2016 Editors’ Choice Poems: Week 2

We are delighted to present this week’s selections from the Brain Mill Press 2016 Poetry Month Contest. We received many outstanding entries, from which these pieces by Jessica Jacobs, Olajide Timilehin Abiodun, and Catherine Chen stood out. We hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we did.

There Ain’t Nothing Like Breck for Stop n’ Stare Hair

Jessica Jacobs

It’s 10 p.m. Do you know whereyour children are? Well, there I was

with the remote, my thumb a die punch,a jackhammer’s relentless up and down

through a world of possiblelives—America’s Most Wanted, Nick

at Night, To Catch a Predator—in searchof prey worth pausing for. I slowed,

though, not for shows but for theirinterruptions: Bare shoulders. Wet neck. Rope

of hair glistening beneath a glisteningstream. Prell. Breck. So many ways to

get your hair glossy. So much skinjust off-screen

I tried to keep myself from wantingto see. I rapped my wrist

with the remote; pinched the undersideof my thighs, behind

my knees—a child’s small-fingered self-flagellation. I knew

only enough to know I should not wantthis. So I called myself names, donned

shame as my hair shirt. Though Inever once turned it off. Or looked away.

Jessica Jacobs is the author of Pelvis with Distance, winner of the 2015 New Mexico Book Award in Poetry, an Over the Rainbow selection by the American Library Association, and a current Lambda Literary Award finalist. An avid long-distance runner, Jessica has worked as a rock climbing instructor, bartender, and editor, and now serves as faculty for Writing Workshops in Greece and as the Hendrix-Murphy Writer-in-Residence at Hendrix College. She lives in Little Rock with her wife, the poet Nickole Brown. More of her work can be found at www.jessicalgjacobs.com.

Excuses

Olajide Timilehin Abiodun

Fountain pens are expensive

Only a kobo lays in my pocket

Script-let books are scarce

I couldn’t found none

Internet is a necessity

I have no gadgets

The four legs of my table are ill

The carpenter storms with bill

Art needs audience

No one will listen to me

Busy are days

Time is rob by minutes

It left me only a minute of pace

to pour my world out on paper

Paragraphs are sans coherence

Sentences are hard to come by

Lines are porous

lacking the wit of poets

Even words are stiff

Like a drained-up river

They spring forth no water

Ideas seize to flow like rivulets

The muse proves stubborn

she only keeps silent in sober

Out of the reach of her master

I’m no poet.

Olajide Timilehin Abiodun is no mean poet. He resides on the coast of West Africa in the giant nation called Nigeria. He owns and tutors at GiftedPens.com, a blog that focuses on stronger poetry writing and making a good living writing poems.

Website

Psychonausea

Catherine Chen

There is a red brick wall at the very end of the street. You relieve it of form and enter the hole that remains. Infinity is here. Only in persistence can your body adjust to the conditions of precarity. Are you willing to tread past the point of identity? Take this sign. Die, then struggle. I ask you, “Where will you go from here?” What the hole of history obscures is the degree to which we have trained ourselves to live under the hypnosis of mythology. The hole has the circumference of a quarter but that is our approximation and the hole itself has no conception of currency. A quarter’s circumference is a dollop of honey is a rose is the imprint my index finger leaves on packaged meat at the supermarket. Say the things you could not tell your mother the night you realized her desires were born of her failure. Say her name. Say “Black Lives Matter.” That life continues today is no small achievement. Even as devastation lies with them in bed, the lovers’ bodies know how to derive pleasure from the fractal formations of the chandelier’s crystal blue lights: sunrise. I use dangerous language to distinguish myself. Keep treading. Use tools inaccessible to technology, like topographical memory or an archive of self-erasure or illegibility. Drones have been useful in mitigating the abscess that outlines the hole of history. Expansion, contraction. With every gasp and kiss, the lovers inhale the toxic fumes of another air strike. You too consume these chemicals. You too do not stop taking up space.

Catherine Chen is a writer invested in histories of race, trauma, and labor. Her writing has appeared in Mask Magazine, Found Poetry Review, and The Coalition,among others. Presently she is at work on a cyborg text of failure and redistribution. She is a Pisces living in Boston.

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

If “love calls us to the things of this world,” then poetry too can call us to think about challenging questions, difficult situations, and social justice, implicating and engaging the reader with the world we live in, in the hope that this engagement is a step toward wrestling with our better selves.

When the body is a cage

The self has no other language than the one it is taught:when it says the word girl, the image never changes:a soft hourglass that cannot note the time:

the self searches for words to name the body:          so the name can change:          so the cage will open:

the self seeks a name that means neither boy nor girl:          not baron or fleur:          not Louis or Louise:but something to which a meaning cannot be attached:

sometimes the self feels like fire and takes the name fire:

to be a true self means finding one’s own name:          in a gathering of clouds:          in a grove of trees:          in a body of water:an environment where the self can freely become.

Julie Brooks Barbour is the author of Haunted City (Aldrich Press, 2016) and Small Chimes (Aldrich Press, 2014), as well as three chapbooks, most recently Beautifully Whole (Hermeneutic Chaos Press, 2015). She is co-editor of Border Crossing and Poetry Editor at Connotation Press: An Online Artifact. A recipient of an Artist Enrichment Grant from Kentucky Foundation for Women and a residency at Sundress Academy for the Arts, she teaches writing at Lake Superior State University.

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

If “love calls us to the things of this world,” then poetry too can call us to think about challenging questions, difficult situations, and social justice, implicating and engaging the reader with the world we live in, in the hope that this engagement is a step toward wrestling with our better selves.

2016 Editors’ Choice Poems: Week 3

We are delighted to present this week’s selections from the Brain Mill Press 2016 Poetry Month Contest. We received many outstanding entries, from which these pieces by Shabnam Piryaei, Courtney Leblanc, and Sharon Brooks stood out. We hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we did.

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Shabnam Piryaei

In this geography,in the haunt of the fifth, stillborn, season,women trespassed and terrorboundbury my first word.Where is my armor.I’m not convincedthe only avenue to joy is onesolitary writhe in the foammouthed dark,one fervent anchor hungering through a ribcage,one bullying nothing.Above the roof a cloudbuilds itself through variation.          Every inheritance is a compass.          Autumn at midnight, the forest sky          is every bullet-scattered brain          caught into white stuttering fire,          a canvas of sustained thought.          Uncertainty, too, is riddled with light.          Tracks traversing a mistmouthed abyss          demand suddenly          your every illumination.          Recognition is a short-lived currency,          the hungry eye starving the heart.          Discomfort, held fast, gifts gaping wealth.          Draws you, like a calf,          unruly and wet from the dissonant flesh.          Here, and perhaps again,          there is synchronous sunblaze and stormtrace.          A glimpse of the orbit that comprises you.

Shabnam Piryaei is the author of Ode to Fragile (Plain View Press, 2010), Forward (MUSEUM Books, 2014), and Nothing Is Wasted (forthcoming).

She has been awarded the Poets & Writers Amy Award, the Transport of the Aim Poetry Prize, the Elizabeth George Foundation Grant, the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance Grant and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Grant. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and published in journals and anthologies including Poets & Writers Magazine, The Awl, MUSEUM, Unsaid, Commonthought Magazine, The Florida Review, Flashquake, The Furnace Review, Mapping Me: A Landscape of Women’s Stories (Maymuna Productions) and Others Will Enter the Gates: Immigrant Poets on Poetry, Influences, and Writing in America (Black Lawrence Press). Her play A Time to Speak was staged at the MAD Theatre Festival in the United Kingdom. She has also written for the Global Post and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

She has written and directed three award-winning films that have screened in the U.S. at the Woodstock Film Festival, HollyShorts Film Festival, Indie Spirit Film Festival, Red Rock Film Festival, Miami Short Film Festival, Noor Film Festival, International Literary Film Festival, Video Art and Experimental Film Festival, The Foundry Film + Video Series, Catskill Film and Video Festival, Co-Kisser Poetry Film Festival, The Body Electric Poetry Film Festival, Liberated Words Festival, Digital Arts Entertainment Laboratory, (sub)Urban Projections, Blissfest333 and the Target Art Gallery, and internationally at the Canterbury Short Film Festival, Portobello Film Festival, Void Film Festival, Zebra Poetry Film Festival, Sadho Poetry Film Festival, Visible Verse Festival, Moscars al-Hurria Film Festival, Art Monastery Film Festival, Cologne International Film Festival, Indie Cork Film Festival, First Glance, FilmVideo International Film Festival, Festival Miden, Festival Videomedeja, KnockanStockan, the Unlike Art Gallery, Elysium Art Gallery, New Gallery London, Youyou Gallery, Jotta, Galleria Perelà and the Shorts Movie Channel.

Website

Unsolicited Advice to My Younger Self

Courtney LeBlanc

after Jeanann Verlee

When he breaks up with you to return to his wife and his children and his life do not tell him you understand. Tell him goodbye and walk out the door. When you begin dating his gorgeous mixed-race friend do not gloat. The first time your father calls him a nigger walk out of the room. The second time he says it walk out of the house – his racism will grow and fracture your blooming relationship. You will regret this.

When he comes back and says his marriage is over tell him congratulations. Do not date him again, do not quit school and follow him to the Caribbean. He will break you every way he can for the next seven years. Do not regret or reconsider the restraining order. You were right to get it. He did not have the right to threaten you.

Do not let your mother make you feel guilty for the divorce. She is a pro at blaming you for her own issues. Your divorce is not a reflection on her. Do not feel guilty when your relationship with your mother falls apart. She fostered it as much as you did. You do not have to like her or even love her. It is not owed.

Do not apologize for using the word fuck. Use it in any (every) poem. Read these poems to your mother. Do not flinch when she slaps you at your first public poetry reading. Pour that into a poem. Use the word fuck repeatedly.

Courtney LeBlanc believes she and her sister were born as Siamese twins, despite logic and the fact that they were born two years apart. Her poetry is published or forthcoming in Connections, Welter, Plum Biscuit, Pudding Magazine, The Legendary, Germ Magazine, District Lines, Slab, Wicked Banshee, The Door is a Jar, and others.

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She and he into we

Sharon Brooks

what if we set aside

all of these illusions of love

the control

the holding at arm’s length

the perception of what will be

based on what was

what if we managed our expectations

what if we stopped blaming ourselves

for failure

and stopped blaming the other for

deceptions.

what if we just

trust

and consciously walk forward

with the grace we are each assigned

and loved the other

and ourselves

in power

and empowered the other to love

at the highest level

because this space between us is

safe

and fluid

and alive

what if love just is, and was,

and survived on the inhale and exhale.

what if we came together

hoped brilliantly

took that faith and made multiple trips around the moon

and stared straight into the sun

with eyes wide open

and just stopped judging

what we saw

stopped controlling what we want

stopped trying to own the other

and accepted

every ugly, selfish, thoughtless

flaw simply because

and what if we held the other

even in those ugly moments

raising the frequency of each

heartbeat until they connect

and beat as one

what if we became one

she and he into a we.

Sharon Brooks is a writer who lives in Los Angeles, where she enjoys discovering new restaurants, organic gardening, and writing about love. She recently started a blog, Not Quite We, where she will share her very funny and very sweet stories of dating in the digital age.

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BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

If “love calls us to the things of this world,” then poetry too can call us to think about challenging questions, difficult situations, and social justice, implicating and engaging the reader with the world we live in, in the hope that this engagement is a step toward wrestling with our better selves.

2016 Editors’ Choice Poems: Week 1

We are delighted to present this week’s selections from the Brain Mill Press 2016 Poetry Month Contest. We received many outstanding entries, from which these pieces by Imani Davis, Lynn Marie Houston, and Jiordan Castle stood out. We hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we did.

Grave Robber Digs with a Pen

Imani Davis

When a Black ______ dies and they last breath is played on repeat, must we still paint the forest?I debate this with my hands.

They say Ain’t nobody else to remember the blood.I say they ain’t the ones bleeding.

I interrogate every poem about the dead.There they go, robbing the grave and settling in the boy’s place.

What do we grow with this?While I ask, the poem picks lilies off the casket.

The grief is not all (a) mine.

Vulture’s talon ( be ) artist in my hands     saylook how          the skull shines in your light.

Watch: ____. _____.You ain’t flinch? How you used to forcing reincarnation?

I get it. Shut the news off and the screen’s a mirror.You don’t ask to be reflected in the black of its pause.

You here though:Dense tangle of light hostage

in God’s 3 dimensions. Or maybe notYou. (the faces all blur together,

Ghost shadowed and inadequate.It’s hard to tell the difference.)

My hands mimic a bullet’s carnivorous twitch. Say it ain’tme, but it could be. It ain’t meyet.

I say the fear of the bullet is not the bullet itself.

Some folk never get the chance to flinch.I translate the body of a boy into language.

The lines will never break asclean as his bones.

After the show, the checkcuts like the scalpel do.

I eat. I buymy mother something

she can never lose.It is not security.

Imani Davis is Black magic. She currently works on Urban Word NYC’s Youth Leadership Board. Her poetry has appeared in Rookie Magazine and the occasional trash can.

Fall Break in Paris Was a Mistake

Lynn Marie Houston

After you’ve done all the things in this world once, you justwant to sleep. Like after you land in Paris and realize you don’treally want to be there, that the man you’re travelling with is abore, on his best days, and that Parisian restaurants are toochi chi frou frou to serve la chasse, fresh game meat pairedwith Brussels sprouts and mashed roasted chestnuts,which you can get everywhere in neighboringSwitzerland when the Beaujolais Nouveauarrives in November.

It’s like this with all the things you’ve ever longed for—hungering for flesh from the Jura Mountains, you wind upeating bean cassoulet at a tourist cafe. You desire a partner,a significant other, and end up with a guy who, while you aretrying to sleep on an Intercontinental flight, keepstickling your nose with the end of his scarf asking,Are you awake yet? Are you awake?

Lynn Marie Houston‘s poetry has appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, Blue Lyra Review, Melancholy Hyperbole, and other journals, as well as in her first collection, The Clever Dream of Man (Aldrich Press). She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and twice for a Best of the Net Award. Her poems have received distinction in contests sponsored by Broad River Review, Whispering Prairie Press, Prime Number Magazine, and the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. She is currently in the M.F.A program at Southern Connecticut State University and runs Five Oaks Press.

Website

SWEAR Girls

Jiordan Castle

Jiordan Castle is a writer from New York living in San Francisco. Her work has appeared elsewhere in print and online. She gets personal at nomoreundead.tumblr.com and can be tweeted @jiordancastle.

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

If “love calls us to the things of this world,” then poetry too can call us to think about challenging questions, difficult situations, and social justice, implicating and engaging the reader with the world we live in, in the hope that this engagement is a step toward wrestling with our better selves.

Visionary

          The American Museum of Visionary Art

On the side of Key Highwaya tree is hung with brokenlight: diamonds, circles, squaresof glass on wire that glitterin the January wind.We stand before it.

Who would want to see a hundredof ourselves refracted.

the elusive, touching,the elusive, bitter light

what is elusive

The Elusive

will you elude me

Once, years before all this, I asked him forhis five favorite words.

This was the old languagethat did not include

our child’s breathing,or the warm weight of our

daughters in our armsthat did not include

this tree, all brokenlight.

What compelled us

(to elude each other)

the first year of our marriagewhen you were gone

when you lived across that ocean

What compels us

when we drive each other’svoices from the room.

An argument: our selves refracted.

Who would know howto navigate that past

how to envision thispresent moment.

Twelve years together.

The tree’s glass edges shake in the wind.

Blue, yellow, purple glittering.An always tree.

What compels us, now,once I asked him,he whose memory includes nothing unspoken.

The glass tree so steady.

How to envision.

Memory a fugitiveMemory that glittering, transparent, broken tree—its own language.

Now we turn to each other.Will you–

Nicole Cooley has published five books, most recently Breach (LSU Press) and Milk Dress (Alice James Books), both in 2010. Her work has appeared most recently in The Rumpus, Drunken Boat and Tinderbox. She is the director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College—CUNY.

Website

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

If “love calls us to the things of this world,” then poetry too can call us to think about challenging questions, difficult situations, and social justice, implicating and engaging the reader with the world we live in, in the hope that this engagement is a step toward wrestling with our better selves.

Wrappers

You’re twelve and in love with the boy next dooronly you don’t quite know it yet.That tingle between your legsis something you fumble for while your sister sleeps,while you are awake and dreaming.You play married, practice that first boy kissagainst your pillow, hide pennies underyour tongue to imagine his taste.

The next day you’re doing laps in the pooland suddenly blood is everywhere.You check the water for sharks.You dead man float but no one comesto save you. This is how you learnyou are a woman: a pool of blood,underwear packed with toilet paper,a grocery bag handed over without words,filled with pads and belts, too many loose ends.

You grow into this, the best you know how.Follow package instructions, listen in the halls,peel tampons like popsicles,meet a proper boy who peels you like a popsicle,makes you bleed on his gold shag rug.You think about buying protection, being protected,being exposed like a grifter.

Later, you’re in college, geography, discussing faultsand shields, so you tell the next guy over you thinkyou are pregnant. You are telling the wrong man,he is not the one who should help you,he is as close as you will get. Your friends take youfor a drive so you can cramp and bleed again.

After this, the blood never stops flowing.You’ve seen bad guys on Starsky and Hutchdie from less of a loss and here you are,day after day,chucking off soaked undies in the bathroom at the mall.This is no cycle, this is two straight linesoff the horizon, this is the community blood bank,this is thirty years of looking between your legsand you too dumb to move.

You will bleed through two weddings, one divorce,twelve intrauterine inseminations,twenty-five pregnant friends,half a dozen bloated tirades on the way to the movies,the gas station, through the lipstick aisle at Sears,a thousand reasons to reject science or god or bothuntil you’re done,done in,chewed up like a piece of sugarless gum,bled out like an old brake line,scooped out like a pumpkin,all your insides dumped, bagged, tied with a twist,taken to the curb,your outside shell washed cleanand grinning.

Cathryn Cofell, Appleton, has birthed Sister Satellite (Cowfeather Press), six chapbooks, and Lip, a CD blending her poetry with the music of Obvious Dog. She believes the arts are crucial for positive health and advocates for an abundance of it, as a member of the WI Poet Laureate Commission and WI Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, and as a volunteer with the Fox Cities Book Festival, the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, and the Appleton Poetry Rocks Reading Series.

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

If “love calls us to the things of this world,” then poetry too can call us to think about challenging questions, difficult situations, and social justice, implicating and engaging the reader with the world we live in, in the hope that this engagement is a step toward wrestling with our better selves.