We are delighted to highlight this week’s selections from the Brain Mill Press Poetry Month Contest, Break Poetry Open, by talented poets Jessica Mehta, Iulia Militaru (translated by Claudia Serea), and Levi Cain.
Iulia Militaru’s poem “This Is Not a Poem,” translated by Claudia Serea, was included among the picks but is not reproduced below.
We hope you’ll enjoy these editors’ picks as much as we did.
Two Antipodes Poems
Author’s Note: Antipodes are an experimental form of poetry with roots in both palindromes and reverse poetry. However, unlike reverse poems which can be read forward and backward line by line, the antipode can be read forward and backward word by word. Poems are intended to be read with the original version on the verso page and the reflected antipode on the recto page.
De-colonizer: America—we’re coming. You are too prideful, too vain. Your destruction bred warriors. Overseas invaders brought ships full and pulsing. For generations, lost children remain reticent. To listen, says Creator, you need ancestors. Homecoming, we’re nobility displaced. Dethrone well-mistaken kings. You’re uncertain still; that’s okay. Washing white, the stain’s disappearing now. Missing women, murdered women, all we’re saying is Creator understands. Who are we? Strength of centuries—come. Be Natives.
Natives become centuries of strength. We are who understands Creator is saying we’re all women murdered, women missing. Now, disappearing stains the whitewashing. (Okay, that’s still uncertain). Your king’s mistaken, we’ll dethrone displaced nobility. We’re coming home. Ancestors need you, Creator says. Listen to reticent remains. Children lost generations, for pulsing and full ships brought invaders—overseas warriors bred destruction. You’re vain, too, prideful, too. Are you coming? We’re America, de’Colonizer.
Alone, He Pictures the Sea
See the pictures? He, alone, recalls it all. And memory lingers here. Sick heads make regrets huge and away swim mistakes like whales. Sorry, he’s human. He’s sorry he’s scared— he’s Jonah of full bellies. Our broken system’s the offender, another mishap, another bias. Here’s to oceans of dreams. Lost, he’s landlocked. All we’re doing, we are what hatred spawns. Suspicion means this: forced solitude and life in prisons. Everyone made deals— all for views, water painted views.
Views, painted water views for all. Deals made everyone prisons in life and solitude forced. This means suspicion spawns hatred. What are we doing? We’re all landlocked. He’s lost dreams of oceans, too. Here’s bias: another mishap, another offender. The system’s broken … our belly’s full of Jonah. He’s scared, he’s sorry he’s human, he’s sorry. Whales like mistakes swim away and huge regrets make heads sick. Here lingers memory and all it recalls. Alone, he pictures the sea.
Jessica Mehta is a multi-award-winning poet and author of over one dozen books. She’s currently a poetry editor at Bending Genres Literary Review, Airlie Press, and the peer-reviewed Exclamat!on journal. During 2018-19, she was a fellow at Halcyon Arts Lab in Washington DC where she curated an anthology of poetry by incarcerated indigenous women and created “Red/Act,” a pop-up virtual reality poetry experience using proprietary software. As a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and native Oregonian, place and personal ancestry inform much of Jessica’s creative work.
Jessica is also the owner of a multi-award-winning writing company and founder of the Jessica Tyner Scholarship Fund, the only scholarship exclusively for Native Americans pursuing an advanced degree in writing. She has undertaken poetry residencies around the globe including at Hosking Houses Trust with an appointment at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England and the Acequia Madre House in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her doctoral research focuses on the intersection of poetry and eating disorders.
Jessica’s novel The Wrong Kind of Indian won gold at the 2019 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs). Jessica has also received numerous visiting fellowships in recent years, including the Everett Helm Visiting Fellowship at the Lilly Library at Indiana University at Bloomington and the Eccles Centre Visiting Fellowship at The British Library. Visual representations of her work have been featured at galleries and exhibitions around the world including IA&A Hillyer in Washington DC and The Emergency Gallery in Sweden. Jessica is a popular speaker and panelist, featured recently at events like the US State Department’s National Poetry Month event, “Poets as Cultural Emissaries: A Conversation with Women Writers,” as well as the “Women’s Transatlantic Prison Activism Since 1960” symposium at Oxford University. Learn more about Jessica’s creative work at www.jessicamehta.com. Twitter: @ndns4vage.
FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE TWIST OUT WAS NOT ENUFF
swear on my mama no—swear on something more simple and sacred. swear on my brother’s future mixtape, swear on pig fat in collard greens and freshly whipped shea butter, arroz con what the fuck ever—that the cracked cushion chair of my hairdresser’s closet is in fact a cathedral, packets of yaki and remy dotted with the same angels, skin the color of good brandy. the nollywood movies blaring on the thrifted television is the preacher. there is one constant truth— the half-room in waltham is a tabernacle for second generation girls who never learned how to cornrow.
a blackgurl’s bond with a hairdresser is tighter than the binding of isaac, requires more faith than you ever know how to give after years of lye being applied to your scalp, after years of being teased by whitegirls who crow that your hair looks like brillo pads that they wouldn’t let their housekeepers scour the sink with. the same whitegirls who now quiz you on coconut oil and ask you to anoint them with the wisdom of deep conditioning.
i and every other blackgurl who grew up in the suburbs are haunted by visions of hot combs and strangers putting their hands in our hair, pulling so sharply we swear we hear the echo of a whip crack.
but those ghosts have no place here, in this space that has only space enough for you, your hairdresser, and maybe her friend from haiti who you do not know the name of but who twists braids so gently it is as if she wants to be your mother.
this is an act of love, but all gods are not filled with goodness and so neither is the woman who stands with jojoba in her right hand, 84 inches of kankelon in her left, who asks why you never seem to have a boyfriend, who told you she would rather die than break bread with faggots but passes you plantains as communion, presses your forehead to her chest as madonna, calls you daughter, welcomes you with open arms to a rented room in a part of a town that would make a principal’s lip curl —this blackgurl bethlehem, this satin covered resting place, this plane of being where you are you are blackgurl, are celebration, are miracle, are nothing but holiest of holies.
Levi Cain is a queer writer from the Greater Boston Area who was born in California and raised in Connecticut. Further examples of their work can be found in Lunch Ticket, Red Queen Literary Magazine, and other publications.
For this year’s National Poetry Month, Brain Mill Press & Voices want to add to your #TBR pile, sing siren songs of unsung heroes, and signal boost living poets we should be reading more. By the end of the month, we hope you will have acquired 30+ new books of poetry and that they continue to multiply in the darkness of your library. Explore new voices & new forms — re-read some old favorites — play if you liked this poet, you’ll like… the old-fashioned way, algorithm-free — just poetry lovers talking to poetry lovers, as the Universe intended. Happy #NaPoMo2019 from Brain Mill Press.