Conversations with My Father Between Highway Billboards By Adriana Carter

Conversations with My Father Between Highway Billboards

My father cracks his knuckles against
the steering wheel while driving through
West Virginia mountains and leaves his boyhood
on the asphalt. In the passenger seat,
my father’s shadow spills over me, and
I uncover a boy steeped in a town that inhales
once every decade. A boy who discovered himself
more in the exit than the arrival. My father
tries to remember him by filling the empty spaces
of his vision with the edge of a mirror.
He sees me in the reflection.
Remembers how he didn’t know how to
hold me when I was born because he was afraid
my bones would shatter like the time his friend
threw a snowball through the chapel window
and he took the blame. When I ask my father
about regret, he presses his foot a bit further
on the gas pedal. Tells me about people
he never said goodbye to: A girl who wanted
more than she could give. Another who
collected escape routes until they filled her pockets
and veins with stardust. My father can’t forget
how he stumbled from one city to another
and tried to collect paper compasses
that left cuts across his hands. And I forgot
that objects in the mirror are closer than
they appear. I learn to count
my father’s scars by the number
of mile markers we pass. Maybe someday
the highway billboards will lead us homeward.

By Adriana Carter

Biography:

Adriana Carter is a sophomore at Stanford University. Her poetry and prose have been recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers and the UK Poetry Society. Adriana is also currently the co-prose editor for the Leland Quarterly, a literary journal based at Stanford.

Ritual of Tale-telling By Iheoma Uzomba

Ritual of Tale-telling

There are no tale-tellers, no bagpipes
to thread these words in rhythms:
sounds, seizures, thoughts
that linger and bloat a mind.

So, up on this space between breaths and
what goes for darkness, with torch fires that
cast our figures back in time,
shadows flailing in rush-wind

a man sits on a stool, inherits the mouths
of a thousand tale-tellers before him, their
features reliving and slamming
the crest of nightfall. He begins

with an aside– lulling the spirits that own his
voice, asking for a portion of wholeness– a
bidding to what language would
suffice his course, subduing the

many tangs a man’s throat croons after: twilight,
twilight and its twitch for warmth, twilight & the
consummation of soul. Once again,
he splits the tale in both palms, one

for each child, rubs them in twos until what we see
is a patch of light exiting his fingers, turning clouds.
Our fathers used to say: “nothing would
come alive when there are no tale-tellers.”

By Iheoma Uzomba

Biography:

Iheoma Uzomba currently studies English and Literary Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Her works appear on Kissing Dynamite, the Dreich Magazine, Fact-Simile editions and elsewhere.

Rockville By Julia Bonadies

Rockville

after “Chicago” by Carl Sandberg

Pre-teen pot smokers raised into
hard drug dealers.
Skinny, white, trailer-trash girls
with lips rings, 
and dexterous dope addicts
turning tricks into hold ups
on sex-starved naval officers
in a seedy motel six.
Alyssa’s mugshot from last week
is the first time I’ve seen her face
since our high school yearbook.
Before her, it was Bret in the fall
found overdosed on oxy,
passed out and picked up
by police in the Taco Bell
parking lot.
Before him, it was Coolidge
getting nabbed for carrying
and bragging on how big he felt
for brandishing a weapon
on his walk home from nowhere.
Before him, it was Cassidy getting pregnant
after a summer of binging and blow jobs. 

They told me I’d hate you,
That I would despise your kind. 
Your sharp tongues, your rough crowds,
Your ways, your words,
Your hard drugs, hard people.
And still,
after all these years they tell me
that you were born to be black and brutal.
And my reply is: yes, you are
tough to love but I still do.
So I ask them,
come and show me another place
where Friday night football games
are a consecutive failure
but the band is always loud and cheering,
the stands always filled by the families
that formed in-between
fights, deals, and deaths,
within teams, clubs, and classrooms
because parents were never in the picture.
Show me another town that knows
how to look out for each other
the way that we do.

Bareheaded boys rolling blunts
with precision in the pitch dark,
Shoveling aside the shit
their parents left inside of them.
Wrecking dirt bikes on rails to trails.
Planning escape routes on the cliffs,
keeping warm with fireball and burnetts.
Building themselves up and out
by the cash they hole up
in their track pant pockets.
Breaking down for the tenth time
when they’re told they won’t make it.
Rebuilding the hope, the bullies 
tried to brand out of them.

They tell me you are past all repair. 
That you are a lost cause,
a waste of my white, privileged time,
A worthless relic I should leave behind.
But I can’t help but believe
that one day you will get better.

The sound of your stormy, husky, brawling,
laughter lifts me out of your ashes.
Your sloppy joy, your scrubby hospitality. 
Your wild embraces, your full faces,
Your hand-picked families
have taught me how to be strong.
How to be loyal in my loving,
liberal in my kindness. 
Lessons, I never could have
learned without you.

By Julia Bonadies

Biography:

Julia Bonadies teaches English Language Arts at Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts Middle, and tutors in writing at Manchester Community College. In 2016, she was named Manchester Community College’s poet representative in the Connecticut Poetry Circuit. Her poetry has appeared in the national undergraduate magazine, The Albion Review, local paper The Chronicle, and various online journals and local college literary arts magazines. She is a film and plant enthusiast who resides in Vernon, Connecticut.

DECADENCE By Ozota Gerald Obinna

DECADENCE

When the rain
comes tomorrow
carrying your house in its belly, do not cry
foul play,
for when it did same to the masquerade,
you said it was a cleansing rite.
Your children today are scattered abroad
with no place to call their root,
they feed on lust and dote evil ___
their stomach habours decaying gases
of their culture,
if they return, they shouldn’t cry foul play for the debris
left of their homes,
for the wind that took them abroad
came for their houses too.
Your lands are growing bald,
and weeds swallowing the norms your forebears planted____
when your children come with protruding collar bones looking
for chow and you have nothing to offer;
do not cry foul play,
tell them the drought that once gave you pasture now owns
your lands.

By Ozota Gerald Obinna

Biography:

Ozota Gerald Obinna writes from Nigeria. He studies at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, He writes to stay happy. His poem Walls was Long-listed in The Nigeria Student Poetry Prize 2020 and his works have appeared in Praxis magazine,Kalahari Review and several anthologies.

Pray the Violence By Njoku Nonso

Pray the Violence

against the world’s iris of slaughter, the snake shivering
beneath the dead sky swallows its eggs—who knows

the kind of animals straying behind this wall undressed by
tiger-claw marks and red moonshine?—I begin to wonder

what made men make bullets instead of babies, something
worthy of enfolding a country’s name into the casketof war,

how we can actually unname anything we touch through
the brittle teeth of hunger—are we on the darker side of

the moon? are we so much afraid of love that we live all
our days on earth believing nothing would save us, grounded

by the soft weight of recurring bad omens?—a handful of ash
pours back into the river’s boundless throat, like a claim,

in the name of bloodied history, in the name of mourning
those who did not survive the maw of violence, those who

are born to carry through the night what’s left at their feet—
animal furs, egg shells, blood & more blood, every abstraction

of emptiness & grief—like clods of wet earth on a shovel’s face
after grave-filling—are we on the darker side of the moon?

are the lights blurred to keep us from hurting one another?
sometimes do you feel like there is a snake stuck in your throat?

are you afraid something might slither through the open door
& unmask your death, sudden like a bullet’s arrhythmic song?

On TV, two birds, wild-eyed, picking off food from rotten bones,
look towards heaven as if in prayers & scamper away—

By Njoku Nonso

Njoku Nonso is a Nigerian Igbo-born fiction writer, poet, essayist, and medical student, who lives and writes in/from Ojoto as a tribute to the spirit of Christopher Okigbo. His works are featured or is forthcoming in Bodega, The Shore, Brittle Paper, Animal Heart Press, Palette, Kissing Dynamite, Praxis and elsewhere. He’s currently working on his first poetry chapbook.

My Skin By Shanice Rose

My Skin

Uncomfortable in my skin.
Uncomfortable from within.
Uncomfortable with who I am.
Uncomfortable, but who gives a damn?
Uncomfortable when you hear me,
Talking about my feelings,
As if black women are unfamiliar
To the idea of healing.
My skin is as tough as nails,
As deep as the sea,
And as rich as cocoa.
My skin is everything, wouldn’t you think so?
My skin pushes men away,
My skin refuses to beg them to stay.
My skin is “too loud.”
My skin is “too proud.”
It doesn’t listen when it’s told,
How dare it be bold?
It doesn’t know how to act,
It’s too “ghetto”, to be exact.
My skin has big lips,
Big breasts, And wide hips.
Its everything you want, just minus my skin.
I guess my skin will just have to deal.
Maybe, just maybe, it will learn to heal.

By Shanice Rose

Biography:

Shanice Rose is a 20 year old Junior at Virginia Commonwealth University, currently studying Mass Communications and Public Relations. She began writing poetry in her 6th grade English class, and has been in love with it ever since. Shanice’s biggest influence, and favorite author, is the late Maya Angelou. In the future, Shanice hopes to make an impact as big as Maya did on the world, through her words or from working with Non-Profit Organizations. She is currently an Officer in a Community Service Fraternity at her school, Alpha Phi Omega, and spends the rest of her free time writing or with friends

Sappho Poem By Daniela Calderon

Sappho Poem

You and I
In a tangle of limbs,
Strung together like metaphors;
The signified and the signifier.

You, like noble Odysseus, sailing into the deepest alcoves of my body.
Oh, how my fingers trace
The curvature of your lips
And the spaces between your shoulder blades

Drawn as constellations upon the irises of Aphrodite.
Molten candles, dripping wax
In a city that’s too cold.
And still, I count my calories to make room for

Your touch.
We loosen, knot by knot, the strings of our bodies.
My love, only to you are my tides drawn under
The cloudless moonlight.

By Daniela Calderon

Biography:

Daniela Calderon is a 23-year-old writer from Las Vegas, NV. Born in Mexico in 1996, Daniela migrated to the U.S. at 6 years old. In the U.S., she quickly found an escape in the English language. While attending the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, she majored in English where she found discovered her interest in poetry. The poem she is submitting is titled “Sappho Poem.”

Float By Niko Malouf

Float

I rest my head in your hands, 
close my eyes and feel your shoulder 
beneath my ear.

I remember the first time you held me 
this way. I remember their fight: 
something about a wandering eye, and the
dinner table conflagrated before our eyes. 

The heat of our father’s breath, the shrill 
of our mother’s tone, the soft pace of 
your fingers across my back. 

You took me to the stars, let us watch 
the eruption of our home from the 
distance of a lightyear. 

Thank you for making me an astronaut, 
for showing me how to float, eyes closed, 
when forks and tablecloth felt heavier 
than Earth itself. 

By Niko Malouf

Biography:

As a teenager living in Los Angeles, Niko enjoys writing about the things that surround him, stimulate him, the events of his adolescence as well as the happenings of the world. He hopes to share his experiences and perspective with others and inspire them to do the same.

Careful Departure By Niko Malouf

Careful Departure

She pulls blue velvet up over her shoulders, 
holds my hand in hers, delicately as she did
when she once taught me to ride a bike, 

she pushes me awake. Murmurs 
something about missing my plane 
and urges me to slip into the jeans 
she had folded neatly. 

She navigates the road with a 
certainty I admire, glancing 
at my teenage skin and nodding 
as she registers me a man. 

I pull my bags from the trunk, 
she hands me my new coat and says
something about East Coast weather. 

She smooths my shirt as we exchange a final remark; 
she reminds me of the frailty of her fingers, 
she smiles with a sadness only a mother could possess.

She waves as I walk, 
with the hands that will forever hold 
the balance of my childhood.

By Niko Malouf

Biography:

As a teenager living in Los Angeles, Niko enjoys writing about the things that surround him, stimulate him, the events of his adolescence as well as the happenings of the world. He hopes to share his experiences and perspective with others and inspire them to do the same.

Grieving What We Lost By Olaitan Junaid

Grieving What We Lost

Because they say black is beauty, you’ve decided to break the night into bits
& give them out to me.

You forget, I once died at night & woke with morning on my chest –
This is a dream I can’t remember.

This thing called ruin, I’m trying to gather back into my memory
& maybe give it a name or make a big picture of it, so my mind doesn’t lose count again. 

Just last night, we had the world curled under our breath
& passed it on in doses – your tongue against mine, intruding the inner walls of my mouth.

Isn’t it funny how we get tipsy in the presence of light?
& lose all the memories we had to noise & sunlight.

How we take new names in the crowd & cut ourselves off the past,
Like shadows at the coming of light.

My body frets in the absence of your touch – It makes confession so easy like water,
Soft as music in the mouth of birds.

There is      a name       to bodies     that part       with pain.
The white paper you left on the couch still has a strain of you –

The smell of your cologne.
The two-word fragment: Sorry, goodbye,

marks the title of every poem I write, they begin & end my prayers.
Isn’t it funny how we bother less about time

When we part with what we love, that in turn parts with our heart.
No distance becomes too far to walk

& my shadow now leaves my mind on every road I tread.
It’s too foolish to think you’ll see it, trace it & find me once again

On my bed with your last words curled around my motionless body.

By Olaitan Junaid

Biography:

Olaitan Junaid is a reader, writer, & sometimes, an editor. He is a lover good poetry. He studies English Language & Literature at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. His works have appeared or are forthcoming on Ngiga Review, NantyGreens, Perhappened Mag, Ghost Heart Literary Journal, & elsewhere. He lives in south-western Nigeria, where he writes from. Say hi to him @olaitan_junaid on Twitter.