Poetry Month Reprise: Sujash Purna

Poetry Month Reprise

Sujash Purna
National Poetry Month

Reprise

Sujash Purna was the Brain Mill Press National Poetry Month Contest winner in 2023 with her poem cycle “You Poor.” Read it here.

For his reprise, Sujash offers three poems, “Einaan See Eight” (previously published in Watershed Review, Spring 2024), “Yellow Wallpaper Resident Alien” (previously published in Zocalo Public Square, 2021) and “only the waters” (previously published in Miracle Monocle, Issue 20).

Einaan See Eight

….

Probably all my encounters
are existential jambalaya

—Terrance Hayes

….

long gasps of smokes
…………………….filtered through a grilled window
………….into the dark,
I was sitting at the desk, writing
stolen verses from dead writers,
when you came to my mind,
a gravel road at the end of a highway
I am proud of my weaknesses,
losing you through roiling sediments
………………………………………………..of last night.
There is always an enervating
talk of the town. Every time you and I
walk inside the door, hand in hand,
there is a man accused and arrested
for the sole crime of existing.
We took the exit early trying to avoid
the rush, faces of men and women
new to this land, walking in pilgrimage,
the green junipers in awe let them
clear their heads one at a time.
I am amazed by their patience
with a time already stolen by their
colonizers, and here I am avoiding
making eye contact. A no-man
coming from a no-man’s-land:
you say shoes’ shoe and Joshua’s
Josh
It’s that simple.
I don’t correct them sometimes.
Sometimes I am one of them.

Yellow Wallpaper Resident Alien

….

Tie my shoes, my self-portrait running for fun
in the deep woods, poisoned with the soot
of another forest fire in the distance, another Oregon

I didn’t know how to spell the states in this country
but I reached out to join your name with mine:
they learned to divide us with hyphenated schemes

Just as you are, I know how your face looked in the golden
days when our palms were covered with glue from sticking
posters of the future inside a school building with broken gate

How do you believe there is a hunger in the blissfully unaware?
The dark times don’t darken our hearts, we become just
more distant in the most oblong parallels ever visible

only the waters

….

Forecast is gloomy despite the sun breaking out in pillars of light inside this one-bedroom apartment.

I walked about two miles to get home. The guy over the counter told me I can’t have an ID until my green card application gets processed. So I am a nobody until then.

Inside the bedroom, she is in tears. HelloFresh charged her sixty-five bucks without her knowing. She was enjoying the meals and making them. It gave her a sense of power. But now it’s all radiant red spots on her face as she feels guilty, crumpled up like an open half bag of Doritos she loves so much. Red spots like red dust specked across the bagged dioramas.

So much life has been sucked out of us.

We keep giving, giving, and giving, but for some reason it’s never been enough. I close the door on her as she wants some space. I think I guess it’s all over. July 15th. My parents’ marriage anniversary, and I am losing our marriage to HelloFresh. Is it a cliche phrase? Losing a marriage? English is not my first language. But I pretend.

Isn’t everything cliched when it comes to maintaining a marriage?

We got married out of love, out of fear of losing each other. The US government wants to see how on earth it is possible to love somebody from a different land, a different language and decide to do taxes with them until death do them apart. I can see Uncle Sam’s hand inside a bag of Doritos as he watches our marriages crumble down like individual Dorito chips inside his salivating mouth.

Two point three per one thousand. From those who actually report. Imagine the number that never reports, or estrangement, or slowly falling out of love trying so hard to stick together.

We break apart but still remain close inside the mouth of our giant swallower. We lose everything. We disintegrate.

Clouds outside are coming down on us in the sweltering burst of sunburned slaps across our skin. A pandemic never ends. We welcome another earth-ender inside our ecosystem and call it quits at the dinner table. My wife keeps weeping in the bedroom. I can hear her over the sink water running aimlessly into the upturned pots and pans, as I wash them in the kitchen.

My parents stay awake hoping to see a glimpse of us together on the other side of the world. From their bent and broken bodies to a tiny screen, I get to delegate two countries, two cultures that float together like oil on water. I get agitated when I cannot explain things to them. Why are we so close but so apart at the same time? Why do these relics of crusty old societal values scare us? Can’t we too defy them as they’ve done, as their ancestors did for centuries and pretend it’s all okay?

I scrape off the leftover curry stains from a non-stick pan and rinse them with water. One crusty flake at a time. Wish it was that simple doing so when it came to our inane family values that desperately try to hold us despite resentment, despite bitterness that grows over time, unwashable, insoluble. Two cultures don’t blend in. They either exist side by side. Or one has to go.

It starts to rain finally. I can no longer hear her weeping from the bedroom. Only the waters.

About the Poet

….

Sujash Purna is a Bangladeshi-American poet and photographer, pursuing a PhD in English— Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of Epidemic of Nostalgia,’ Simple Fantasies (Finishing Line Press), In Love with the Broken (Bottlecap Press), and Azans for the Infidel (Mouthfeel Press). His photography can be found on Instagram @poeticnomadic

National Poetry Month
National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month! For poets and poetry lovers—and perhaps for those who love poets—this is a special time. At Brain Mill Press, we like to celebrate all month long by sharing featured poets. This year, we’re reprising award-winning poets from prior years’ contest, introducing new poets we admire, and inviting submissions to a joint chapbook contest with the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets to celebrate the work of a Wisconsin poet with publication.

Top photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

Poetry Month Spotlight: Esteban Colon

Poetry Month Spotlight

Esteban Colon

Stray

 

Twins of droning tv’s
outmatched fans tease poor
forms too liquid to move

confused octopus kids,
Gordian on the couch
mother in the love seat

sixty-fie pound lap dog
shedding fur, trapped under
the heavy of August

like a dream of daytime
waking hours hazy
as drunken memories

till sonic boom jaws snap
over stray cat yowling
a living room grenade

echo chamber screaming
as beloved tail wags
disemboweled the stranger

Seventeen Seconds

 

One one thousand
two one thousand
three
…………seconds of silence
and
words I assumed were
eyeblink easy
suddenly feel flimsy,
a sheet of paper in a puddle,
reality
taking one shot for every second
four one thousand
five one thousand
six
steps before catching the walls
anchor
for the spinning room
before crashing
hitting
the floor so hard, nose crumples
leaking
patterns,
…………illustrations of unvoiced nightmares
before anyone moves
to help him up
seven one thousand,
and I consider an awkward laugh
an attempt to rephrase
to
laugh off the weight
multiplying with each
eight one thousand
nine one thousand
ten one thousand,
and she looks away

The weight
of eleven one thousand
too much for my shoulders,
a heart
shedding shards
like a dying flower
till
…………at seventeen seconds
I’m walking away
from a pile of scarlet petals
a fragile
puddle on the floor

Why I Want To Be a Pastry

 

Croissants don’t break bones,
don’t
……….entertain thoughts of holding down another croissant
beating it
……….into submission
……….……….grunting violation
………………..……….……….in blood.

Donuts don’t break bones,
don’t
……….Segregate by sprinkles, chocolate coverings, vanilla filling
……….hang others till their bodies stop twitching
have never
……….Whipped other donuts
……….……….till tears filled the night sky

Bagels don’t break bones
don’t
……….weep disappointment as they beat their children
have never
……….disowned gay bagels
……….……….hurling them into the streets.

No Pulled Punches

 

Molasses legs taught my fingers to fist,
words
too flimsy a shield
for the pipes and knives
that stitched my neighborhood together.

About the Poet

Esteban Colon is a poet from the Chicagoland area. Raised in the south burbs, he authored Things I Learned the Hard Way, cohosted a popular poetry venue, and performed at many stages. His work found print in a variety of journals and anthologies as well as chapbooks. He moved to Southern Wisconsin where he was honored to become the 2018-2019 poet Laureate of Kenosha. He continues to write, publish, and perform, always finding his greatest joys when he can collaborate with others.

National Poetry Month
National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month! For poets and poetry lovers—and perhaps for those who love poets—this is a special time. At Brain Mill Press, we like to celebrate all month long by sharing featured poets. This year, we’re reprising award-winning poets from prior years’ contest, introducing new poets we admire, and inviting submissions to a joint chapbook contest with the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets to celebrate the work of a Wisconsin poet with publication.

Top photo by Conor Brown on Unsplash

Poetry Month Reprise: Brittany Adames

Poetry Month Reprise

Brittany Adames
National Poetry Month

Reprise

Brittany Adames was a Brain Mill Press National Poetry Month Contest winner in 2018 with her poem “A TANK WITHOUT GASOLINE.” Read it here.

Adames’s shared this artist statement about her work:

I continue to write poetry because I continue to witness what’s lingering.

For her reprise, Brittany Adames offers the poem below, entitled “ALTERNATE UNIVERSE IN WHICH I AM PAMELA.”

About the Poet

Brittany Adames is a Dominican-American writer. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and featured in The Brooklyn Rail, Hobart Pulp, Palette Poetry, and elsewhere. She has an MFA in poetry from Brooklyn College.

National Poetry Month
National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month! For poets and poetry lovers—and perhaps for those who love poets—this is a special time. At Brain Mill Press, we like to celebrate all month long by sharing featured poets. This year, we’re reprising award-winning poets from prior years’ contest, introducing new poets we admire, and inviting submissions to a joint chapbook contest with the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets to celebrate the work of a Wisconsin poet with publication.

Top photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Poetry Month Spotlight: Angela Williamson Emmert

Poetry Month Spotlight

Angela Williamson Emmert

When the Orchard Is Gone

 

I will grow a forest: weedy
box elders, fast-spreading pine.

I will cast the spores of mushrooms,
seed them throughout, those cool-

season eaters of dirt
and flesh. Perhaps I’ll live

long enough to harvest, but if
I succumb to hunger, leave my body

in the grass. The heart of the world flutters
like a bird in its failings.

To the thing that comes next,
I would contribute.

Faced with the death of trees
I’m forced to believe in death

 

believe in the way I believe that I once
caught a ten-dollar ride in a van, fitted

with benches made of lumber, traveled
the highway to Darjeeling (beltless),

how when we stopped to let a young
woman puke, I almost collapsed

beneath the crush of white Himalayas,
a white moon peaking over jagged

edges setting the world on tilt. Mountains
crumble down into sand someone might

dig from a hill, like we did as kids,
unearthing pockets of rotting granite

that crumbled like sugar-cookies. I’ve peered
inside the metropolis of a fallen sequoia

and photographed the wild crossings
that once were her guts and whispered

greetings to her babies, and all of this
I have done and never measured death.

But show me a dying oak, my uncle’s oak,
framing his view of a lake, going gray

with wilt and an entire evening of news
without one word of a species

passing, and now I know death’s measure,
know to be afraid of trees dropping in forests

or in yards, hybrid poplars rotting at the base,
branches bleaching, giant ash, the skin

hidden by bark burrowed under by beetles.
Or something simpler: my grandmother

clipped a willow branch in her twenties,
rooted it in her backyard. Grandchildren

strictly forbidden from swinging
in its branches limited themselves to only one go.

She outlived it. They took out the stump
when she moved into town, to a small house,

one without stairs. Nothing to carry us
upwards, to renewal, or some other quiet end.


*This poem previously appeared in Lakeshore Review 22 (Fall 2022).

What To Make of the Bodies

 

The orchard I planted for my father’s memorial
languishes. Fungus infects

the spongy trunks. They slip bark
in rings, sloughing it off like tokens that have lost

their meaning, like dry skin, like ash. I’d like to dig
him up, my father, turn his time-torn

body loose, let the wind
flake away the graying hairs, the strands of red

that still clung in his beard. I would grind
his bones with the gravel of my driveway to mingle

with the ribs of a redbelly snake and the feathers
of the wren I wrestled from the cat.

She lies beneath the winter-burned boughs
of a pine greening at the tips, feeding

what creatures come by her. My dying
orchard. I dream of your blooming,

of petals felled by rain, caught
in grass, dissolving with the dew.

Lament

 

No butterflies came to the garden
this year. I could hardly stand
to look at the milkweed,

prolific but empty. My flowers
withered unvisited.
Not a single monarch. No yellow

swallowtails or blues, hardly
even a sulphur or a cabbage
white. All summer the ox-eyed

daisies naturalized, waved
their yellow masses, mixed
with the goldenrod in the perimeters

of our yard, but nothing fluttered
among them. It’s enough
to make me fold this poem

into the shape of a butterfly to launch
like a paper plane over the flower
bank if only to fill

the loneliness. Maybe this is the future:
we’ll decorate our yards with the memories
of flowers, of bees

and dragonflies and all manner
of flying or crawling bugs. A million crafters
employed to shape

them from tin, wings
attached with springs so their flapping might
comfort us, so many motherless

monkeys wrapped around our water
bottles, or chicks huddled
under lamps, a widower lunching with a photo

of his wife, or the insomniac
who plays a recording of leaves
turning, of waves

lapping stone, of birds
breaking through morning. Until we
forget. The air

this summer has been so still
only a poem can float there. It rides
the red hum of the sun’s

descending and crests a hill
out of sight. But listen.
Do you hear how it whistles?

How it answers the sky’s
gloaming blue?

Artist Statement

My orchard got sick, and I’d never felt so betrayed. I spent the summer treating the fungus, repairing rabbit and mower damage, and enriching the soil. We live in a strange time, though, when so much of what we once called “natural” no longer is, and in these poems, my orchard’s struggle with an unnaturally humid summer is not a synecdoche for the struggling world but is the world’s struggle. My feeling of betrayal, though, was projection. It is we who have betrayed. So many small deaths. Even if they go unnoticed, we are fools to think they do not change us. Through my work, I seek language for that change. Now a year has passed. My orchard may never be what it once was, but it persists. As do I.

Angela Williamson Emmert lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband and sons.

National Poetry Month
National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month! For poets and poetry lovers—and perhaps for those who love poets—this is a special time. At Brain Mill Press, we like to celebrate all month long by sharing featured poets. This year, we’re reprising award-winning poets from prior years’ contest, introducing new poets we admire, and inviting submissions to a joint chapbook contest with the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets to celebrate the work of a Wisconsin poet with publication.

Top photo by feey on Unsplash

My 2024 Black YA TBR

My 2024 Black YA TBR

Welcome to yet another year at my Black young adult book column, The Afro YA!

I’m excited to read newer and older young adult books by Black authors in various genres. From SFF to contemporary to novels in verse, here are some of the books on my 2024 Black young adult book TBR.

 

A Phoenix Must First Burn coverA Phoenix Must First Burn, edited by Patrice Caldwell

Inspired by the legendary sci-fi author Octavia Butler, this 2020 anthology consists of sixteen stories that explore the Black experience through sci-fi and fantasy and women and gender nonconforming protagonists. 

I’ve had this book on my Kindle for a hot minute and I’ve finally started to read it. As of right now, I’ve read two stories, one about a Black girl confronting aliens in space and the other about a Black metal-bending witch slave.  Expect a full review in March, but I’m enjoying what I’ve read so far. 

 

 

Escaping Mr Rochester coverEscaping Mr. Rochester by L. L. McKinney

A 2024 YA reimagining of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel that asks: what if the real villain of Jane Eyre was actually Mr. Rochester? In this queer romance, Jane Eyre and Bertha Mason—Mr. Rochester’s wife, whom he’s imprisoned within the house for years—must save each other from the horrifying machinations of Mr. Rochester.

Jane Eyre was a comfort read during my teen years. As I grew older, the problematic aspect of Mr. Rochester locking up his first wife, the mentally ill Creole woman Bertha Mason, tainted my fondness for this book. I’m hoping that L.L. Mckinney’s retelling will give Bertha and Jane a better story.

 

Forever Is Now coverForever Is Now by Mariama J. Lockington 

This novel in verse tells the story of Sadie, who develops agoraphobia after witnessing an incident of police brutality. Retreating inside her home, she gradually embarks on a path of healing as her friend Evan keeps her up to date on the protests in their city. In order to find the strength to use her voice, Sadie must learn to rebuild a safe place inside herself.

If you’re a longtime reader of this column, then you know that I love novels in verse and that Black young adult books about mental health are dear to me. Not only is this book’s cover gorgeous, but the subject matter is timely. I’m looking forward to seeing how they are explored through poetry.

 

 

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Published in 2021, this is a thriller about two Nigerian-American students at an elite school dealing with an anonymous bully. When they are both selected to be senior class prefects, someone who goes by “Aces” uses anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that could ruin their futures. As the stakes become higher and more dangerous, the two must do everything they can to stop Aces for good.

This book is a little outside of my comfort zone, because I don’t think I’ve ever read a YA thriller before. However, after reading a sample, I was intrigued to see how things would turn out for both characters. 

 

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

Full Disclosure is the author’s debut YA novel about a girl born HIV+, and how her previous attitude of acceptance toward her status shifts when she becomes sexually interested in someone for the first time.

It’s not often that I come across a sex-positive YA novel about an HIV+ Black girl. It’s also not often that I come across a Black YA novel written by someone who was a teen at the time of writing. I’m looking forward to seeing how the author’s voice shines and how this book tackles subjects considered taboo to discuss. 

 

 

Pet by Akwaeke EmeziPet by Akwaeke Emezi

There are no monsters anymore—or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend but also to uncover the truth and find the answer to the question, How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

I bought this 2019 book on sale some time ago because I was touched by Emezi’s surreal, fantastical, and dark adult book Freshwater. This book piqued my interest for its Black trans girl protagonist and for the author’s dazzling and haunting imagination. 

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 Tima Miroshnichenko

The 2023 Black YA Holiday Gift Guide

The 2023 Black YA Holiday Gift Guide

It’s officially the holiday season, and books are some of the most fun gifts to give. If you’ve got a reluctant or big reader in your life, here are my recommendations for Black YA books to gift.

 

Miles Morales Suspended by Jason Reynolds

Set weeks after the events of Jason Reynolds’s book Miles Morales: Spider-Man, Miles Morales: Suspended features Miles Morales in a heap of trouble. Not only has he landed in-school suspension, but his Spidey-Sense keeps noticing termites acting strangely, eating pages and words that belong to Black and Brown writers. In order to save their words, he must figure out the source of the termites before it’s too late. This book is unique in that it combines prose, poetry, and illustrations to tell a powerful story about superheroes and book censorship.

(full review)

 

Cool. Awkward. Black. edited by Karen Strong

Edited by Karen Strong, Cool. Awkward. Black. is an anthology of short stories mostly written by Black young adult authors such as Julian Winters, Tracy Deonn, and Ibi Zoboi, to name a few. Through stories starring Black characters, the anthology aims to celebrate various facets of Blackness and nerdiness so that a new generation of “Blerds” (that is, Black nerds) can take pride in themselves.

(full review)

 

 

If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann

The summer before her fall semester at college, Winnie is happily spending her time at Misty Haven, working at her grandmother’s restaurant, Goldeen’s, and spending time with her ungirlfriend, Kara. When she is unexpectedly crowned Summer Queen at Misty Haven’s traditional matchmaking event, she is forced out of her comfort zone by the spotlight, obligations, and the heart-on-your-sleeves honesty of the Summer King. Now, Winnie must confront her fears in order to become the best version of herself.

(full review)

 

The Nightmare-Verse Trilogy by L. L. McKinney

This urban fantasy series is a modern retelling of Alice In Wonderland set in Atlanta, GA. Its Black bi heroine, Alice Kingston, is a complex and relatable protagonist that you will root for and the supporting cast is fun as well. There is also rich lore and worldbuidling that bridges reality and fantasy in a compelling way.

(full reviews of book 1, book 2, and book 3)

 

 

We Are All So Good at Smiling by Amber McBride

Tackling clinical depression through poetry, myth, and folklore, this novel in verse is a powerful and lyrical read. It stars Whimsy, a Black hoodoo conjurer girl with clinical depression who also loves fairy tales. Many years ago, she was touched by Sorrow when her brother Cole disappeared in a magic forest, and she vowed never to enter it again.

One day, Whimsy meets Faerry, a Black fae boy who shares struggles and fears similar to Whimsy’s. As the two of them get to know each other, they discover that the forest and Sorrow that haunt them both must be faced head-on.

(full review)

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 EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA via Pexels