Favorite YA Comfort Reads

Favorite YA Comfort Reads

Everyone likes to reread certain books for various reasons, including comfort. There is nothing like rediscovering an old favorite book when you need some relief from bad times.

In the young adult genre, there are a variety of books that can become comfort reads depending on the reader’s tastes.

For me personally, I like both wholesome and low-stress reads as well as books that feature difficult subject matter in creative ways. From coming of age with poetry to becoming a magical girl in college, here are my favorite young adult comfort reads by Black authors.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X tells the story of Xiomara, an Afro-Latina teen who feels suffocated by her mother’s strict religious parenting and frustrated by the way the world perceives her as a brown girl with burgeoning sexuality. Initially, she writes down her thoughts in a secret poetry journal to have a safe place to express herself without judgment. Eventually, she joins the school’s poetry club and gradually learns to express herself openly.

Afro-Dominican poet Elizabeth Acevedo deeply moved me with this book. I felt I was seeing some of my younger self in these pages as Xiomara wrote poems about herself and the world around her. Since the novel is in verse, I also got to see Xiomara’s thoughts on things that would influence her poetry, such as other poets and music. This book is a reminder to never lose your creative voice, even when others try to silence it.

 

Let’s Talk about Love by Claire Kann

In addition to being one of the all too few YA books that feature a college-aged protagonist, this book also features a Black biromantic asexual lead named Alice. During an eventful summer, Alice must figure out what she wants to study in college while dealing with a crush on library assistant Takumi and the changes in her friendships with Feenie and Ryan.

I really liked how some of this book focuses on a “coming-to-terms” rather than a coming out narrative around sexuality, because you can still have some complicated feelings about your orientation even after coming out to yourself and others. I also like how love is examined through different relationships and things besides romance, and how Alice unabashedly indulges in her love of pop culture and food.

 

The Stars and the Blackness between Them by Junauda Petrus

Told from the dual viewpoints of an African American queer female teen named Mabel and a Trinidadian female teen named Audre, this book tells the story of two girls finding comfort in each other when each of them experiences bad events. I originally borrowed this book from the library a year or so ago, but I was so moved that I eventually bought my own copy.

This book is unabashedly Black and queer, featuring Mabel and Audre extolling the virtues of things ranging from Whitney Houston to Afro-Caribbean herbal healing. They also live their lives regardless of what others deem respectable. One line from this book sticks with me: “The stars and the blackness between them is the melanin in my skin.”

 

The Summer of Everything by Julian Winters

Nothing says comfort like a book set in a bookstore. This novel tells the story of Black gay comic book geek Wes, whose summer plan of working at the used bookstore Once Upon a Page are interrupted by looming adulthood. Now Wes has to figure out how to balance his crush on his best friend, Nico Alvarez; helping out with his big brother’s wedding planning; and saving his favorite bookstore before the end of the summer.

This book felt like the summer vacation bookstore version of the teen film Empire Records. You’ve got a quirky cast of characters, a homey atmosphere in the bookstore, and a coming-of-age story that is fun and poignant. If Once Upon a Page were a real bookstore, I would totally visit it.

 

Magnifique Noir Book 1: I Am Magical by Briana Lawrence

The first book in Briana Lawrence’s Magnifique Noir series tells the story of college student and gamer girl Bree Danvers. After having a few run-ins with monsters and a mysterious magical girl named Galactic Purple, she is invited to become a member of the magical girl team Magnifique Noir.

This visual novel combines illustrations, mini comics, and text to tell a colorful, cute, and down-to-earth magical girl story with an all-Black and queer magical girl team. In between battling monsters with frosted cupcake attacks and 8-bit video game graphics, the women also tackle things like street harassment, dysfunctional families, and misogynoir. Throughout it all, these Black women support each other and help each other remember that they are magical.

The Afro YA promotes black young adult authors and YA books with black characters, especially those that influence Pennington, an aspiring YA author who believes that black YA readers need diverse books, creators, and stories so that they don’t have to search for their experiences like she did.

Latonya Pennington is a poet and freelance pop culture critic. Their freelance work can also be found at PRIDE, Wear Your Voice magazine, and Black Sci-fi. As a poet, they have been published in Fiyah Lit magazine, Scribes of Nyota, and Argot magazine among others.

Top photo by No Revisions on Unsplash

National Poetry Month Contest Winners 2022

National Poetry Month Contest Winner 2022

Andrew Najberg

In reading the rush of poems for this year’s #napomo contest, I tried to keep first & foremost our call — to think about navigating space & place — alongside the concerns of poetry: well-wrought language, lines and phrases that engaged, an urgent voice. It is always so hard to choose a poem from the poems that call out for reading and re-reading, and this year was another year of poems that made it so so difficult.

 

The selected poems below, both the winner and the very Honorable Mentions, engage with spaces & places that are intimate and public. The switch in each of the poems between those modes—what others may see or hear, and what the speaker knows—are integral to how the poems work. In the winning selection, “Fighting Fermi” by Andrew Najberg, the poem begins with a response to Fermi’s paradox and casts the poem’s consciousness wide to think about life elsewhere: other planets, other galaxies, and beyond. It then telescopes in to one hospital room, a solitary man so worn by grief-in-action that he is undone by a vending machine, to the moments after loss when what we have to contemplate is not so much cosmic, but minute—the hands of the beloved and how to show care. The poem takes up space on the page, and earns that space.

In the Honorable Mention poems by Dina Miranda, Shana Ross, C. Prudence Arceneaux, and Carl Boon, there exist again these shifts between intimate spaces and public places—what is meant by voice? how are we bound? how is land and memory delineated? how do we use language to protect and distance? In the hands of these powerful poets, these large questions are handled deftly.

Please also read the Editor’s Selections shared throughout April to engage with more extraordinary poems & poets responding to our call.

—C. Kubasta, Editor, BMP Voices Poetry Month

Winner

 

“Fighting Fermi” by Andrew Najberg

Fighting Fermi

by Andrew Najberg

 

Jareen Imam author photo

Andrew Najberg is the author of the collection of poems The Goats Have Taken Over the Barracks (Finishing Line Press, 2021) and the chapbook of poems Easy to Lose (Finishing Line Press 2007). His individual poems have appeared in North American Review, Asheville Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Nashville Review, Louisville Review, Yemassee, and many other journals both online and in print. His short fiction appeared in Fleas on the Dog, The Wondrous Real, Bookends Review, and Psychopomp Magazine. He received an MFA in poetry from Spalding University, an MA in creative writing from University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and he is the recipient of an AWP Intro award. Currently, I teach for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where he also assists with the Meacham Writers’ Workshop.

 

Short List

 

“bite the tongue” by Dina Miranda

“It is the nature of knots to tighten” by Shana Ross

“Just Inside the Gate” by C. Prudence Arceneaux

“Adverbs in the World” by Carl Boon

bite the tongue

by Dina Miranda

 

one phoneme dictates

an othering; a slip

of the tongue cements

a hole in the ground.

quiet, you old precious

throat, ancient gold dripping

between your jaws. we must

take what we do not want

to keep what we have.

feet planted firm and lips

shut over smiling teeth

gritted for your and my

and their sake, a future,

an un spoken promise

of the mother land. but

what would she want more

our flattened vowels or

our flattened bodies.

tears sound the same in

every language but even

our island eyes run dry.

Jareen Imam author photo

Dina Miranda is a Filipino-American high school student from Southern California. Anything involving words has intrigued them from a young age, from reading to spelling to, recently, writing. Presently, you can find them knitting or listening to all sorts of music. You can find them on Instagram @bewildre.

It is the nature of knots to tighten

by Shana Ross

 

in water; this is important to untangling
thoughts. I think about the stacking
(and submersion) of vessels.
It is the nature of water to lighten

the top bowl in the nestled dishes
even stuck together with yesterday’s
sauce, every grain of rice long gone.
It will float away from what’s beneath

(the other vessels), no longer weigh down
upon the others. If a train leaves the war
traveling at a constant speed, what
is the question again? I cannot stop seeing

the strollers, empty and queued politely,
left at the station by mothers. I think of
objects we say have no souls, things waiting
to be needed, to be claimed. Some vessels resist

the passive tense, they wait, they want, they will hold
a baby who has been held: tight to a chest
with a prayer of arms stretched from point a to b.
Calculate the tensile strength of the guardian

at arrival. What else was carried? I watch birds
rise into air white with hoarfrost at dawn.
The ice crystals float, the birds do not. You can
seetheir beating wings, the strain of will,

the assumption of muscle and heart.
Whatever it takes to defy the nature
of falling, a snare tied, a noose. The water here
is frozen. I myself have just arrived in a new land.

Jareen Imam author photo

Shana Ross is a poet newly arrived in Edmonton, Alberta after 25 years in New England. Qui transtulit sustinet. Her work has appeared in Chautauqua Journal, Ruminate, Gone Lawn, Kissing Dynamite, SWWIM and more. She was awarded first place in the 2021 Bacopa Literary Review Poetry competition, received a 2019 Parent-Writer Fellowship to Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, and serves as an editor for Luna Station Quarterly. Her first chapbook, Heavy Little Things (Finishing Line Press) is now available. She holds both a BA and MBA from Yale and rarely tweets @shanakatzross.

Just Inside the Gate

by C. Prudence Arceneaux

 

C. Prudence Arceneaux, a native Texan, is a poet who teaches English and Creative Writing at Austin Community College, in Austin, TX. Her work has appeared in various journals, including Limestone, New Texas, Hazmat Review, Texas Observer, Whiskey Island Magazine, African Voices and Inkwell. She is the author of two chapbooks of poetry– DIRT (awarded the 2018 Jean Pedrick Prize) and LIBERTY.

Adverbs in the World

by Carl Boon

 

Suddenly, because
gradually evades us. Gradually means
that extra hour in the evening,
the children in bed,
the Sunday crossword

only half-complete
and folded on the counter
beside the untried recipes
for Flounder Tempura and Shrimp Nagasaki.

Suddenly’s how things happen,
when they happen, why.
We awoke to a war on a rainy Thursday.
Simpson’s wife disappeared.
Little Susie broke out with hives,

and it must’ve been
the Mediterranean Mackerel.
If only we would’ve known—
if only had we tried the Teriyaki Scallops.

If only, only being that shred of glass
thought vanished that pierces
the heel at midnight
when Monday becomes Tuesday.
It was only a joke.

It was only the devil in me
who decided on the Lobster Scampi
instead of the Crab Broulee.
I’m sorry for the world and its adverbs.

They tell me Shanghai is starving,
that it’s merely a matter of nights
until Melitopol falls to the Russians.
They say it happened so suddenly.
They say it quickly, then go away.

Jareen Imam author photo

Carl Boon is the author of the full-length collection Places & Names: Poems (The Nasiona Press, 2019). His writing has appeared in many journals and magazines, including Prairie Schooner, Posit, and The Maine Review. He received his Ph.D. in Twentieth-Century American Literature from Ohio University in 2007, and currently lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American literature at Dokuz Eylül University.

National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

As the pandemic has continued into its second year, we at Brain Mill are thinking about spaces & places: how we exist in space, the importance of access, and the particulars of navigating places. We have gathered together in ways that may have been new to us over the last few years, greeting each other in small squares of connectivity, developing relationship and care with virtual check-ins, follows, and voices translated via technology. In our best moments we have learned to listen; in our worst, we have been caught up by all the ways we need to do better and think more deeply about community systems and for whom entry is barred.

Top photo by Chris Karidis on Unsplash

Editors’ Picks Week 4: Poetry by Katie Chicquette, Karen Mandell, Annie Diamond, & C. Prudence Arceneaux

Editors' Picks, Week 4

Poetry by Katie Chicquette, Karen Mandell, Annie Diamond, & C. Prudence Arceneaux

Why It Is So Hard To Meet a New Student at the Alternative High School

by Katie Chicquette

 

On day one they enter, cagey
and tight-eyed, uncertain. My room
is in a whole other building–the old
high school is miles away. This place
is meant to be separate, special,
different–better. They are meant
to meet this place with hope.

But they walk in across the eggshells
of other people’s opinions of what it means
to now be a student at the school for bad kids.
They have lived behind profile pics, cameras off,
for a long time now; they might have forgotten
who they are, that they are corporeal.
They might curl down their shoulders and spines
as far as they will go to reduce the obviousness
of their presence. They may crow loud as a
lost boy across the room to hide
the size of their trepidation and fear.

It is so hard, on day one,
to meet this new person, not because it will take time
and a delicate, powerful kind of energy
to build the bridge they need
from lost to found, from not okay
to holy shit, I can’t believe I might
be okay—no, the hard part is resisting
the urge to forge a rapid short-cut,
to circumvent the necessary,
confounding patience and exchanges,
to stop myself from delivering
a monologue, including assertions like
I really believe you will have success
here, and I will help you no matter what,
and it probably seems impossible to you
that we will end up joking and swapping
musician & movie recommendations
and discussing how good the local shoe
repair guy is and I will probably teach you
to knit and you will enjoy it a little and
just so you know I absolutely do
have books about hunting and queer history
and eating disorders and ghosts and
whatever it is, you can absolutely tell me:
I can’t promise it won’t get worse
before it gets better but then again
most tornadoes do.

I hold my tongue; I know I can’t bring such
cocky fire to the first meeting, or even such
cloudy, saccharine support. I wouldn’t trust
that, either. I say as casual as linen in a tone
and volume that implies, don’t worry,
I will let you wallflower for a few days,
“Hey—come on in. Sit wherever you’d like.”

Jareen Imam author photo

Katie Chiquette is a writer and at-risk ELA high school teacher in Appleton, WI. Her work has appeared in Portage Magazine, Wisconsin People & Ideas, First Review East, Torrid, Bramble, and elsewhere. One poem is a Pushcart nominee, and another received an Honorable Mention in the Wisconsin People & Ideas Poetry Contest in 2021. She assists with Poetry Unlocked and Storycatchers; her passion is for her students and her community to feel connected to themselves and each other through stories and language.

Those Things

by Karen Mandell

 

Martin’s tailor store was a good spot
for searching out treasures, the detritus
of pockets. Suit jackets, blazers,
pants, their treasures abandoned
in the changing stall at the back.
A gold metal bow watch that you
pinned your shirt. It worked
for a while. Coins Martin put in a jar
on the linoleum counter. Chocolate
Necco wafers in an unopened roll
left on the bench. On a shelf
underneath the counter an orphaned book.
There was only ever one. Nana, faded blue
cover, soft with age, pages slightly furry
with handling. I never had a book
that wasn’t from the library. At the front
a list of illustrations. Was Emile Zola a woman
or man? For adults only judging
from the length and small print.
On the last page a black and white sketch,
a woman lying naked in bed, her privates
Exposed, black dots scattered on her skin.
Everywhere. I knew exactly what it was—
a sickness given to her because of Sex.
No other explanation needed.
Maybe knowledge embedded in my cells—
This Is What Happens When You Do Those Things.
I put the book back and washed my hands
again and again with the jagged sliver of soap
Martin kept on the bathroom sink.

Jareen Imam author photo

Karen Mandell has taught writing at the high school and college levels and literature at community senior centers. Her stories and poems have appeared in various literary magazines, such as Indianapolis Review, Notre Dame Review, Atticus Review.

Endemism

by Annie Diamond

 

The ecological state of a species being
unique to a defined geographic location:

fringed spineflower endemic
to the San Jacinto Mountains.

Cosmopolitanism the opposite, refers
to species that occur on all continents

save Antarctica. Humans, cats,
orchids, lichen parmelia sulcata.

I wonder if some species started out
cosmopolitan, then became endemic,

finding the location that best suited.

Jareen Imam author photo

Annie Diamond is a poet, Joycean, and breakfast enthusiast living and working on the traditional unceded homelands of the Council of the Three Fires. She has been awarded fellowships by MacDowell, Luminarts Cultural Foundation, The Lighthouse Works, and Boston University, where she earned her MFA and taught creative writing in 2017. Her poems have appeared and are forthcoming in No Tokens, Yemassee, Tar River Poetry, Western Humanities Review, and elsewhere.

Navigation

by C. Prudence Arceneaux

 

“She doesn’t want to live on a boat, in a tent, or on a truck. Not on bicycles either. She’s a middle class straight person who has fallen in love with a guy who wants to be a modern- day aborigine. No one is to blame, it just happens.”—from The Happiest Man in the World

To be clear—he never asked her to live
in a tent or on a boat. But she could feel it coming:

the way he shuttered his eyes at random times
during the day, their bright green fogged,

like the blinds on the windows, the lids
had to click four, five times to distinguish

her brown skin from the brown sheets of his bed,
her face from the smudges of everything else.

The uneasy quake when she entered or left
the trailer, in retrospect, seemed like training

for the unsteady heave of tides. She realized
at some point she no longer noticed, her weight,

her gait adjusted, she realized she no longer cared
whether or not the neighbors could see

their naked shadows cross the windows, whether or not
they ignored the list, the creak when she stayed the night.

She figured they were all out to sea in the trailer park.
But he showed her land once. Behind the wheel

of a truck, one hand on the back of her neck,
he drove with purpose, leagues from the familiar

following the sun star, his thumb rubbing
a biology lesson on her spine, then harder still;

the knotty bones—a worry stone. He spoke of “grass”;
she remembered not to correct him: “weeds.”

He offered her food: tomatoes, overripe, fluerdels
recurled, still growing; slow finger circles help peaches

free of skin; they gnawed meat from rib bones, laughing
as she wiped her face with her wrist. He eyed her wistful.

Yet every time she stepped up to the mast of him,
he stepped two states away, until there was no more land.

Then when there was no more water, stepped into the sky.
She waited, for a time, for him to fall from the dark—

……..eclipsing moons, shooting stars, solar flares—all the signs.
This is her test of endurance; she stands in the night,

knees locked, shielding her eyes as if from a bright light,
to see if she could find him, because surely if he didn’t tumble

back to her, he must still be there. She knows he’s gone.
……..But she can’t help herself.

C. Prudence Arceneaux, a native Texan, is a poet who teaches English and Creative Writing at Austin Community College, in Austin, TX. Her work has appeared in various journals, including Limestone, New Texas, Hazmat Review, Texas Observer, Whiskey Island Magazine, African Voices and Inkwell. She is the author of two chapbooks of poetry– DIRT (awarded the 2018 Jean Pedrick Prize) and LIBERTY.

National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

As the pandemic has continued into its second year, we at Brain Mill are thinking about spaces & places: how we exist in space, the importance of access, and the particulars of navigating places. We have gathered together in ways that may have been new to us over the last few years, greeting each other in small squares of connectivity, developing relationship and care with virtual check-ins, follows, and voices translated via technology. In our best moments we have learned to listen; in our worst, we have been caught up by all the ways we need to do better and think more deeply about community systems and for whom entry is barred.

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Poetry Month Spotlight: Jessica Jacobs

Poetry Month Spotlight

Jessica Jacobs

Artist Statement

When the pandemic hit, I was midway through writing a manuscript in conversation with the Book of Genesis—eerie company during a plague whose scale felt biblical.  Yet with my world suddenly so small, I was grateful for the infusion of energy and inspiration this immersive study provided.  While reading religious texts can often be a rather rote experience, writing about them allowed me to push back against these teachings, to ask if there are other ways to be and believe, to read between the lines to better see figures often pushed to the margins or simply ignored, and to question my own ways of being in the world. For whatever your practices or beliefs (and I’m still in the process of exploring those for myself) this is a foundational text, one on which so much of contemporary culture—for better and often for worse—is built. And, to my great surprise, this ancient work has made me feel more connected to our painful present moment, leading me to grapple with subjects I might not have known how to approach on my own: from historic patterns of racism and antisemitism to the climate crisis to questions of free will and fate.

 “Before the Beginning” attempts to imagine back past the moment of creation, to a time when every bit and being of the world was bound in primordial unity.

“Covenant Between the Pieces” examines the relationship between Sarah and Hagar, bound and divided by their relationships with Abraham, and tries to use their opposing placements on the field of the page as mimetic of the distance between them.

 

Before the Beginning

Covenant Between the Pieces

About Jessica Jacobs

Jessica Jacobs is the author of Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going (Four Way Books), one of Library Journal’s Best Poetry Books of the Year, winner of the Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award and Goldie Award, and a finalist for the Brockman-Campbell, American Fiction, and Julie Suk Book Awards. Her debut collection, Pelvis with Distance (White Pine Press), a biography-in-poems of Georgia O’Keeffe, won the New Mexico Book Award in Poetry and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and Julie Suk Award. An avid long-distance runner, Jessica has worked as a rock-climbing instructor, bartender, and professor, and now serves as the Chapbook Editor for Beloit Poetry Journal. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her wife, the poet Nickole Brown, with whom she co-authored Write It! 100 Poetry Prompts to Inspire (Spruce Books/PenguinRandomHouse), and her collection of poems in conversation with the Book of Genesis will be published by Four Way Books in 2024.

Find Jessica at https://jessicalgjacobs.com/ and follow her on Twitter @jessicalgjacobs and Instagram @jlgjacobs

Jessica and her wife, the poet Nickole Brown, offer free monthly generative writing sessions (https://sunjune.org/write-it-generative-sessions/). Jessica will be teaching a workshop on spiritual writing (for people of all faiths and none) in Provincetown in June: https://fawc.org/summer-program/in-the-space-between-exploring-the-sacred-through-poetry/

National Poetry Month
National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

As the pandemic has continued into its second year, we at Brain Mill are thinking about spaces & places: how we exist in space, the importance of access, and the particulars of navigating places. We have gathered together in ways that may have been new to us over the last few years, greeting each other in small squares of connectivity, developing relationship and care with virtual check-ins, follows, and voices translated via technology. In our best moments we have learned to listen; in our worst, we have been caught up by all the ways we need to do better and think more deeply about community systems and for whom entry is barred.

Poetry Month Spotlight: Stephen Roger Powers

The Space Where Words Are Formed

A Poetry Month Spotlight on Stephen Roger Powers

Artist Statement

I’ve had a progressive hearing loss since I was three years old. All my life, I have had to pay attention to the space where words are formed—the lips, the teeth, the tongue—in order to understand what I am listening to. The pandemic upended all of our lives, but for me and other hearing impaired and deaf people, it also cut off an important avenue of communication, lip reading. I fully support mask wearing to reduce virus transmission because the science is simple and indisputable; however, if I need to understand what someone wearing a mask is saying, I am forced to ask them to pull their mask down while speaking. People are generally nice about this, of course, though a handful insist on shouting through their masks, which is no help. I came to realize too that asking people to pull their masks down while speaking put me at greater risk for infection, which has made me question how necessary it was to understand something in most circumstances. Because it feels so personal, and because it is something that marks me as “different,” I have been reluctant to write seriously about hearing impairment, other than a mention here and there in a poem. I also felt maybe it would come across as gimmicky. Several years ago, I did publish a short story in Bryant Literary Review inspired by the stand-up comedy act I used to do about my hearing impairment. Jokes about hearing impairment are easy because they are a defensive mechanism. Navigating a world hostile to hearing loss is far from easy. Nevertheless, masks forced me to consider my hearing loss in ways I hadn’t before, so a few poems ended up focusing on it. I’ve been a Dolly Parton fan all my life too. Every time I get a new pair of hearing aids, they make the world sound so different that I have to go through an adjustment phase lasting weeks or months as my brain relearns what the world sounds like. I’ve had the pair of digital hearing aids I’m wearing now for three years, and I still haven’t completely gotten used to them. Part of the reason for that is my hearing loss has gotten a little worse lately. Age might have something to do with it. Music, though, sounds very different now. I have to turn it off. My memory is the best place to play songs I know by heart. Tinnitus is common with hearing loss, and what once was white noise in my left ear now often is music.

 

Hearing Loss Is Difficult To Describe

The Most Common Question People Ask Is How Can I Hear Dolly

 

Mornings on the porch are best without my hearing aids.
I can still hear traffic, but I’m not sure if it’s traffic I hear
or a memory of what traffic once sounded like.
A cochlear implant might help me more,
but asking you to pull down your mask
so that I can read your lips feels safer for now
than drilling my skull.

I’ve always wondered if maybe I love Dolly
because I’m hearing impaired and hear her differently.
An artist once asked what losing hearing is like,
so I described a realist painting morphing
slowly to impressionism,
then abstract expressionism,
which gives me the most freedom to interpret what sounds are.
He said what if I get a cochlear implant
and hate what Dolly really sounds like?

Mornings on the porch are when I hear Dolly clearest,
as if records were playing in my head.
I’ve heard her songs so many times
they are what I know best, memorized like DNA.
I will still have them when the day comes
I lose the rest of my hearing.

 

Subtitlefocals

 

My new hearing aids make me worry about Russia.
They are rechargeable, so how will I hear
once Putin hijacks our power grid?

Words sound so different with these new ones
I still cannot understand you.
Your tongue and teeth are now
rattlesnakes in a popcorn popper.

Why doesn’t someone invent subtitlefocals?
Glasses with speech recognition technology
projecting subtitles below the speaker’s mouth?
My choice of fonts and colors?

At my age it will get worse before it gets better.
I can feel it coming like a whale’s water displacement
rising up from under me, lifting me before I see it.

My tinnitus ear worms are worse too, so clear and distinct a radio
might as well be playing, like the one my grandmother left on
in her kitchen all night to scare burglars.

That’s why I am on the move so much.
I am trying to find silence.
Silence is a destination,
but my tinnitus ear worms are forever
harmonizing with whatever tune
the tires are singing.

About Stephen Roger Powers

Stephen Roger Powers is the author of three poetry collections published by Salmon Poetry and Highway Speed, a collection of short stories. Other work has appeared in 32 Poems, Shenandoah, The Southern Poetry Anthology Volume V: Georgia, Rabbit Ears: TV Poems, and Stone, River, Sky: An Anthology of Georgia Poems. He was an extra in Joyful Noise with Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton, and he can be seen if you know just where to look.

Find him at www.stephenrogerpowers.com and follow on Twitter @dollypoet and Instagram @dollyfan

National Poetry Month
National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

As the pandemic has continued into its second year, we at Brain Mill are thinking about spaces & places: how we exist in space, the importance of access, and the particulars of navigating places. We have gathered together in ways that may have been new to us over the last few years, greeting each other in small squares of connectivity, developing relationship and care with virtual check-ins, follows, and voices translated via technology. In our best moments we have learned to listen; in our worst, we have been caught up by all the ways we need to do better and think more deeply about community systems and for whom entry is barred.

Editors’ Picks Week 3: Poetry by Skylar Brown and Kathleen Hellen

Editors' Picks, Week 2

Poetry by Skylar Brown and Kathleen Hellen

Black Rabbit

by Skylar Brown

 

I used to wish on every star that this place would never change.
Old heritage homes and 1938 hotel bars
now converted into pubs and Mexican restaurants.
No one knows this, but it’s my own little haven.
It’s heaven, with its suburban green grass and sparkling blue inlet
and because I always knew it would be the place where I found love eventually
though I also knew the brightness of reality might kill me.

We went out for drinks by the Black Rabbit tattoo parlor last year for my birthday
at a hotel bar built pre-Second World War
but they charged us way too much
so, we went somewhere trendy instead with a cheap happy hour.
Alice bought me a face mask and bright red lipstick
neither of which a year later I have used yet.
I told her if my life was meant to hurt, she wouldn’t be in it
and I meant it.

This year she bought me wine, chocolate and panties for my birthday
which made it a little easier for me to lie to myself
and say, I don’t need a man.
I mean, nobody needs one
but we all want something desperately.

And all the time I didn’t know
you were living not five minutes away
from that overpriced bar, from that dingy tattoo place.
I told Alice we should get matching Hakuna Matata tattoos there someday
and she told me it was too much of a cliche
but I think, cliche or not, I’ll probably get one anyway.

Sometimes I go off chasing distractions, little black and white rabbits
and I know I am going to fall, and fall, and fall
but I keep going down this winding road
that takes me down toward a misadventure, but never quite to home.

What am I looking for?
I don’t even really need to go downtown
because here in the suburbs glass buildings sit
across from elementary schools, old houses and apartments
inside of which nearly everybody has a secret.
Alice and I, we creep past hookah lounges and psychotherapy clinics
so I can find some little, lost version of myself.
I may have crossed a line I can’t come back from.

You want to know what’s wrong with me.
You want to know why I think without speaking
but every time I speak, it comes out wrong. And you say you want to know why
but I don’t know.

All those months I spent in therapy
five years before we met, five minutes away from where you lived.
Sometimes I wish we’d met a long time ago
because I think you could have saved me, or at least fast-tracked
all the lessons I still had to learn that I learned late
though better late than never, I’d say.

Maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe I just want you. I want you the way I want the whole city
the way I want to write on it, make it mine.
No matter what happens, I know you were real.
You wrote on me, you changed me.
You kissed me at the inlet, you held me so tightly
you laid a blanket down on the grass and told me what you wanted to do
you kissed me in the pouring rain.
I know. I know you were real, and you’ve given me a lot to hold onto.

But I just miss you, that’s all, and the way things used to be.
That’s all, and I’ve taken so many words to say it
but that’s really all there is to it.

Jareen Imam author photo

Skylar Brown is a nanny and private English tutor. She has been passionate about writing and poetry for years and has had poems and short stories published in various anthologies.

flamingos

by Kathleen Hellen

 

In yardland, not the back-side, not the hedge-side, 12 flamingos front their gaudy colors (pink-green-yellow—you get the picture) in plastic acrobatics (necks leaning in, long necks entangled—you get the picture) as if to flaunt the PDA. Twelve bawdy lawn adornments, not unusual per se, but here, where woodsmoke rings the crisp March air, where whiff of evergreen perfumes, flamingos are (just say it!)—anomaly. What if in some lush patch in Lihue, a palmy stand, there was a garden gnome as guardian? A wagon wheel? Or in the dirt in Butte a stone-cold, long-eared buddha? How will unsuspecting others know to slant the slang? Is it tote or poke or paper bag? Pop or soda? Gum or rubber band? How to know the when and wear of masks? Who to vote for? Who to hate? How to take out fare? Is it grits and open carry? Just when I think it can’t get any more absurd than flamingos placed afoul, two streets down, one across, two clowning black-beaked cousins cult that one-leg thing. The breed of some belief? I want to march up to the door and bang on it with fists, yelling, Hey! Where do you think you are? Tampa?

Jareen Imam author photo

Kathleen Hellen’s collection meet me at the bottom is forthcoming in Fall 2022 from Main Street Rag. Her credits include The Only Country Was the Color of My Skin, her prize-winning collection Umberto’s Night, and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. Featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily, her work has appeared in Barrow Street, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Brilliant Corners, The Carolina Quarterly, Cave Wall, Colorado Review, Gris-Gris, Harpur Palate, jubilat, Massachusetts Review, Mead, Muzzle, New American Writing, New Letters, North American Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, PANK, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, The Rumpus, The Sewanee Review, Spillway, Subtropics, The Sycamore Review, Waxwing, and West Branch, among others. For more on Kathleen, visit https://www.kathleenhellen.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/kathleen.hellen/

National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

As the pandemic has continued into its second year, we at Brain Mill are thinking about spaces & places: how we exist in space, the importance of access, and the particulars of navigating places. We have gathered together in ways that may have been new to us over the last few years, greeting each other in small squares of connectivity, developing relationship and care with virtual check-ins, follows, and voices translated via technology. In our best moments we have learned to listen; in our worst, we have been caught up by all the ways we need to do better and think more deeply about community systems and for whom entry is barred.

Top photo by Edgar Moran on Unsplash