The No Joke Broke Folk By Destinee Sharai Nelons

The No Joke Broke Folk

They
cradle loved ones
near to breast
in the thick of the night
on the floor
of window-less 

            shack 

                        shanty

                                    hut

                        single-room house

                                    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

Biography

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.

when boys tell me i’m tiny i feel like throwing up By Shanna Williams

when boys tell me im tiny i feel like throwing up

what i would give
to crawl into your mouth again
pick up your molars and hide in your gum pockets
floss me out when i am
hurting you

i am still running into doorframes
like i forget how much space i take up
how many atoms are bouncing, floating
inside my skin
i have bruises
from the door hinge

you pick me up and
tell me i’m so tiny
i feel all the atoms in me
explode
and i float up
(i’m so tiny i can do that)

i am not small
and you are not strong because you can lift me
onto your bed

someone once said we are all made up of stars
and that is where i will return
when you abandon whatever we have
slipping
through cracks in the door

By Shanna Williams

Biography:

Shanna Williams was born + raised in San Francisco, where she still resides. After an 8 year hiatus, she is writing again.

2021 Best of the Net Nominees

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.

2021 Best of the Net Nominees

The Cleaving By Samuel A. Adeyemi

When I Get Drunk and Think of Palestine By Fatima Sausan Masoud

Calculus Notes on Turmeric By Palak Parikh

the joshua tree gave me its blessing By Mia T. Hamernik

dear eomma By hyun-joo kim

You Might Not Be Struck By Lightning As You Wish By Ellen Huang

the taxidermist’s lover By Robin Gow

the taxidermist’s lover

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

Biography

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.

Dancing on Embers By Hafsa Mumtaz

Dancing on Embers

her kohl-fringed eyes – oblong

            ponds of imperfection

brazenness                               anathema

                                                acumen prancing like a horse in those pupils

                                                            rebellion painting crescents under the eyes

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

                                                            look for

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

and yet

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

is simply

to be dancing on embers

By Hafsa Mumtaz

Biography:

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.

QASIDA FOR MY FATHER’S GHOST IN MY FLORIDA ROOM By Huma Sheikh

QASIDA FOR MY FATHER’S GHOST IN MY FLORIDA ROOM

Behind the pine grove, my Panhandle blooms           

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

Biography

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.

atonement By Natalie Hampton

atonement

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

Biography

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 Wind Phone By Gaetan Sgro

The Wind Phone

—for the people of Otsuchi

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

Biography

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.

Atlanta By Caroline Aung

Atlanta

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

Biography

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? By Allison Deptolla

Are you even an American?

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

            buying tomatoes

                        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

            your child

                        your mother

                                    your father

                                                your neighbor

                                                            your friend

                                                                        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 your town

            your school

                        your church

                                    your family

                                                your community?

If I wasn’t before, then I am truly American now.

By Allison Deptolla

Biography:

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.