Black Hair

Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi translated from the Chinese by Yi Lei

copyright ©2020

Black hair like youth
Runs wild in March.
Dark papery leaves fly
Teeming, swarming,
Bum-rushing March.

Black hair in March
Is gentle, strangers’ eyes
Softer. Memory:
A feast on offer. Youth,
Born of the primordial sea—
Embrace me. Drape my skin
Old as clouds
In something suppler.

Black hair
Blown free, rootless,
Wanders the desert’s
Countless tombs, sways
Across a vacant sky,
Whips at fresh mud in rain.
Days blaze past. I have
Lost sight of my own black hair
In the mirror. Let me
Watch it now
For the next thousand years.

Black hair weedy
In dirt-poor soil.
Thirsty, deluded,
Squandering its spoils.
Black hair has no idea.

The story of black hair
Is my story.
When I die, let me drift
Like a dandelion
Of black hair.

Black hair
Like holy water
No way, there is no way
To be saved except to die.
When black hair cries,
Itsw tears snuff themselves out
Like candles.
So will my life cease to flicker.

Black hair
Exhausted brush fire
Fanned by misery
Through the last century.

Black hair, ?Shredded black flag
Of a women’s glory
Ragged and battered
In March wind.
Forsaking dignity
Absolved of chastity
With its pride in knots
Black hair smiles easily
In March.

If waterfall, it will plummet.
If cloud, it will scatter.
Eyes plaintive, wide,
Black hair waits to be spun
By hardened hands
Into rock.

March 25, 1987

Last of the Monkey Gods

Yusef Komunyakaa

copyright ©2012

The moon temple ghosts, swinging on heavy doors.
They ride rabid dogs in the alleys of ill repute.
They decipher the language of crows at dawn
in ancient trees, the blueness of a god’s skin.
They tiptoe power lines, rope bridges around the city.
They throw stones at the ambassador’s sedan.
When afternoon prayers begin, they grown silent,
Lying in each other’s arms, dreaming of clemency.

The monkeys are no rounding up street boys.
At least, at first, it seems this is true, but in no time
The boys learn to single out a monkey in the throng
& wrestle him to the ground. He may try to bite
& to scratch, to howl, & cry ceremoniously, to plead
with the one word he knows, but then the fight
goes out of him when the rest of his great clean
returns to jabbering & the sacred picking of lice.

The boys zap him with a small laser gun.
A garnet of mute bells is tossed into the dust,
& chants go aeons back to the beginning & die.
The fearless illumination goes out of his eyes.
The boys tag him. He rises to wander freely.
As naked unholiness crawls into the night,
they’re wrestled one by one to the ground
& castrated for the music of coins jangling in a pocket.


Yusuf Saadi

copyright ©2020

At metro Joliette with my jolicoeur,
we walked to the depanneur,
discussed dasein while buying
a Perrier and a block of beurre.
Outside, minus twenty-three,
with windchill it’s real fuckery,
your back pockets warm my fingertips,
your cherry ChapStick so summery.
Take me to the everglades,
a place where flowers never fade,
but pans inside your basement wait
to fry us scrambled eggs, real buttery.

Blue sunrise on my palms, a peignoir,
a neighbour grows peonies in a baignoire,
I dreamt a homeless peintre
revealed Hochelag in a Renoir
Make love inside these old maisons
until condos sail across the St-Laurent,
The vieux-accent is extinct,
And the cordonier’s window plein noir.
Morning flurries, très légère,
someone’s shovel scrapes fragile air,
a chasse-neige is herding cloud,
The hunched man salts his spiral stairs.

The Sturgeon’s Lover

Joseph Dandurand

copyright ©2020

In the deepest part of the river
there lived a great sturgeon
and she swam along the bottom
and fed upon the dead who had fallen.
She was about three hundred years old
and when she was full, she came to
the surface and jumped as high as
she could and all the males came
to her and she kissed each male
and let them have her. Months later
she quietly went to her favourite part
of the river and there she released
her eggs in the millions and then began
again to swim the bottom and to search
for any new bodies that had fallen
from upriver, which she feasted upon
with her old softly kissed lips.

The legend goes that a fisherman
had fallen into the waters and was drowning
when the great sturgeon came to him
and asked him for a kiss. He agreed
and the two fell in love and together
they would feed upon all the food
at the bottom of the river. One day
her eggs came to life and created
the people across the water.
The people lived there for centuries
and the sturgeon and man would visit
from time to time, bringing them food
to survive the cold wet winters
until the people too walked into
the water and fell to the bottom
as the man kissed his lover.

Today we do not fish for sturgeon
as their numbers have been decimated
by overfishing and loss of spawning
grounds. Whenever I catch a sturgeon
in my net I let her go and she always
turns back and smiles as she flicks
her mighty tail and splashes me.
My son always laughs as I stand there
stunned and wet, while the great sturgeon
slowly swims away and turns back
to blow us a kiss. We both wipe
our lips as the great sturgeon
falls to the bottom of the water.
There, waiting for her, is her lover.
He kisses her one last time.
She cries as she begins to eat him.

Oxygen (from Obit)

Victoria Chang

copyright ©2020

Victoria Chang

Oxygen—died on March 12, 2012. At
first, it came in heavy green canisters.
Then a large rolling machine that
pushed air day and night. When my
mother changed her clothes, she
had to take the tube out of her nose.
She stopped to catch her breath, as
if breath were constantly in motion,
as if it could be chased. I’m not sure
when I began to notice her panic
without the oxygen, in the way we don’t
notice a leaf turning red or an empire
falling. One day, it just appears, as if
it had been there all along. Like the
hospice staff with their papers, bags
of medicine, their garlands of silence.
Like grief, the way it dangles from
everything like earrings. The way grief
needs oxygen. The way every once in
a while, it catches the light and starts
smoking. The way my grief will die with
me. The way it will cleave and grow
like antlers. 

Grief After Grief After Grief After Grief

Billy-Ray Belcourt

copyright ©2018

1. my body is a stray bullet. i was made from crossfire. love was her last resort. his mouth, a revolver. I come from four hundred no man’s lands. 

2. “smell my armpit again/ i miss it when you do that.”

3. his moaning is an honour song i want to world to. 

4. one of the conditions of native life today is survivor’s guilt. 

5. it is july 2016 and the creator opens up the sky to attend a #blacklivesmatter protest. there, she bumps into weesageechak and warns him that if policemen don’t stop killing black men she will flood america and it will become a lost country only grieving mothers will know how to find. this, she says, is how the world will end and be rebuilt this time. 

6. haunting is a gender. gender is another word for horror story. 

7. “i can hear him screaming for me, and i can hear him saying, ‘stop, honey help me.’” 

8. i am trying to figure out how to be in the world without wanting it. this, perhaps, is what it means to be native. 


2: from Lilting (2014, dir. Hong Khaou).
 see :h ttp//

A Wake

Liz Howard

copyright ©2016

Your eyes open the night’s slow static at a loss
to explain this place you’ve returned to from above;
cedar along a broken shore, twisting in a wake of fog.

I’ve lived in rooms with others, of no place and no mind
trying to bind a self inside the contagion of words while
your eyes open the night’s slow static. At a loss

to understand all that I cannot say, as if you came
upon the infinite simply by thinking and it was
a shore of broken cedar twisting in a wake of fog.

If I moan from an animal throat it is in hope you
will return to me what I lost learning to speak.
Your eyes open the night’s slow static at a loss

to ever know the true terminus of doubt, the limits of skin.
As long as you hold me I am doubled from without and within:
a wake of fog unbroken, a shore of twisted cedar.

I will press myself into potential, into your breath,
and maybe what was lost will return in sleep once I see
your eyes open into the night’s slow static, at a loss.
Broken on a shore of cedar. We twist in a wake of fog. 

Red Wall

by Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi, translated from the Chinese written by Yi Lei

copyright ©2021

Hot. Having burned me but also
Warmed me. I regard it from a distance.
The flowers choking it, bleeding onto it,
Red legacy binding our generations.
From below, we thousands cast upon it a
beatific, benighted, complacent, complicit,
decorous, disconsolate, distracted, expectant,
execrative, filthy, grievous, guileless,
hallowed, hotheaded, hungry, incredulous,
indifferent, inscrutable, insubordinate, joyful,
loath, mild, peace-loving, profane, proud,
rageful, rancorous, rapt, skeptical, terrified,
tranquil, unperturbed, unrepentant,
warring eye.

From Underworld Lit

Srikanth Reddy

copyright ©2021

In the inky, dismal, and unprofitable research of a recent leave of absence from my life, I happened upon a historical prism of Assurbanipal that I found to be somewhat disquieting. Of an enemy whose remains he had abused in a manner that does not bear repeating here, this most scholarly of Mesopotamian kings professes: 

I made him more dead than he was before. 

(Prism A Beiträge zum Inschriftenwerk Assurbanipals ed. Borger [Harrassowitz 1996] 241)

Prisms of this sort were often buried in the foundations of government, to be read by gods but not men. Somewhere in the shifting labyrinth of movables stacks I could hear a low dial tone humming without end. In Assurbanipal’s library there is a poem, written on clay, that corrects various commonly held errors regarding the venerable realm of the dead. Contrary to the accounts of Mu Lian, Madame Blavatsky, and Kwasi Benefo, et al., it is not customarily permitted to visit the underworld. No, the underworld visits you.