, where people nod and acknowledge you are someone in the world with them, albeit briefly. I felt a lot of geographical displacement in ways. In thinking about grief, I wanted to acknowledge how displacing grief can be in terms of state (psychological and emotional), as well as physical place. So much about to Detroit is wrapped up in the loss of my friend David Blair, who the book is dedicated to. Often when I’d be overrun with missing him, I’d miss Detroit.


While reading, I noticed poems titled different months. For example, “August” and “September.” More overtly, these poems lean more toward the fall season. What role does time and fall have in this book?

In his essay “Lyric Knowledge” James Longenbach opens with “ The impulse to be lyrical is driven by the need to be no longer constrained by oneself.” And I’m like word. I feel least constrained on the page when I play with time, as a way to take a moment that I can walk into, back out of, re-enter with as many points-of-view as I can. This book is clearly an elegy. An elegy is not inherently lyric, but potentially lives in the vast wheelhouse of the lyric poem. By pinpointing these poems to specific point in time, I can go back and pull from the moment something I missed, something I didn’t know to look at closely. Mostly I just wanted a safe space to thrash and rage, try to find myself beyond constraint but revising this contained moment. I have at least 4-5 other version of the “season” poems.


One of my favorite poems is, “Klapp Klapp.” In this poem, each stanza (and some lines) start with the word, ‘salt’. Can you explain the importance of salt (in all its varieties) in the book?

And then as a physical thing, how we use salt to seal doorways in ritual; to preserve and flavor in the domestic sense.

Honestly, I think that poem came after I told my therapist how salty I was at the Kubler Ross model. The neat ways that other folks seemed to methodically move through, and here I was, almost two years after Blair’s death, infuriated and then sobbing in the library stacks looking for a reference book. Then I’d get pissed at myself for not being able to move on in that same time, every triumph of “moving on” around me like salt in the wound. The word in all its iterations served different functions. The music video for Klapp Klapp is wild. A woman who refused to let the dead rest conjures them back. Clearly that goes against the natural order of things. But I started thinking about how we try to make sense and purpose of what has the potential to destroy us. And then as a physical thing, how we use salt to seal doorways in ritual; to preserve and flavor in the domestic sense. In some ways the poem is a clap back, at moving on, at being stagnant, how and what we unlearn in the process. It’s unsettling but can also be a kind of reclamation.


I noticed a few poems hinting at substance abuse and it reminded me of the stereotype that all poets become or are alcoholics (or some kind of addicts). What do you think is the correlation between poets and addiction? How do you see yourself as an addict?

I’m a human with a petulant and sensual need for pleasure, and sometimes escapism. We’re all addicts. When Louis C.K. talks about reality tv and gossip rags as everyone’s McDonald’s, their guilty hideout, it’s hilarious because it’s too real. The day after I got the news of Blair’s death, I essentially sat on my couch with a pint of whiskey, a bottle of water, and a pack of cigarettes. Drink. Hydrate. Smoke. And when the grief would come gnawing, even later, I had to implicate myself in my destructive behavior. Part of the work in living with depression and a mood disorder is not only being aware of my triggers, but paying attention to the frequency of when I’m doing the most harm: drinking, sex, eating, binging on Netflix. These days, if I can’t be inundated with the news cycle of Black death, Queer death, Woman death, I try to choose anti-vices: take walks, go to the conservatory and touch plant life, take a nap, roast a damn chicken; I’m just making different choices and trying to balance. Facing yourself, and facing the dismal state of things in the world right now (all the time)…you just want to shut the noise off, even temporarily. I won’t say poets have a predisposition toward addiction, but I did for a long time, and I happen to be a poet and a black queer woman trying to choose living over merely surviving.

It’s the knowing that’s the bitch: electric with the body’s hunger
how I say look, the moon is beautiful and you not as beautiful

as you
and I already know its the end before I’ve begun to catalog

your fingers, treasonous the way they spread me across the morning,
hips eased into the oldest language of want. O how I’d forgotten
the sun: intrusive light stretched, forced me into waking: how
much knowing makes a home beneath the tongue, in the mitochondria
of your mother’s name, her penchant for vodka and erasure.
I wish I had the energy after we tear into one another
to tell her otherwise, other names, other rituals for sliding shadows
through the cracks of doorways. I am a coward and our fucking falls against
the floor into sounds of breaking. I want to be satisfied with the carnality
of shame, our fumbling crash against. I wish I were a simple girl satisfied
with syllogism: date and discover, find a swarm, find us making promise
find us clutching the static of a wormhole where we settled into
disappointment. It’s natural, the confusion of it all: to meet in the clearing,
find a semi-trampled trail to lead us to the humdrum of collecting fruit,
what will not seize the blood, game that will not rot us through. I know
we are gods of failure, susceptible to the waning light. When you ate first
I knew there was no end to what we need, knew no thing could cast us out.
We’d have to crawl on our hands, on our goddamned knees.

There is a line in the poem, “Genesis,” that states: “I wish I were a girl satisfied with date and discover.” This line really seems to sum up the character of the book seamlessly. Can you talk more about this idea of “date and discover[y]?”

At the time, it seemed like dating seemed an applicable metaphor for way too many things. Job interviews are like bad dates. Therapy intakes are like bad dates. It’s all cataloguing. It’s arduous, and of course at some point you feel misanthropic about it like “why don’t we just be honest in that you (presidential candidate, potential lover, day job, new interior ghost I have to face today) might be trash, but let’s just see if you prove me wrong.”

And then you get surprised (probably not by the candidate, or the day job), and you at least discover something necessary, or something that makes living a little more than bearable. You find a small joy, and another; you recognize an old joy you overlooked in the midst of all that surviving. You take each one and dogear them like the poems you want to return to.

Dream with a Glass Chamber
Before I return to that ruinous city of lonely
smoke stacks, puffing rotton clouds against

graysky, i catch you inside another woman,
your coyote’s coat strewn on the floor, body of
a hungry man, beautiful in every wrong
way. I pull the revolver from my coat. Fire.
Casings shatter before they hit the floor.
I want to see what shred bullets can do to
flesh, how they pierce and lodge hard in the bone.
I am standing at your hollow
door turning the key. There are two wet towels littered
from the bathroom to the bedroom. I haven’t seen her face.
Surrender your hands as your mouth bleats. Tell me it’s not
what I thought. Not the confession you transmit from towers. Go
ahead. Time it to the cylinder’s click click click.
In the morning, everything burns. Hairs inside my nose, curled
      and brittle darlings. Throat, after-clawed. Hands sweat-
fresh and black with residue. A finch jangles a chime outside
      my window. This bed will never know the rattle of pelvis
against my wrist, my begging grip, what giving up looks
      like, though I know I’ve already pulled the trigger.
            Buried the gun in the snow.

I remember reading the title poem, “Dream with a Glass Chamber,” on the train and being in tears. Especially the line: “Tell me it’s not what I thought. Not the confession you transmit from the towers. Go ahead. Time it to the cylinder’s click click click ” Moreover, being the title poem, this poem has great importance to the book. Tell me about this poem and how its creation informed the making of this book.

There’s a lot of dreamscape in the book since for me, lyric poems inhabit that space. The title poem was based on a dream I had that someone I was in a relationship with betrayed me, and I shot him. Of course the betrayal was not about the relationship in question, but how part of my anger with the dead was feeling like they had betrayed me by dying. It’s selfish and sort of fucked up when I say it aloud. In the dream I make a rash decision, and am left with the consequences when I wake in the morning. Part of being honest about how I wasn’t processing loss was turning a mirror on myself as a way to veer from the script of wellness. There’s a lot of pomp and circumstance beyond the funeral procession, when someone walks up on me in a coffee shop and asks if I’ve gotten my dead friend’s autopsy back yet, because how he really died is important. Loss can make us ugly and gauche, overly familiar and quick to subtle violences. I wanted to be honest about my culpability in that.


There’s a poem in the book titled, “Looking Glass,” and I’m immediately reminded of Alice in Wonderland (and the discovery of a new place). Furthermore, this idea of the “looking glass” being a mirror—a reflective tool used to study the self in some way. I’m curious to know why “looking glass.” What’s the importance, here? And is there any relation to Alice in Wonderland?

Here’s another Little Dragon reference, but I think that’s interesting, especially with as many wander-world turns these poems take. I mentioned before about this need to turn a mirror on the self and examine in the book. After a while there’s only so many times you can beat the proverbial horse. Making it the last poem of the book, integrating lines from the song like, “Made me have to throw the looking glass,” reveals no gentle resolve.The dead are still dead, the speaker’s still here. Klapp Klapp was a decision to stay and deal, despite the speaker’s perception of things. I wish I was thinking of Alice in that moment, lol.


Million dollar question: What poets or books is your book, “Dream with a Glass Chamber,” in conversation with?

“Saudade: Elegy for You” is in conversation with Richard Siken’s poem “Litany in Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out.” I read Crush after months of the “numb” phase of my grief, and it helped me to articulate what at the time was unspeakable. Tina Chang’s poem “The Future Is An Animal” helped me write “dream in which you survive and in the morning thing’s are back to normal,” though instead of devouring the self, the speaker’s inability to cope consumes someone close to them. Traci Brimhall’s Rookery helped me to look at the intimacy of brutality, especially when I consider your question about addiction and the brutality we inflict on ourselves. Tracy K. Smith’s essay “Survival in Two Worlds at Once: Federico Garcia Lorca and Duende,” was incredibly helpful with looking at the borderwalker space poets can inhabit if they are generous with themselves and with the work. I seem to always find my way back to Pablo Neruda’s “Nothing But Death” it’s relentless pursuit of de-facing and rebuilding death as a figure. If I consider the book as one multi-poem lyric, each poem has a way of building grief as a figure to stare down and question and dialogue with.


One final question. Describe the last dream you can remember.

I’d flown to NYC to visit two writers who had previously been teachers/mentors to me. I think I was there to meet about my current project, and for some reason we couldn’t get the timing right. In and out of the same rooms at different times. One of them had fallen ill, and a number of writer friends had gathered in their home to wait on news of their condition. I started obsessively cleaning, and then making food for everyone while we waited for the phone to ring. Then I woke up thinking Ha! I should probably deal with my need to take care of people.


June 24, 2016

You can purchase Dream with a Glass Chamber at YesYes Books, now!

Aricka Foreman

Aricka Foreman’s work has appeared in The Drunken Boat, Minnesota Review, RHINO, Day One, shuf Poetry, James Franco Review, thrush, Vinyl Poetry, PLUCK!, Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poems for the Next Generation by Viking Penguin, among others. She is the author of Dream With A Glass Chamber from YesYes Books. Detroit-raised, she currently lives in Chicago.