Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Bamako, Mali, Leslie Roach


In Mali, I learned

You greet others a


You ask how they are


Ask after their families

Ask if the person before you

Woke up well

You ask about all things at home

And back home if not home

About health and all


And after all that

You still


Et sinon, ça va


So I suffer as a result of being exposed to humanity like that


Being present among humans like

That changed me and I do suffer with

Reverse culture shock


Ever since my return to this place

Where people seem scared of each other

As they walk past brash

Passing each other on the street

As if in a runway


Eyes fixated on some

Place in the distance

Distant future

Averting gaze

At all costs


Humans pass by

Never caring to see each other

Let alone

Get to

Et sinon, ça va


Leslie Roach is an Ottawa-based poet and writer. She is the author of FINISH THIS SENTENCE (Mawenzi House, 2020). Born and raised in Montreal to thoughtful and loving parents who immigrated to Canada from Barbados, Leslie has lived and worked in Italy, Mali, Tanzania, Kenya and Senegal, shaping her perspectives and worldview. She then moved to Ottawa, working in the International and Interparliamentary Affairs directorate of the Parliament of Canada.

Two Poems, Darius Simpson


contaminated river water bottled for profit and loss of life 
or the process by which genocide fashions prison bars 
out of indigenous languages.

sample sentence:
were it not for colonialism Africa would be worth its weight
in gold instead of bloodshed; war is human; genocide is european.
see also: Guam, Puerto Rico, Hawai’i

the process by which minding another country’s business 
inhibits that country’s ability to build generational health 
an interference during a game where the loudest bomb sets 
the rules and refuses to play by them.

sample sentence:
Africans would have won more wars against colonizers
but imperialism made diplomacy a lucrative cover-up for exploitation.

a system in which there are workers and people who own workers 
slavery by any other name still wakes you up at 5am
drenched in sweat from a nightmare about forgetting to clock in.

sample sentence:
if you peek behind capitalism’s curtain you see a person who is less
than 10% a person holding a whip shaped like a rental agreement telling a stage full 
of longshoremen when to use the bathroom.
someone committed to humanity rooted in understanding 
freedom is non-negotiable; a person who has decided 
that living is worth dying for.
see also: Assata Shakur, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Jalil Muntaqim

sample sentence:
you can throw a rock over a prison wall
and a revolutionary will throw it back with a love letter attached.

a would-be revolutionary grappling with capitalist 
obligations and colonial control of printing presses..

sample sentence:
liberation is for everybody and the poet is just one of the many 
everybodies see also: June Jordan, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Jamil Al-Amin

when a strong wind pretending to be a steam roller 
meets a people who cannot be flattened 
the process by which chains are broken
and the people who owned the chains
and made the chain uniforms
and invested in the stock market of chains
and built the chain-making factories
must answer for their crimes.

sample sentence:
liberation called Africa with the americas on 3-way 
apartheid survivors started whispering about tapped oil lines 
the call dropped somewhere over a 1989 atlantic ocean.

an empty mason jar you fill with lightning bugs to guide the 
masses or pennies you collect in exchange for your soul.

sample sentence:
i submitted this poem to a journal that values diversity but they 
spent two years deliberating if off the pigs was literal or figurative.


burnt wooden window panels make for opaque daydreams 
downtown is a hell of a commute when morning fog wreaks 
stench of hot coals and lighter fluid steam hovers over 
traffic employees of the capitol building were left fuming
law says police protect capital by any force senate 
swore on a bible to become state property tiki torch 
mobs breach barricades with relative ease turns out 
white supremacy is palpable or class struggle is 
rooted in comparative safety
how can i make rulings on the state of this country
if i still have to feel the impacts of the state of this country 
my uncle warns me about the dangers of bacon grease
i take this to mean we don’t praise pigs or blood pressure is 
both fragile and sacred and we don’t waste it on people 
who exchange their identity for utility belts and flash bangs 
black cops aren’t safe at block parties after dark
black cops conceal badge numbers with familial ties to street names 
there’s a joke about occupation in the cooler next to the hennessy 
black politicians move across town in order to finally make an impact 
black politicians share bathroom breaks with [former] klan members 
there’s a joke about contradictions on the ballot this year
there’s a joke about democracy in the awkward 
silences between police helmets and confederate flags
there’s a joke about allegiances flapping in the hallway 
collecting dust on the top floor of the courthouse
there’s a joke about cotton in the jail cell below the judge’s gavel 
swaztikas make amerikkka take a hard look at its bloodline 
political theater don’t start til we believe in cheap magic tricks 
revolution don’t start til we stop believing in border patrols there’s 
a joke about job security during a global pandemic scattered on 
scraps of paper along the evacuated senate floor
we can’t mention grammatical differences between capital & capitol 
without mentioning the murder rate of empty congressional seats.

Darius Simpson is a writer, educator, performer, and skilled living room dancer from Akron, Ohio. He received his BA in Political Science from Eastern Michigan University and his MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry from Mills College. Darius was a recipient of the 2020 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship.​ He hopes to inspire that feeling you get that makes you scrunch up your face after a good bite of  homemade Mac N Cheese. Darius' poems have appeared in POETRY Magazine, The Adroit Journal, American Poetry Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and others. 

Excerpt from Blood on the Fog, Tongo Eisen-Martin



I Make Promises Before I Dream


No unclaimed, cremated mothers this year


Nor collateral white skin


No mothers folding clothes to a corporate park preamble

No sons singing under the bright lights of a lumber yard


Quantum reaganomics and the tap steps of turning on a friend


New York trophy parts among

the limbs of decent people

Being an enraged artist is like

entering a room and not knowing what to get high off of


My formative symbols/My upbringing flying to an agent’s ears

I might as well be an activist


Called my girlfriend and described

All the bottles segregationists had thrown at me that day


Described recent blues sites and soothing prosecutions

I feared for my poetry


You have to make art every once in a while

            While in the company of sell-outs

            Accountant books in deified bulk

            Or while waiting for a girl under a modern chandelier


Or in your last lobby as a wanderer


The prison foot races the museum


My instrument ends


I mean, what is a calendar to the slave?

Also, what is a crystal prism?


“He bought this bullet,

bought its flight,

then bought two more”


The Cycle of Black Mercy


Well I have at least fallen around love

Reading poems next to my friend with Loisaida fire escapes in their teeth

Talking about the gun I’m going to bring to the segregation

Trying to protect children with poems/protect these store-runs

Avenue nights as a hospital bard

I can’t make out the system of craft

Is this run the house dust circuit/are these abandoned houses of various rank

art here like karma-less soldiering


Falsifying my first solo on this stage/ on this rickety enemy-ness

Ladies and Gentlemen, here to make some warmongering of your night

these receipt paper poems

Adorning my red eyes with a self-inflicted fatherhood

Over-policed eyes

state impressionism bouncing back and forth between skin and ski mask

an emotional range or wobbly self-portrait

amongst these church giants

calcified personas present /grown man depression

scraping cotton against uptown silhouettes/see in their shadows all manner of bombs

king of the poems, baby

genuine marvel of the history of poems

welcome to the mild bourgeoise

revolution street fairs/our weariness

well-proven socialism/ the death of both your and my hip-hop, Lord

make your green back ruling class confetti/art somewhere in this

earn stripes with three hands/cut God off of your shirt

look out at the world from the inside of an ink stroke

I don’t mind the Mississippi steel, sir, but may I have a saxophone from a different city

bright lights/lethal injection routine/last words/Is My Family Here

take all disrespect as the universe in motion

I write poems today

I kill america today



five-year anniversary of my style

(swamps talking/ midsize activist files like songs sitting under the street/

Slave castles growing and growing/

keeping notebooks alive the wrong way/

human temper sitting still)


going to Afrika in mysterious ways

the harp that turned the hand toward the Founding of Chicago


you know what my trick is, grandson?

I am weak first

Before anything, I first become weak


Kick a hatchet down the street/ then all around a city

a grandmother’s Milwaukee

or the gods my grandmother robbed

fresh faces in the spirit house/ a spirit house we’ve put behind the sun


We have God’s permission to make a plan


Gradually, the poem becomes decently empty


You know, be weak

Let the ability to write slip

until only one fingertip is left on the handle

then, in a flash, return with a slave castle in a cup of change


“Lady’s and gentlemen:

We assure you that tonight’s entertainment is not judging you…We paid them…really well”

Free Fear


The boss belongs to the masses now

Got the boss’ likeness on a string like a love poem

Wild stride speeches replace memories of the boss

We got machine guns in the communist bar tonight

We are naturals in the communist bar

Our boundaries are just a little death


We stand outside the gates of San Francisco

listening to some good preaching


“Congratulations, your mercenaries hurt.

Your Money Jungle hurts. Your mouths hurt.”


“Merchants of frenetic white flight

Luckless and (therefore) well-armed primitivism

Reaching down into the patterns of your soul

Making for funny stories”


“I hope they didn’t name any schools

While they had those kids in those cages”


Joy returns to decent revolutionaries

Puts a hermitage in the fascism 


Saint Faluja thumping, your shoulder is family

                      and needed

God crawling in between the bullet heat

Yes, our grandparents’ God


Thought experiments in the last words of Black organizers

Let’s make a periodical of their last words, Lord

Of the remaining addresses of Black power


We become Angola on both sides/A humor of axes.

A foot race through public property/remilitarized

Pork improved/Celestial pork

Platinum minted pork/choose your words carefully pork


“the first mirror was clay…the first human was not”


Humanity recommencing near the weight pile

(would be nice to sound universal)

not heroin owed

heroin passing messages

heroin left laying around an empire


A colonized intellectual as a guest

in their own hand


It’s like a life’s work depends

On replicating Birmingham caravans

Or particulate Birmingham


One to five shells flying at the state capital

Signed, “Thank you for the resources”



big band scatting up the throat of a surrogate fascist

in love with their one eye ball

at the parade with tuxedo-colored guns

marrying the cowardice


A re-running white politician

Is born in a Black neighborhood (taken as a stage of history)

Born of a Black Messiah (taken as a foco-biography)

Is born Black (journey’d)

Legislates in some dimension fused to the side of loud steps


copper summer riots, but still some blood involved

                                                  still some necessary slums involved

rag tag armies masked in western height/ in primary emotions

Delight of cocaine both warped and not warped enough/images can be cousins

What happens when you step outside the country’s sugar gorging?

What good are you all to the world sitting in Heaven?

Who are we going to lay out books for?

Who’s going to touch the knives at night and sing to the gaps in between shadows…gaps between our love?

Who is going to teach our knives to sing Tobacco Road

Teach them that they are family


Picture a Black socialist in a perfected boneyard

 in a tributary boneyard

 whispering to cheek bones

dimming the wind

A Black socialist who will live for one hundred years in this graveyard to make this point/that we’re in too much pain for naming ceremonies... that ancestors need to inflict on the world our continuity...


A thousand good deeds decorate the 20-year police precinct janitor

A janitor (who called it)…who knee-slides, but not like you

Telling you of a half-dead humanism to pass the time


A math teacher and their little red book

“I used to dream of revolution… and even enjoy the dream”

Tongo Eisen-Martin is the Poet Laureate of San Francisco, California. He is the author of Heaven Is All Goodbyes (City Lights Books, 2017), which was shortlisted for the Griffin International Poetry Prize, received the California Book Award for Poetry, an American Book Award, and a PEN Oakland Book Award. He is also the author of someone's dead already (Bootstrap Press, 2015). Blood on the Fog is his new collection of poems.

INTERMITTENTLY LIKE LOUISIANA RAIN & Other Works, Jessica Alexander & Vi Khi Nao

Selected Works, Vi Khi Nao


I have decided to overlook your wife’s air conditioner and subatomic particles






I haven’t been alone too long

I please everyone I can

I can’t live like this anymore

I have no problems saying no

This way of ridiculing women has to be stopped

The car forgave and I enjoyed its subservient engine

He flirts just like a carton of milk

The poet no longer resists

But refuses to be a God in her own house

Someone is about to have a bowel movement

Have I been good to you?

Mr. Insincerity is blocking

I don’t know what street to cross

Desiring: I refuse to forgive

Oracle: death defenses itself

She’s a queen

Also she uses the vibrator too much

I have stopped talking to her

Have you been lazy lately?

I didn’t spell her name right. Could you smell it?

From afar it does make noises.

But have you talked to the pig?

The barnyard has transformed.

This is not the right way to love

Don’t turn the engine back on.





Polygraphs and Omar the screwdriver.

In a strapless dress

Made for typhoons and artificial intelligence.

The clue is in the hue.

I take results however superficial.

Fly without a working engine.

Conical hats

Sanitized rats.

Forever so kind.

Distrust for the impossible.

Unsexy hip.

Ear glistening

Aborting strangers




The poem is asleep: narrow monarch tea, red red that can’t

dismiss a dream, and swims like an antiquated  icicle.



aggression was a landscape
by Jessica Alexander
At the distance of three hundred yards from the house, on the top of a rock whose sides were steep and covered with dwarf cedars, Clara’s father had built a horrible temple. It was nothing but a dome and a stone floor. It was without seat or table. Below the temple there was a rocky channel, bounded by cornfields and an orchard. In the hamlet, where Clara was a girl, the sun was spare and splintered by the rooftop. There was a lamp, a hearth, and a clock hung on the wall. It struck a stroke so hard every sixth hour the women flinched and turned their eyes to the window. Her father would go then and kneel alone on the stone floor.

In Pittstown voices hovered over the gnarled trees, the orchards, the barns, and the splintered roof beams. If you hear them, you must not look up. If you hear one in dusk, in a clearing—let’s say you’re splitting wood or gathering something maybe mushrooms—you must bend your eyes and your being to the axe, you must exert yourself and keep it out.

In Pittstown Mary walked the gloomy streets. She wore fur and strange and stunning gowns. Clara darned socks inside the splintered light. I am drowning. Clara said to herself and the voice was not inside her head, but her stomach, like an echo deep inside a well. I am drowning. Mostly, Clara felt like this, save when she saw Mary in such strange and stunning gowns.

At midnight, when her father prayed, Clara would walk to the cold rock, toward the dead orchard and the cornfield, where the stalks poked through snow and swayed against a sky unbearable and grey. Clara would wait for Mary in the orchard, and Mary would appear in something silk and soft or fur. “Do you like it?” Mary said. She stroked the gown with  Clara’s hand, and like a deer Clara grew very still. Everything, her skin, the sky, the splintering wind became an instrument through which to perceive her friend. “Yes,” she said, “I like it.”

In Pittstown, aggression was a landscape. It was in the angle of a doorframe, the way a root broke through the cold dirt. It was too much, at times, to simply turn your eyes to something else. No one spoke of it. Clara’s uncle, Thomas Wieland looked nothing like Thomas Wieland. Mary said, “That’s not Thomas Wieland,” but, of course, no one believed her because how the fuck would she know. He looked twenty years too young to be him. He’d recently arrived, or so he said, from Austria. He was a surgeon. He was an artist. She became his apprentice. “Put on this,” he said and flung a gown at Mary’s head. His room was spare and untidy. It was without comfort. There were reams of ink stained paper, a surgeon’s kit, and a trunk stuffed with silk dresses. “Don’t touch that!” He shouted and hurled his commonplace book at Mary’s head. The first page said “The World as My Will and My Idea.” Mary stole it. Thomas was drawing her. He called these portraits the “Progress of a Woman of Pleasure.” But there was no pleasure in Pittstown. There was only Clara kneeling in the orchard. There was only Mary in her dresses. Sometimes there was laughter in the orchard, and the birds scattered, and Clara’s father looked at the sky and said, “What is that sound?”


 by Jessica Alexander & Vi Khi Nao


In Salt Lake, I walked the neighborhoods on winter nights, guided by the warm blue glow of windows and tv screens, flickering on the snow. Even this cold loneliness contained the balmy promise of a someday.


NOW the flamboyant neon style of Gunpowder Milkshake spatters the blank walls of our unconscious minds with sequined bowling lanes and diners & even the whites of our eyes are glittery.


I love this movie!


& our someday & Michelle Yeoh - the great martial screen artist - & look at that vest & surely these are lesbians!

Yes! Or are they baiting us, with a breathy death so easily mistaken for a bloody kiss? And if you want it bad enough, it is. It was a good movie. All the men were bad and the women, who killed them, seemed to like each other. It was a really good movie, we agreed. The bowling jacket, an homage, maybe. 



Today’s potential equity raise raised only your eyebrow. I watched you across the kitchen table as you tried to do some proprietor math. Leah has been an agent of alacrity and the university may be scared of her. I soaked mung beans in a small pot and placed our bath towel over it like Djokovic - after losing the first set and then second and eventually the last to Daniil Medvedev - placed his towel over his head. Meanwhile, we need white and green onions for the canh khoai. I also wanted to walk with you because my period is heavy and I had taken a photo of cotton or a wintery storm in the Denver light. The sun behind you and its shadows plaster themselves across your back like a Pollock. 



The air is cool and you ran through the park where they were setting up a screening of WestWorld. The street smelled incredible when you rounded the corner and a man in the narrow alley hid a spliff behind his back and you jogged past. Two girls with enormous dogs stood in the park. Earlier, at the grocery store you bought onions, chocolate, and salt. I made pork and soup and the broth turned purple. We ate spicy tofu bites packaged individually like small candy and our lips burned. The sunlight is crisp and clean & the air never shimmers with heat. Phone wires are full of birds and nostalgia. The air smells like fresh cut grass. Now that the joyless cop show is over, what will we do with our evening and our afternoon?



We walked beyond the railroad track, under the bridge, and through the tunnel with its electric graffiti headdress. You asked about Qi. You asked if your body was open and if there was a door to your life force. We walked and walked, walking past the pile of trash which soiled the elegant and clean architecture of the RiNo Art district. We walked past The Hub, the pole dancing class, the Walnut Liquor store, and the city opened her long, athletic legs to us. There were so many pathways into the future of our nomadic exploration. When we walked back to Natural Grocers, you were holding in your arms two babies: an aluminum water bottle and the Bread and Butter Cab, which you said I loved and which you got for us when we visited Farwall in Shreveport. From across the railroad track, we could see faintly the Zeppelin Station from our peripheral view. When we took the elevator to the 4th floor of our Blueground, you were holding a box of  ginger beer, ginger chocolate, one Bosc pear the color of the sepia earth before mankind ruined it with greed and capitalism





You hated Superman & Lois though Tyler Hoechlin’s teeth were sharp and white as a wolf’s incisors and Bitsie is the name of the actor playing Lois and this appears to be her only real misfortune. One reviewer wrote: the show brings the superhero brand back down to boring earth. But I liked the premise: would superman make a good father? Though I think a daughter may have been more interesting than two teenage boys. It failed the Bechdel test by a long shot. I don’t think two women spoke to each other in the pilot, though there were three women in it. You found the premise of a small town gone awry somewhat compelling. You enjoy small town conspiracies and small town America taking on the corporate world. But Lois “the greatest journalist in the world” was unbearably basic and lacked the ambition that made her a little dangerous in former iterations. She was a fearless journalist, who much to Superman’s chagrin, was almost always about to get killed. One review said Superman spends too much time blinking at his family in handsome concern and darting around the stratosphere that he never can anchor his family or his show. I did not know how bored you were until we switched to Nevers and the deft and dapper Victorian ladies, twirling parasols and pithy phrases, roused you from your stupor.



After showering, we walked to the grocery for bacon and a gluten free muffin. The light was both lambent and radiant, coating everything we touched or saw with a sheen of translucent warmness. Denver has such clean air. If you were in Lafayette, there would be sunlight, berated by sporadic bursts of rain and lightning. The air there is thick and muggy as if the city has been hooded by a black bag, tossed, and kidnapped into a moving, get-away van. I don’t like the idea of your natural oxygen tank being kidnapped by a city that only loves you intermittently like Louisiana rain. We woke  unexpectedly late. Though at 6 am, my eyes were wide like long windows in a high rise office in New York. I tried to close them, but my nipples were becoming electrical poles as if a wire traveled between my cunt and nipple, and birds needing to take a break from their long flights could land on it for rest and mindless repose. Our periods have made us tired. We sleep early now. We make love less. Our pads soaking in useless iron. 



Last night, you fell asleep at 9 o’clock. Tonight you’ve reserved a table at a winery with outdoor seats. You’ve been looking up galleries. We need to go to Walgreens but exhaustion overtook us. You slept while I finished blending sweet mung beans and tapioca. They do not collect the trash on Fridays or Saturdays. Though they seem to vacuum the hallways on Saturday mornings. If you look out the window long enough you’ll notice the yellow fence & the ferns that burst from behind it, the gravel lot where cars park, and the broken wooden crates that rest against aluminum siding. This is a city still being built with empty lots where trash gets tangled in the weeds, gravel lots, steel beams - and on the main strip a string of new apartment complexes sit empty as old warehouses, some breweries and wineries startle the sidewalk like an old friend in an empty airport. On Friday night a live band played at the beer garden, and the train scooped lumps of people up and dumped them on the sidewalk like scoops of icecream or that Twombly painting - they shuffled up the street pushing bikes & sipping beers from cozies. I think of the castrated photographer, pushing his bike through snow to my doorstep every night, and all the gifts he gave me that I shoved into a box inside my closet. On Saturday morning, the streets are deserted. There’s a slight breeze. The sunlight and the air is so clean the slight chill is crisp but not 51 degrees as our phones inform us, by 1 o’clock the city will inch it’s way to 90.  

VI KHI NAO is the author of six poetry collections: Fish Carcass (Black Sun Lit, 2022), A Bell Curve Is A Pregnant Straight Line (11:11 Press, 2021), Human Tetris (11:11 Press, 2019) Sheep Machine (Black Sun Lit, 2018), Umbilical Hospital (Press 1913, 2017), The Old Philosopher (winner of the Nightboat Prize for 2014), & of the short stories collection, A Brief Alphabet of Torture (winner of the 2016 FC2's Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize), the novel, Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016). Her work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. She was the Fall 2019 fellow at the Black Mountain Institute: 

JESSICA ALEXANDER’S novella, "None of This Is an Invitation" (co-written with Katie Jean Shinkle) is forthcoming from Astrophil Press. Her story collection, Dear Enemy, was the winning manuscript in the 2016 Subito Prose Contest, as judged by Selah Saterstrom. Her fiction has been published in journals such as Fence, Black Warrior Review, PANK, Denver Quarterly, The Collagist, and DIAGRAM. She lives in Louisiana where she teaches creative writing at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.