Issue 28 poetry


by Wendy Thompson Taiwo

A mixed-media collage on paper with a red martian landscape and cartoon figures of a white man taking a photo of another white man holding a stack of pancakes and change purse, a white businessman a little white boy in a dunce hat, another white kid giggling and batman's head.
Americans on Mars II by Brandon Downing
     Burn the effigy
     sell the bones
     strip the copper pipes
     keep the edgy street art

          Who was it who once said, 
              “Only the rich have shrines”?
          Old family homes purchased by 
                     preservation societies
          Grounds maintained by 
                          garden clubs
          But what about the homes of 
                      southern Black migrants?
          Modest and square-shouldered men and women
              who showed up early and bought too late?
          Low houses with high interest that a
                     straight-backed investor would take 
                     one look at and say, 
          “There is no skin left on that building.”

home demo
home reno
     Are you looking to sell?
     Will pay $$$$ for your ugly house
     Call 510-xxx-xxxx

            Your granddaddy’s ashes got left 
                  in that old blue Victorian 
                  when it went into foreclosure
            They dared to auction off his dignity 
                        and your mother’s childhood dreams
            Then they moved your granny
                             into a tent on East 14th

No dumping
No camping
No soliciting
Private property

       How do your uncles eat
       when there are no good teeth left? 
       Only gold fronts
             and gold rims
             and gold flecks in the most 
             expensive headstone,
             marble or something

             I swear 
                   I grew up here all my life 
                   and never
                   saw that park before now
                   grafted over the liquor store where 
                   they painted a memorial to Melvin’s baby cousin
                   Oakland’s 5th homicide
                   and the year’s barely started


     White moms and their brown nannies 
     caravan unschooling kids to the playground where 
     new xeriscaping hides the body count:
          Lamonte | black mondo grass – Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’
          Romell | red yucca – Hesperaloe parviflora
          Little Mike | lace aloe – Aristaloe aristata 
          all in a row

          Here now
                There are luxury mixed-use retail buildings
          Here now 
                There are bike lanes and blockades for pedestrians
          Here now
                There are farmer’s markets and local honey
          Here now
                There are white girls jogging by chained-up dogs
with Dua Lipa playing in their air pods
      (Try not to rob them, their fathers are judges)

Vouchers no housing
EBT no food
AC Transit no routes
Late fees no future

       A city, once the most dangerous 
       in the country, is no longer a country 
       for Black boys and men
       Now the homicide rates are obscured 
       by fun-cool Yelp reviews:

       Skyler T.
       Oakland, CA

       Want the best bulgogi baby back ribs with a side of collard greens and kimchi slaw?
       Check out this new American southern-Korean fusion joint on Broadway.

       D S. 
       Emeryville, CA 

       Dying to find a reliable ramen place in the city? Well look no further. I know it’s a bit $$$$ and looks super sketch from the outside but where else can you get served agedashi tofu by hot Asian girls with straight bangs and half sleeves? 

              This ain’t your father’s negro removal
              this time they came bearing #BLM signs

              They have no need to valet their Audis
              security is provided for free all night 

              Even when a shadow follows them home
              they don’t think twice to call the police


What was once here is black and done

Wendy Thompson Taiwo is an assistant professor of African American studies at San José State University. Her poetry has most recently appeared in Rappahannock Review, Jet Fuel Review, Waccamaw Journal, Hey, I’m Alive, and Typehouse.

Brandon Downing’s collections of poetry include The Shirt Weapon, Dark Brandon, AT ME and Mellow Actions. In 2007 he released a feature-length collection of short digital films, Dark Brandon: Eternal Classics, while a monograph of his literary collages, Lake Antiquity, was published by Fence Books. He has recently completed a sixteen-book cycle based around Euripides’ The Bacchae.