to be soft

his mother and i
stare at the inflamed tendon
protruding from his thin, bruised wrist.

“i can’t work anymore,”
the 17 year old reveals.
“i can’t write, so the teachers said
i can’t go to school.
i don’t feel like doing anything
or hanging out liked i used to.”

there is a pause. his mother is nodding.
earlier, she said that she doesn’t understand english.
i think of how heavy pain is, and wonder
if his mother can feel the weight of his.

“i was surprised by what happened to me.
but i ain’t soft.
i don’t want them to think i’m soft.”



you’re a fast learner–you’re only 5
and you know that beauty
is the best compliment you can give. you’ve
learned that white women should be the
subject of your desire because they are–
princess elsa is stamped on your pink
light-up tennis shoes and her pale, delicate,
features adorn your fluffy purple blanket
that warms you while you sleep.

aleigha, how can i prepare you
for a racially charged world? where
you’ll fight battles for your dark curly hair
and deep skin? how do you prepare to win a war
against yourself?


he’s one of the shorter kids in class
who waddles over to jenna to snatch her blocks,
races to emmett to drive his toy-car and hisses at timmy
when he mutters, hello. angel, whose smile blooms
like white chrysanthemums during spring mornings.
he giggles, and i notice the lights in his eyes dancing
as the ripple of his laughter makes me laugh, too.
angel, whose momma died a year ago.

the teachers say he hasn’t been the same since. he refuses
to use his words when wanting his spiderman shoes tied
or when craving sweetened mandarin oranges. angel, whose
favorite song is please and thank you.
if you didn’t know him, you’d think
he’s unfamiliar with these words.

like angel, his daddy hasn’t been the same either.
when angel bites him, he bites back harder and when
angel screams, he screams louder. angel, who always wears
a red shirt and oversized jeans. angel, whose boogers dry
to a green crust on his nostrils and
whose fingernails are rimmed with dirt. angel,
who during nap time dances in circles,
like a lighted carousel.

waiting for papa

stay put, papa said.
he hugs me
beneath the smoke colored sky
and wetly kisses my forehead.

okay, papa, okay.
i’ll wait here.

as he runs with the men wearing
dirty, khaki uniforms
i sit under a wooden table
holding my knees,
careful to not let anyone step on me.

everyone is running in different directions
yelling the names of their children
and looking for god.
i hope the flares hit the dirt
and not them.

i want to close my eyes
like momma told me to do when i’m scared
but it’s hard not to look
at the flies picking at a dead dog
and my neighbor laying next to me
whose eyes haven’t blinked.
he is a nice man,
i remember he gave me caramel candies.

the skies now buzz with flies
it’s hard to see anything
with all the lights out.

i hear mommas wailing
and papas sobbing.
i peak my head out
and the roads look empty.

i see the sun rising behind the little houses
lighting the faces of
people who slept on the street.
some of them hug the earth
others have their arms open
towards the clouds.

everything is still.

papa still hasn’t come back.
he must have gone to the store to buy those cigarettes
the ones momma doesn’t like.
he’d be proud. i’m such a good listener
i even slept under the wooden table
like he said.

the sun reaches the center of the sky
and no one wakes up.

i will forgive you for leaving me here
only if you bring me some
caramel candies.

i know papa doesn’t like it
when i cry.
but i can’t stop crying.
he still hasn’t come back.