They cradle loved ones near to breast in the thick of the night on the floor of window-less
abandoned building. Their prayers to make it through till morning are tears on tired faces.
I have heard someone once whisper “when all you’ve got is nothing, there’s a lot to go around;” I believe They have this figured out because though They wear dirt for shoes Their smiles illuminate brighter than the simple fires that keep them warm
while they are together I have a lot To learn from they who see clearly how the present is indeed a gift, and so can live in the richness of love with all the naught They have today
By Destinee Sharai Nelons
Destinee Sharai developed her love for creative writing while organizing poetry clubs and sharing at open mics during college. She is based in the Pacific Northwest and currently participates in virtual poetry writing groups. Her interests also include watercolor, sketching, and cooking. Her work can be found in the Lingua journal, Z Publishing House’s anthology of Best Emerging Poets, and The Helpers Podcast.
One of the most compelling aspects of poetry for us is finding a poem that strives to leave the world a better place than it was before. Writing that reaches out beyond the borders of the page and compels us to bear witness. We find that writing to be the catalyst for rolling up our sleeves and getting to work helping those who need help most. All of the poems selected for our 2021 Best of the Net cohort meet this criterion for us. In an era of forgetting, the poets on this list choose to challenge, dare to remember. We are proud to nominate each of them for the Best of the Net Anthology this year.
he talks animal all into the night while i barefoot myself into my books. take handfuls of ground beef & lay them to rest in the cast iron pan. heat teaches away pink and red. he tells me i’m prone to over cooking things. like him, i want to be sure what we swallow remains still. his hands like dead doves. his throat, the warden of an old piano. outside i stare into the woods looking for a ghost. when i was a boy i used to make burials for bird skeletons i’d find up on the hill by the old decaying housing. nothing but their bricks. i would knit flowers into their feathers & say an our father. the church bells would come over me like a flock. then, one day, i lifted a bird i thought was dead & he came back to life. fluttered & called & disappeared into the trees above the railroad. i prefer the full creatures. stay away from him when he works on just a face. a row of elk & deer staring forward like a jury. their bodies still running away. should it trouble me he is just as careful with the dead as he is the living? climbs into me. traces a finger from my chin to the center of my chest. kisses my neck. we have so many last suppers with just our skin. a drawer of glass eyes. real eyes becoming no wheres in their dirt. this week he mounts a barn owl & i have visions of waking up to find the bird alive again & perched on the bedpost. my lover still asleep. me awake. me awake opening the window & telling the bird to go.
By Robin Gow
Robin Gow is a trans poet and young adult author from rural Pennsylvania. They are the author of Our Lady of Perpetual Degeneracy (Tolsun Books 2020) and the chapbook Honeysuckle (Finishing Line Press 2019). Their first young adult novel, A Million Quiet Revolutions is forthcoming March 2022 with FSG Books for Young Readers. Gow’s poetry has recently been published in POETRY, Southampton Review, and Yemassee. Gow received their MFA from Adelphi University where they were also an adjunct instructor. Gow is a managing editor at The Nasiona, a poetry editor at MAYDAY, and the assistant editor at large at Doubleback Books. They live in Allentown Pennsylvania and work as a community educator on Domestic and Intimate Partner violence.
does she terrify you when you ogle her for she’s not wearing a dupatta?
when she flips her hair sans a bit of care?
when she shops in bazaars without your fear?
you’re a sadist – rakish wolf ready to slay your “dear”
she’s a menagerie – wildness breathes in her
(thoughts) encaged imagining in her skull
(passion) imprisoned throbbing in her ribcage
her bangles jingle on every Eid – the sign you
to wolf-whistle at her
to wolf her down with your “manliness” (brutality)
snicker-snack in your eyes she discerns
you can stone these “rebels” on Aurat March for protesting to get their rights
but you can’t stone their flak-like words
that ricochet you as you unmask the beast inside you
that reanimate the suffering wives (stooges)
that question your mentality that is limited to what she wears when she goes out to buy grocery
oh, to be a woman on this land
is to be killed (by your kin) in the name of “honour”
for any reason that the males of a family find obscene
is to (not cover but) hide yourself (not fearing Allah, but fearing men)
under a veil and an abaaya
be groped by a grey-bearded man
because you raise ‘curiosity’
is to be thrown acid at
if you reject a man for marriage
is to get bumped off
if the meal you serve to your husband isn’t hot enough
is to be called a hussy
if you march with the oppressed women on the roads who implore
to be treated as humans
to be dancing on embers
By Hafsa Mumtaz
Hafsa Mumtaz is a Pakistan-based emerging poet. She is a recent graduate of English Language and Literature. She only has one publication yet: ‘Like a Sip of Wine’ at an online journal Visual Verse Anthology, Volume 08, Chapter 09, published on July 26th, 2021.
with rage. I pop pills, walk to last night’s chair
where you sat murdered in your blue pathani.
Last night, you bowed your head— never to sing
again, not in the reyaz of our house,
where we laced Ghazals. Last night you bowed
your head, an accordion strap over your shoulder.
Sometimes, I conjure the faces of your
murderers. It begins with your fingers
tapping on the harmonium, tak tak tak tak
until an echo of revenge vibrates
on my fingertips. My eyes can’t make you
into clay, can’t make a body a body,
again, a heart, a nose, like yours. Your story
didn’t flash across the evening news, didn’t find
eternity in a Youtube clip. I am six
and feel your shirt against my cheek. I am curling
your hair between my thumb and forefinger,
combing it over your face, laughing.
The palmetto tree in my rear-view mirror
looks nothing like your shadow.
By Huma Sheikh
Huma Sheikh is a doctoral fellow in Creative Writing at Florida State University. The recipient of fellowships from Callaloo, William Joiner Institute (UMass Boston), University of Massachusetts at Amherst, East-West Center, Hawaii, she has studied literary nonfiction with Christina Thompson at Harvard, and worked as a journalist in India, China, and the United States. She was the Assistant Online Editor for the Southeast Review, Fiction Screener for Orison Books, Stringer and Reporter for Plain Talk weekly and Ka Leo newspapers in South Dakota and Hawaii. The winner of the Adam M. Johnson Fellowship, Charles Gordone Award, and the Dean’s award for Outstanding Academic Performance and the award for Excellence in English at Long Island University, Huma is currently at work on her memoir and poetry book. Her work has appeared and forthcoming in Consequence Magazine, Arrowsmith Journal, The Rumpus, The Kenyon Review, and others.
My sister thinks I’m a saint and falls to her knees when I pass.
I remember what belief felt like: pews and bowed heads and lips
peaked with desires. Church was a place. I think it smelled like mildew or maybe
that was the bathrooms I hid in when the sermons got too long. The summer
before second grade, I went to a church camp. They played familiar songs on
banjos, the strings snapping halfway through. We sung along and they
changed the lyrics away from sex and drugs to praying and bibles. One of the
counselors was a high school student. He liked to hold my hand between
activities. I wonder how he’s doing now. I think his name was Alex. Or maybe John.
My mother thinks I’m a demon and surrounds my room with salt.
She took three years of Spanish in high school and retains nothing but
the curses. With her white accent, she tells me to go to hell and I pretend
not to understand. At church camp, they told me if I didn’t accept god into my
heart I was going down below. They said my Jewish friends, my Muslim friends,
my Atheist friends would all have a place there. I spit in their faces and they sent
me to the corner where I cried until they felt bad. Next time, I’ll throw salt back at her.
My father thinks I’m an angel and never dares to come close.
I’m made of light, in his mind, delicate matter that burns at
the touch, and maybe that’s why he stays away. He still writes
me letters on my birthday, and every other December, I stay
at his new house with his new mortal family: he doesn’t have
to be afraid of them. He can touch them, hold them. My sister doesn’t
remember him, not his face or name, and I don’t tell her either. We were the
only family at Church cleaved in two, and I heard people whisper that
the bible condemns divorce. But that union birthed an angel, so even
if temporary, I say we deserve a temporary reprieve. Can we ask the saints for that?
First appeared in The Lumiere Review (June 2021)
By Natalie Hampton
Natalie Hampton is a rising junior at the Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in the Creative Writing Department. She has been recognized at the National level of the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition and by the Harris County Department of Education, the Young Poets Network, the Pulitzer Center, and Ringling College of Art and Design. She serves as an editor at Polyphony Lit and Cathartic Literary Magazine. She has taken online workshops and classes with Iowa, Brown, Sewanee, and Ellipsis Writing.
The booth is like any other. Silver Frame and windows engraved By some past passenger’s keys.
How long has it been since you folded Yourself like a letter, dashed off at the receiver And melted into the breeze?
This portal sits on a hill In a garden overlooking the sea. Salt rinses it daily.
In the sky above Great pylons loom Without lines connecting.
A man comes by car each morning Tracing a series of arcs, echoes Of his uncle’s voice across decades.
On the last day, he arrives and cuts The engine. Sunlight electrifies The dull steel cage.
Squinting, the old man stumbles And just as he reaches the portal The wind phone rings.
By Gaetan Sgro
Gaetan Sgro is an internal medicine doctor, “girl dad,” and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine where he directs a program in the medical humanities. His poems have appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, Glass: Poet’s Resist, Blueline, The Healing Muse, Apiary Magazine, Annals of Internal Medicine, JAMA, Best New Poets 2016, and other fine publications.
I do not want to think about the six women dead in the massage parlors. Who touched them? Whom did they touch? Did they close their eyes or keep them open? Did they like it— the touching— despise it, or merely see it as synonymous to mundane survival?
I do not want to think about the six women dead in the massage parlors. I see my mother lying face-up on the parlor floor. Leaking her one life onto the linoleum. Glass shattered around her deflated body. I see my brother, heaving, his face hidden in her shirt. No breath, no noise, just darkness swelling, swallowing.
I do not want to think about the six women dead in the massage parlors. How did they call their children to the dinner table at the closing of every day? Cutie pie, sweetie, love? Érzi, ttal, adeul? In my dreams tonight, my mother calls me to dinner, but I never reach her no matter how far I walk towards her voice.
I do not want to think about the six women dead in the massage parlors. Nothing makes sense. “Hypersexualization,” “Eliminate,” “Asian.” Why does nothing make sense? The words flash resolutely on searing screens. The words displace all air with piles of pixels, confused sound waves. What is living in the face of “violence,” “gender,” “race”? What is the point of language, with all its fucking artificiality?
I do not want to think about the six women dead in the massage parlors. I gasp awake shivering, his bare chest damp against my cheek. He rolls towards me with his typical depthless tenderness. My love, you are my love, where else can I find such safety? How far you see beneath my yellow skin. How far do you see beneath my yellow skin? His ocean eyes stare straight through me, and I dissolve into his arms, formless.
I do not want to think about the six women dead in the massage parlors. Sisters, mothers, listen— a part of me died with you that day. I say this with eyes closed. Tell me, what does peace look like to you? What would you have done if given exactly that kind of peace? Tell me what to do with this one precious life, unwilding swiftly beneath our fingertips.
By Caroline Aung
Caroline Aung is an anthropologist and urbanist from Austin, Texas. She received her B.A. in anthropology from Stanford University and is pursuing her M.A. in city design at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is a finalist for Bellingham Review’s Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction, and strongly believes in the power of writing to contribute to social change.
Are you even an American until the sirens wail and the rumble of helicopters shakes your house as much as your heart?
Until you shuffle your children into the basement family room, shutting the curtains and locking the doors, in case the gunman is out there?
Until you hold your breath for hours
dreading the release of names
waiting for the response to a text
wondering if this was all an imagined horror,
because such things happen in other places?
Until you’ve received the frantic messages yourself, your fingers flying as you confirm that yes, we’re at home, we’re safe….for now?
Until your street is blocked with media tents, broadcasting images that look like the aftermath of every other mass shooting, except this time it’s from the library lawn where your children read books and pick dandelions?
Are you even an American until you have to grapple with the reality that all the candles by the gates are for neighbors who died
scanning cartons of chicken broth
waiting in line at the pharmacy counter for a vaccine?
Until you’ve hung signs and flowers in a place you’ve been countless times before, in the ordinary days of buying bread without blood on the floor?
Until you’ve fallen to your knees by the yellow crime scene tape, knees sinking into the soggy spring earth, and wondered how you’ll pass this place every day?
Until you suddenly become very aware of the fact that you are indeed alive, knowing some are not?
Are you even an American until you come face to face with realizing it could have been you
who becomes a victim to gun violence in America?
Until you look your daughter in the eye and try to explain without weeping that a man with a gun did a very bad thing just two blocks down the hill, and we don’t know why?
Until you learn that a brave father perished while protecting your community?
Until you’ve heard the bullets spray, if only in your nightmares?
Are you even an American until this story comes to visit yourtown
If I wasn’t before, then I am truly American now.
Allison Deptolla is a Lecturer at the International English Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She holds a BA in English and an MA in Applied Linguistics. This is her first published poem.