What to Do on Bad Days

by Azura Tyabji
Seattle Youth Poet Laureate


you’re body is already forgiving you
your charred palms are becoming soft and strong enough to hold things again
you have a talent for melting like wax, and wandering for a form to take
on bad days
deadlines take the backseat and you reconstruct yourself with patience
the world
is ending, yes
But you have seen it end, and begin again in the morning hundreds of times


don’t mistake emptiness as a meal  
practice finding comfort outside of surrender


You said the wrong thing and elegance drops and breaks into a thousands irreparable shards
it is a luxury you cannot afford but you’ve always been frugal, anyway
try not to be tempted by sharp things that hurt when you hold them


you have lost nothing and have nothing to lose
the best parts of yourself are still intact
they live in the gardens you tend, with ink an appreciation
for small gestures
you reap what you sow
So don’t mourn a past harvest

or phases after they have waned

they will come back around like an old friend eventually
do not worry, you are growing

and you are loved

  1. Motivation gathers dust in your chest and as subtle as it is, you are allergic to this
    its loss isn’t dramatic enough to call drowning
    or burning
    or an earthquake
    or any other catastrophe poets like you love to write about
    it’s just lack of maintenance
    so put some music on
    and make a habit of cleaning.


As Octavia butler said, write out of habit, not inspiration.
inspiration does not text back
it’s not the type to leave gas in your car
or pay back a debt
habit meanwhile is a stubborn lover, but you will come to appreciate her


full disclosure

more times than not

you are afraid of your art

talent is a reservoir always running low

that you are reluctant to to re-fill


so remind yourself gently “so what if i spill?”

be brave enough to flood a single page

write something messy, something awful

write something corny and stupid

write something you wouldn’t read in front of anyone ever

write away the thirst of fear, starting with what you have for yourself because that




pause often
stop on a highway overpass
and watch the road below: it is the vein of a creature greater than yourself
it breathes
and you are humbled
you exhale
and continue with purpose


become comfortable with silence
welcome your confessions through front door this time
they have missed being treated as guests and not intruders

you are frustrated with yourself because you are contradictory
but that just means you are strong enough

to be the home for many things.


time is a commodity we try to save, spend, keep

that we watch, waste, kill

many of us

are under the delusion we are letting ourselves expire

time i watch, waste, kill

buries me alive in that guilt of a thousands of small deaths

Sometimes i feel like an intruder in the fast-paced destiny of my own success

so i block out a time in my schedule for forgiving myself for

spending three hours doing nothing but refreshing every feed available


binging a show when i could have been working

or just staring at the wall from my bed for an hour

Because there is an infinite mausoleum of things I could have done, but

mourning killed-time

only spends more on grieving what can still be saved

build a portfolio of your failures and hug them close

whisper, slowly,

“i have all the time in the world.”



you will never expire.

this a poem, too, has no end.
it will keep going
Just as you will.



by Moira Flath
Rhode Island Youth Poet Laureate

You can not extinguish a wildfire,
And leave no trace
of scorched earth.
I look like scorched earth,
Do I?
Not so much an inferno spirit
But the remains of one
Bore, born
Of issued looks cool with
furnace eyes,
I grew in years but I
never grew up myself,
And burned.
I am
my own worst enemy.
But do not take my looks
For who I am.
For when I am my only company,
When all the guests have gone home,
I twindle, twist the
Sharp edges of my little fierce flame.
It sits on my chest
And I keep it all
To myself.


The City that Never Stops Giving

by Lagnajita Mukhopadhyay
Nashville Youth Poet Laureate

The city never stops giving
on the corner of 6th and Broadway
where downtown traffic is a harrowing
consistency, when the light turns green,
it doesn’t always mean go.
Where Roy Orbison wrote “Oh Pretty Woman,”
emboldened by the femme of mercy
below his apartment balcony
where tourists and the music
leave a warm taste of affinity,
by the Starbucks in the Renaissance
that snags money from teenagers
who rendezvous before school.
They never spell my name right
on the little cups filled with magic.
From this crosswalk, electricity ripples
through the crooked streets of the city.
The paths of headlights mature into veins
of a breathing atmosphere.
The wait is forgiving, and when
we don’t like what we see and
all significance is lost, we turn
around softly and walk the other way.
A newfangled story in a blink and a sigh,
blinkers signaling a right turn,
people staring straight ahead,
headlong into the bright eyes
of a symmetrical world. So begins
the journey across the black and white,
when everyone becomes familiar
and nothing feels strange. Every step
falls into the heartbeats of a million
lonely people, and when the crosswalk ends,
so does another chance encounter
with a supreme stranger that you
never would have otherwise met—
a James, a Taylor, a small life changer,
the old love of a never ending family
meets the new love of a never ending home,
and the city never stops giving.



Broken Bell Jars

by Julia Horwitz
Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate

Us girls
we’re taught:

We’re taught:
this is a window display
We’re taught:
we are
silverfish silkworms
slipping around
in a bell jar
in an overturned fishbowl
like there’s only enough oxygen
for some of us

Us girls
we’re taught:
soft skin
but Elmer’s Glue
kind of soft
that sticky
kind of soft
that dripping kind of soft
dripping into whatever container
is thrust under us
drying out
for everyone to see

this is not a window display
just a window

observe the tension
when we’re not constantly holding things together
when we’re not constantly filling things up
filling up holes

step right on those cracks

don’t break
you won’t break
you won’t break your mother’s back
because your mother’s back
your mother’s mother’s back
all of your backs
have already been breaking
bending backwards for way too long

vertebrae stacking
like skyscraper foundations
you’re climbing to the sun

your fingers

unfurl your hair

How you’re a monument against the wind

how the wind wishes it had your sway

how you are a windbreaker
a wind chime
winning barefoot races
against yourself
grass sighing
at the brush of your feet
dawn breaking
at the nape of your neck

If we’re going to break
let’s break like that
let’s break wide open
in the middle of intersections

on football game kiss cams
let’s break out of these chrysalises
monarch-wing flames
erupting from our stomachs

Breaking news
breaking bell jars
the fish bowl has been shattered on the floor
It’s cracked
at cracks
in the sidewalk
let’s stop
press seeds between the concrete
press wishes that tower
into each others’ palms

My light
doesn’t expose an absence of yours
your light
doesn’t expose an absence of mine

All of this light
is not about to go out against the wind
Because we are monuments against the wind
every summer
female monarch butterflies fly thousands of miles
against the wind

This is not a window display
this is a wide open window
let’s give them something
too brilliant
to pin down



If Gentrification Was a Broom Then…

Crystal Valentine
New York City Youth Poet Laureate

Yall don’t know nothin ‘bout a scorned burnt body,
All this witchcraft waiting to be used
You think we won’t curse you?
You gonna try to hang a ghost? You think that still works?
We won’t forget your name in the afterlife, just how this concrete won’t forget whose blood built it

Gentrification ain’t nothing but some no named heifer trying to still my land
But this dirt ain’t nothing but an accumulation of my people’s footprints
We be something the rain can’t wash out

What’s a bulldozer to my Grandmother’s memory?

We built the hands you’re trying to tear us down with
You think I need a key to get into my own home?
These doors know my face better than your whips ever did
You think just cuz you like “black music” the floorboards won’t swallow you?

These streets will ever forget my name
These streets are drunk off my blood
What your blood taste like?
Do you even know how to bleed?

Why you want something you ain’t bleed for?
Even Jesus can tell you that ain’t right

Whose hood you rep
What you know about the Bronx?
What you know about 161, Pelham Parkway, GunHill road?
Why you think the street got a weapon in its name?

What you gonna do when bullets start flying?
We ain’t got no gates or picket white fences,
Just bodies to hide behind
What you gonna do when your son gets shot,
Or jumped in the back of the BX42 bus?
What you gonna do when your daughter gets catcalled into a rape-kit?

Whose bones will you offer
When the police start knocking at your door?
Are you gonna ask your maids to sweep their bodies under the rug too?

You can’t renovate a borough without burying the people already living there
This be more than your vacation home
This be more than your white-guilt getaway,
More than your Walgreens across the street from the courthouse

Say you wanna clean up our streets
Say you wanna save our children,
They know what to do when the bullets start flying

But what about you?
What you gonna do when the ghost start knocking?
Don’t you know you’re sharing a bed with someone’s tombstone?

You’ll wake up one night to my grandmother’s spirit praise dancing on all your waxed hardwood floors
and you can’t do shit about
We’ll haunt you out of house and home
We’ll bring the maggots feast on your daughter’s freshly tanned skin
We’re sacrifice your wife and bath our bones in her blood

Gentrification be the priest that failed at the exorcism

What will the maids do?
All this sweeping and no rug to put the bodies under
Who’s next?
Whose bones are willing to be dusted?
What Skelton is ready to be exterminated?
You can’t renovate a borough without burying the people already living there



According to my Upbringing

Toluwanimi Obiwole
Denver Youth Poet Laureate

1. my auntie believed there were words a little girl should never yell
like “no”
no is too much of a sinkhole, stretches her mouth and fills it with sand
no one wants a girl with more rocks than all the stars inside her ready to throw
everyone is afraid that if they ask loud enough god will answer and they will have to listen
little girls have the power to ask and make everyone listen

2. there are ways a little girl should never be able to bend her spine
over something so frail like self-worth
her body so powerful will earthquake all over it
and the world will tell her to become smaller
trade power for smallness that won’t scare them

3. little girls can scare the life out of anything
and little girls have been scaring the life out of your boot-stomping patriarchy since the dawn of time
perhaps this is why we hold them like near-invisible pieces of thread
ready to be dropped and lost at moment’s notice
stretched and twisted through the needle’s eye to be called useful
naming them fragile, like fragile will make them easier to cut and use
but with every drop of blood from scraped knee they
they remind us that
the ability to be broken does not quantify fragility
little girls do not break silently
they will crash and make you swallow the glass of their fragments

4. never challenge a girl to a fight you are too sure you will win
you will lose
like fishing boat to mississippi river tide
her mouth is unforgiving despite the smiles

5. little girls know the thunderclap of survival
how to be a lightning storm when provoked
there is nothing scarier than a girl who knows when to push back

the rosebud is nature’s most deceptive fist

6. little tomboy girls are not often told they are beautiful but stay awake at night with a flashlight to tell it to themselves, they paint their own rose petals red until the world will tell them to stop

but beware of the ones that don’t

7. when the bough of girlhood finally breaks and the water comes rushing in and the fish with their mouths flapping telling you to now be woman now be the body the world will
simultaneously pray in and desecrate  their mouths are just gasping for air
you are the dam that must withstand it all

8. no one really ever tells you how to mold this whirlwind of nature: thunder and water and earthquake into woman. sometimes little girl is just too stubborn to let her waves settle, so the body keeps growing with a storm inside it

9. sometimes becoming woman starts with digesting the harvest of little girl little ocean little mississippi river tide consuming everything even the thorns and the alligators the catcalls the world praying the broken rosebud fists so tired of fighting when the glass has all been broken becoming woman is letting girl stretch into lightning storm just to make room for everything she must learn to carry.

10. womanhood can be the revenge for girlhood
and ain’t nothing scarier than a black body that you can’t kill


A Tongue Borrowed From Lucifer

Rhea Brown-Bright
Oklahoma Youth Poet Laureate

I remember our first conversation
about how my tongue can’t carry
the heavy words of the family member before me.

I am trying to learn the language that
generations of my family have used,
rolling the Rrrr’s with ease.

And though my bones are made of your suffering
(knees and painful joints),
my tongue is American.

I’ve realized
my tongue can’t speak a language
that I have only just begun to breathe.

Each time I inhale,
English goes in my nose and
this language, too, has tried to suffocate me.

It’s the reason I had to go into speech therapy at age five
and say mow lawner-
mow lawn-
lawn… mower…

And I am trying to carefully roll my r’s
while saying the words your tongue has known since birth
but mine has only started to accept.

Sometimes I wonder
if I even want to use the words of those before us,
because our family’s tongue is full of lies.

Years of ancestry lost out of shame,
and I wish I knew what was more shameful
than our involvement with la Mafia.

Though this family comes from a line of good Catholics,
I am afraid our tongue came from Lucifer,
whispering soft lies in the ears of those around us,
Telling them we are of god and not the devil.

Someone told me
they didn’t believe I had a lying bone
and they were right.

I have a lying muscle
(and it lies) in my mouth
and it can’t roll r’s like my family before me.

(How am I to pass on lies
to those who will follow
if I can’t speak the tongue that taught them?)

Our native tongue scares me–
what lies do you hide from those
who never knew the language behind it?

The truth and lies are so blurred together
that none of us can tell the difference anymore.
Each of us pass down the lies to the next generation without a blink.

So when my tongue can barely carry
the new words that my mouth has learned,
forgive me if I struggle.

I am just afraid this tool
that helps me speak
will become another tongue borrowed from Lucifer.



Boys Don’t Cry

Kenneth Bucker
Atlanta Youth Poet Laureate

Today a man stared at me after crying at a funeral
Tears streaming down my face
I wonder if it was a rare to see a man who knew that emotion existed
At a young age, whenever I fell off my bike
I was told suck it up, be a man
Taught that the only way to be super is to be a man of steel
That boys will be boys but lacked to mention
That those boys will become young men
Young men who were told who they should be instead of who they were
Creating a conflict of self-identity
So it’s not a mistake that men are the ones who go through a midlife crisis
This is a crisis
There are days when I go digging for myself in graveyards because I feel buried alive in my emotions
But I am told to keep my feelings in the grave because a man must be strong
A man must not show any signs of weakness
A man must stand tall even at the times he feels short
Women are not only ones who wear makeup in the morning
But I woke up like this
My flaws are the only things that remind me that I am nothing less than a man
That I am nothing less than at all
There are men out there who are failing under the pressure of pretending to be perfect
Men who find pills because they do more than the prayers ever did
Eventually the pills become a pistol and bang that’s how the story ends.
In the United States, men are 4 times as likely to commit suicide as women
But those men are dead long before they decide to pull the trigger
So men ask yourselves
Will you ever stand behind metal bars for the murder of your identity?
How much of yourself have you buried six feet under within the depths of your insecurities?
Did you have enough courage to write the obituary?
What about the eulogy?
Teach me that being sensitive does not equate to being feminine
Teach me that who I am will not be thrift shopped to society
Teach me that it’s okay to lose myself
Teach me to find myself
When you are little, they will always tell you about the boy who cried wolf
But you will never hear the story about the boy who cried for help
Maybe because no one cared to listen to him
Maybe because his pride and dignity drowned out his screams.
Maybe because they thought his scars were from falling off of bikes but they were from falling off of mountains
Sometimes when you have the weight of the world on your back
You forget that you are living in it
That your heart is still beating
That there are vibrations in your pulse
Oxygen in your lungs
That you have emotions
That you are human not a God.
But even God cries sometimes.
His tears are often mistaken for the rain.
Your tears are often locked up in chains.
Let them free.
Let them flow like a waterfall because you may not see them again until next spring or four summers.
Sounds a lot like Fort Sumter
There is a civil war going on in our men these days
And we’ve neglected to count the casualties.
Instead we call them survivors knowing damn well that parts of them are no longer living.
Parts of me are no longer living.
Last week, a man stared to me at a funeral
For the rivers flowing down my face
I should’ve told him that I had already cried for his death too



For Black Boys

Leija Farr
Seattle Youth Poet Laureate

Delicate Black boy. Solider, plum painted spirit, deep rooted, dreamer. I can tell from the oceans on your bed that you’ve never been told you were beautiful. Mother didn’t remind you of rainbows in her malleable insides. She soaked you in songs but never self-love, never explaining the pink hue of your lips or the mole that marked your spine, you later saw mirrors. And didn’t memorize the letters of beauty so you couldn’t recite them, you didn’t know you’re magic.

That love making on a Sunday was your conception and no one could dismiss that you had a shine oozing from your collarbone when you were born at 6am. You glow in the dark, you are a poem, boys can be roses, boys have hearts, they need love. You have amputated your stomach for relief from the world, relief from what they feed you. That Black boys don’t need love only bullets, that they’ll find warmth in a barrel before they can bear a reflection, they lie to you.

Black boys bleed every month. They are left with miles of blood clot, the hymns of their brothers, they leak the blood of the murdered, the red liquid that drowns concrete, drowns tomorrow, drowns the pigment of their skin, you are a Black boy that sheds.

Finding yourself in these science experiments with your flesh, not trying to be heartless, not wanting to be in pain any longer, wanting to be told you are flawless, you are a work of art,

standing in the light so it can reveal the shades of magic, your blood, the shades of Black boy beautiful that paint the world, but you were never told, that you are acrylic and you unique, something that takes time to love, something that takes time to believe in, your mother should of whispered in her pregnancy to you,

She should have put you to bed with the words that hold off revolutions, beauty would stop the war, women are not the only ones that need to know their value, boys are human, these TV’s and politics won’t deny them of hearts they love, no matter what.

Delicate Black boy, you bleed every month. Your ribs leak the sea of last night’s massacre, the next night your legs will drip and stain like an unattended Sharpie, you will crust at the edges of your hips, tattoo at the angles of your chin with those stories, you go through pain too, you do not birth humans, but you birth the world every single day you wake up, I tell you,

In a place that will never understand you are amazing, in a place that will put fire to you then say you are callous, they will burn you then say you are reckless, some mothers won’t tell you because they think it is feminine and they want you to prepare for a battlefield your whole life but I tell you, you are beautiful, you are grand, you are too permanent to be unloved.

You will heal this place when it is full of scabs, full of scars, full of stitches, you will be the one to erase the pain. Beauty is a tongue you will learn to speak. Pass this to the young brother on the corner, who’s been told his body is a mixture of oil and water, pass it to every brother, delicate Black boys, soldiers, beauty is a tongue you will learn to speak.



Lady in the Curtains: Hallucination in the Jewish Square of Poland

Raven Bland
Norfolk Youth Poet Laureate

I glanced at a curtained window
Thin blue sheets
I imagined an aging analogy
With flowers and butterflies
Attached to thread
I seen a small grey haired head.

Ages were gray
Hair was gray
Skin was pale
Bones as thin as a nail.

I seen her bones grow
Seen her skin fatten
I seen her grin towards me
But nothing happened
I stood still,
Frozen, paralyzed
In wonder,
Curious even.
She glanced right, glanced left.
As she was looking for something.

After a single grin, her lips faded thin,
What was she looking for,
Why was she still here?
Doesn’t she know the attitudes
The hate, the disbelief
They consciously think: God choose you not me.
See, they’re jealous, get out of here, flee.
Go to the place God created you to be.

I stare into her eyes, she’s speaking to me:
This is my home, I created it to be.
They have robbed me of enough,
They won’t take all of me.

She glanced left, glanced right
With her head out her curtained window.
I seen her head then fade in between.



Derick Ebert
Baltimore Youth Poet Laureate

My father says to me
why are you into poetry,
why not be into something
more exciting,
something interesting,
something that will bring in the money
and then the honeys
why not
have an interest
in –

looking for something that may
or may not exist
while you slave in the hot sun –
now boy
does that not sound fun?

My father is white
and I want to give him a look
that makes him question
whether he should have used slave
and hot sun
in the same sentence to his bi-racial child.
But instead I fold my mouth into a smile and tell him
“I am an archaeologist, I just never leave my room”
See, in there I find bits and pieces of things that match what I am missing.
Dad poetry is where I unearthed remains of myself that you never bothered looking for.
An even though I come from you, it is like we speak two different languages —
your love seems encrypted.

No wonder my hieroglyphics smiles
tells stories that get mistranslated
I have been drinking from the lips of denial.

there are days
When I don’t know who you are
When I feel more comfortable
between fours walls because they have been there
for the duration of my life
from the time I was being conceived, to birth, to even this moment.
I guess you could say, they spend more time with me than you do.

Is a father figure fact, fiction, or forgettable
An answer alliterated and avoided
Dad you taught me well
with never saying how I feel
“I am proud of you” is something I am learning how to say more often
and on my own.
Because I have never seen your lips attempt to teach me.

Father lessons
“here son, this is a bat, it hits the ball”
“here son, this is a pen, and it can change who you are”

Ask any male
how often
they have had a
heart to heart with their father,
listen for the saliva being swallowed
to make up for the silence in their answer.

We are taught that sensitivity is our worst nightmare.
That the moment you crack open and spill raw fluids.
Is the moment you become disposable
that there is no kleenex
in the world
to dry the tears of masculinity

When really you are the masked enemy.
and I can relate.

in this chamber of secrets,
we grab our pens, our cigarettes, our bottles,
whatever kills us
and Houdini
the man

I can’t
say that I am fine with who I am
when I’m not allowed to express who I want to be
because you view sensitivity
as a synonym for femininity
and homosexuality.

How many more boys in America will research how to tie a noose
before getting their own collection of ties?
just want to be fine with being who I am.
With telling my brothers I love them
and mean it.
With saying to my Dad
I hide the pain sometimes
and having him embrace me
and mean it.
I don’t want to hear suck it up anymore
when there is no more beer left in the can
and it has been my fifth one
in less than an hour
and I’m only 19.
Going numb is the only way I have learned to deal
with this.

If it takes a poem to say
I enjoy feelings
no matter how cliche
then so be it –
as long as I can believe it.
I know you’ve always had dreams
of becoming an archeologist/cop/forest ranger.
Thank you for letting me believe that I can be anything in the world
I think it is time
I became more of myself.

When I wrote this
I found another missing piece,
covered in what felt like shame –
it was acceptance.
Something I have been looking for
for a long time.

I’m not going to pretend to be a poet.
I told you,
I’m an archaeologist.
I’m just trying to find the pieces
that’ll make me feel whole.


The Negro Woman

by Sekai Edwards
Portland Youth Poet Laureate

the negro woman looked at the mirror on the wall
she said
mirror mirror on the wall
  who’s the most beautiful of them all
The mirror responded
Snow white you Black bitch and don’t you forget it

when I was little
I wanted to be white
I wanted my hair to be long and blonde
my eyes to be blue
I didn’t want my mom
to buy that cream from the corner store
part my hair into braids
and tie it up
I wanted to wear it down like all the other kids
I didn’t want my ancestors to be beaten
and my story to be stolen from me
so i started to make excuses for being Black
like well I’m only like three fourths Black
but then again like not even that Black
like there’s got to be something else in me
I started to believe what my oppressors were trying to teach me
like if black was the lesser
then being less black was better
that the color of my skin was the determination of my destiny
black women get this the most
if we ain’t got five hundred dollars of something
running through your hair to make it straighter
you ain’t beautiful
so now were bleaching our skin to become beautiful
If we could be three shade lighter
we would be three shades more whiter
making us three shade more beautiful
we attribute white with beauty
a word misused so many times
I don’t even know the true meaning of it anymore
we’ve been taught since childhood
that black ain’t beautiful
snow whites the only one who could eat an apple
and find herself a prince
so now you got little Black girls
running around trying to find their prince
but you ain’t going to find it
because you’re just a black bitch
you just get a hustler or a pimp
so caught up in if we’re the house slave or the field slave
not realizing we’re only slaves
to this idealistic beauty will never be
striving for white perfection
yet not realizing there’s a black connection
to our cultural complexion
that we should all so long to be
so this one right here
is for the colored girls
the ones who wanted to be
disney princesses
but never fit the casting call
this one right here
is for the girls who wanted their hair to be long and blonde
this one right here
is for the women who worked in the field
with a child on their backs
who marched in the streets with their fist held high
this one right here is for all my colored girls
because there will never ever be a day
where black ain’t beautiful



by Alexis Cannard
Portland Youth Poet Laureate

they say
keep your head up baby don’t worry
but it’s hard when your vision gets blurry

they say
don’t trip it’s not a big deal
but here’s what they don’t understand

it’s hard when you feel
like the world’s caving in
I’m drowning
I’m counting
the seconds minutes hours
until somebody saves me
but I’m stranded
I can’t be helped by anyone but myself

I might be swimming for awhile

I’ve got to take care of myself
once I make it
I’ve got to get ahold of the reality I lost
and watch it unfold
with the people I love
they’re still here for me
even though in that moment
I felt like I was all alone
like a blade and my tears
were the only options
sharper than Poseidon’s trident
and flooding his castle

this anxiety was fiery
and filled the capacity of my body

this insanity left me in a rivalry
silently between myself and reality

I am trapped

at the bottom of the ocean
my lungs are filled to the brim
with salinized water
which way is up
which way is down
when I breach the surface
there’s no telling how powerful I’ll be

I’ll glow brighter
than the sun’s reflection on that ocean
the way it glimmers when the waves blow over
but I’m also as intense as those rolling waves
crashing to shore
colliding with the world
like there’s nothing to lose
no bruises but maybe scars
and they’ll fade away just as the tides change

the gravitational pull of my loved ones
is the moon to the ocean
they keep me going
keep me alive to survive and thrive
to understand and learn
no longer will I need to keep a knife

because love and wisdom
are the only lethal weapons I need

no longer
will I let this quicksand of quiet consume me
I will be a wisdom warrior
a contortionist of compassion
a liaison for love

a life preserver
a better person

this is a thank you
a thank you to those who have stood by me
when I didn’t want to be standing at all
who have helped me realize
the world before my eyes
can yes be cruel

but it is also the world
that has the potential
to allow me to push my passion
and pursue my purpose
to let me ride the waves of the world
without a care

yes keep your head up baby
don’t worry
I know it’s hard when your vision gets blurry
but I won’t say
it’s not a big deal
because you feel like drowning
and counting
the seconds minutes hours
until somebody saves you
I will be your lifeguard
you just have to keep your head above water
and eventually
you will realize
you are a wisdom warrior
a contortionist of compassion
a liaison for love
a life preserver
and your feelings are as valid and real
as anyone else’s

just remember to breathe
because these currents
won’t slow down for anyone
and sharks
will always be searching for blood

but if you need it
I can always be
your title wave of love


I Am a Poet

by Juanita Castro
South Florida Youth Poet Laureate

I Am A Poet

This is a line.
This is another line.
And this is another line.
These are lines, which I am giving you,
little similes and endless rhyme,
a dichotomy of language, my ethos peruses your senses,
thundering metaphors, an array of alliteration,
deep mythological references which you may or may not understand,
a cacophony of sounds
Because I am a poet
and you are poets
and I am here to stun you with my literary merits and my delicate appreciation of
nature and when this is over,
I shall brood over death.
I will wear all black and oversize sweaters
and I will stand tragically in the falling rain,
clutching a cup of coffee and reciting Sylvia Plath to myself.
My eyes will look up and lock with those of a perfect stranger,
maybe on a train going nowhere,
and when he holds me that night,
I will seduce him with some Robert Frost and click away on my typewriter the
story of our love,
and I will write.
Because I am a poet, and I am forlorn,
and I am as sad and sorrowful as the voices of the greats who came before me,
and I carry within me the same pain all of you in this room here hold,
and I will be the poet
you want me to be.
Except, right now, I can’t concentrate quite on being a poet
I’m too worried about voter efficacy.
I’m also worried about bees.
I mean, why don’t people worry about the bees? If the bees die, we die, but I don’t
see that trending on Twitter.
I can’t quite concentrate on being a poet, because my brother is screaming his head
off in the room next door, probably because he’s losing on League of Legends,
and I have government extra credit due on Monday
and considering I failed that test last week,
I can’t really concentrate on being the next Sylvia Plath right now.
But in the end, I am a poet,
and I am here, standing on this stage in front of you, and I’m naked.
I mean, I’m not naked.
In my head, you all are, so that I can feel less nervous about baring my mind’s
bones to a room full of strangers,
And yet, I am a poet because you are not all strangers –
You’re poets too, and so I know you see it.
You see the magic of the world,
the little crooks of enchanted places hiding in ordinary life,
You can hear the mocking jays above the chatter in the halls, and you are poets
because I see you.
I see you the way I see stars in the night sky when I’m walking my dog in order to
avoid having to do homework,
or the way I see people’s handwriting and the ways it defines them,
or the way I see a little kid smile and think to myself,
“Man. Don’t grow up too quickly.”
I’m a poet and I’m here maybe because I grew up too quickly
I’m a poet because my story isn’t clean and succinct,
it’s jagged and broken and not as smooth as the waves I’m sailing now,
and I’m a poet because I’m dealing with that.

I’m a poet because I can stand in front of you now, and I can ask you to think
about this first time you fell in love, and I can write 3 pages just about the gleam
that just came into your eyes.

I’m a poet because I’m here and I can say the word’s “writer’s block” and some of
you may smile and others may groan and some may not along knowingly, and I’m
a poet because my life was one big writer’s block, and I broke free,
and I’m a poet because the first thing I do after breaking free from the things that
hold me down is write.

When I want to cry, I write. When I want to scream, I write.

And maybe because when you’ve been slumped over on the floor trying not to lose
yourself to the great emptiness that plagues the souls of the open, you’ve written a
poem too.

I’m a person.
Just a person.
Living, breathing, trying to survive.
I’m just trying to graduate.
I’m here, just a teenager trying to write a poem, because I was asked to sum up my
entire existence in 500 words last week by some school that had me pay $70 just
to possibly reject me, and for all the long winded things that I have written for all
these prestigious and long-winded colleges, I could have summed up my life in 4

I am a poet.

I don’t like ironic dad rock.
I don’t understand bonsai trees.
Wearing sparkly things makes me feel uncomfortable, I don’t like sexist jokes,
pens that bleed through paper make me angry and I am a poet,
and my life revolves around the smallest things.

The stories of the gum stuck underneath tables make me curious,

Someone at my lunch table had a pudding cup today and in my mind I imagined a
backstory for a great pudding monster,

I read a T.S. Eliot poem the other day that made me want to tear my heart out and
give it to the moon, and I am a poet because I look at the world and I see beauty.

I mean, yeah. I’m a poet and I can tell you there is nothing lovely about poverty –
There’s no joy in malnourishment, in orphanages, in human rights abuses, in the
failing moral empathy of the human condition, and yes, life can be sad

But I am a poet because I can look at life and I can see all of these things, and I
still see so much beauty… So much love.

There’s beauty in sunshine streaming in the shutters, in shy smiles of shy people,
in the little indents of dimples,
the clean smell of fresh snow,
the cold air that accompanies winter,
the warmth of cozy sweaters,
the smoothness of .38 pens,
the streaks of gold in your best friend’s blonde hair,
the joy of a perfect blue sky,
the feel of sand between your toes on a wide beach,
the lights that come with carnivals,
a person’s sleepy voice,
kisses on your neck,
the depth of blue eyes,
the smell of pine trees and I am a poet and these are the little things that I can live

I am a poet because I believe in the empty spaces inside of people that life and
love fill up,
I am a poet because I think that that everybody’s hearts are living room walls with
awkwardly places photographs hiding fist shaped holes.

I am a poet because I have had moments where I will pause in life –

In the middle of a crowded hallway, at a restaurant, in a rushing airport, in the
middle of my mind

And I will see the beauty of the world – the beauty that hides in truth.
The beauty that hides in tears, because it means vulnerability,
The beauty that is in shouting, because it means passion,
The beauty that is in death,
Because it means rebirth and acceptance and memories and time, and the beauty
that is in heartbreak, because it means that once, you knew love
And I am a poet
Because I know you can see these things too.
And I am a poet, because I will see and love these things for the rest of my life, I
will click away on my imaginary typewriter and I will yearn away in my journals
and I will smile and I will write
And I will stand in front of you here, and I’ll smile
Because in the end, I’m just here. And this is a room.
And these are lines.
Lines which I am giving you, because you are poets, and I am a poet too.


Can’t Have Nothing

by Malachi Byrd
Washington DC Youth Poet Laureate

How come the streets burned down in the MLK riots are now the ones most gentrified?
How come the DC Snapchat story looks like an advertisement for Clorox?
How come they uproot our family trees and then blame us for gasping?
How come when I ask an Urban person of color how metal will be the death of us,
we look for the guns but the crane’s get in the way?
How come they gave us bricks
but took our houses?
How come we expected to be roses growing from concrete
when skyscrapers block the sun?
How come I’ve seen more white chalk in the streets than I have in my classrooms?
How come in my city it’s more black bodies under the ground than owning it?
How come business folk love my city more than they love the people that made it?
How come my name is more likely to find a megaphone than a mortgage?



by Dominique Holder
Prince George County Youth Poet Laureate

Heat and I have an odd relationship
The moment the 80 degree sun rays peek into my corner of the universe and touch my skin
Something in my body combusts like fire lit in places that can only decipher the complexities of snow
And I sweat
I sweat buckets, perspire so abundantly that soon I am my own hurricane survivor
Sweat is a feature of the human body that received bad reviews on amazon
a state of matter that is kept hidden
To the conditioned mind that sounds disgusting

It’s the body’s way of getting rid of toxins so I am convinced
that this is my soul’s last hotlined dialed attempt to keep breathing
I sweat out my depression in the summer
Damp spots of all my silent tragedies
cover my t-shirts like crooning Shakespearean sonnets
trail ways of the days I never speak of liquefy and creep down my spine with excruciating slowness

The tiny droplets that freckle the bridge of my nose tell me of how
the oxygen confined in my lungs rumor about leaving, there have been complaints
that the price of living has just become too high
it seems inflation has wrecked the economic state of my heart
heard from the grapevine that my bloodstream grows tired of the scent that prescription pills carry

that my lips are terrified every time they speak out the keyhole
at the dope boys that show up twice a day
that my back can no longer bear breaking to climb flights of neverending stairs
to reach a place where the air is easier to

I don’t remember the last time my insides stopped gossiping
Depression is not something that is quiet
it’s moving, vibrating
Depression is a chameleon scam artist who tries to convince you
that sobbing is merely sweating with passion not pain

Summer is the only time of year when people hidden in the snow melt,
I melt
into storm clouds that rage without apology,
that aren’t ashamed of their nature, their being, that can stand on stage and talk about their depression
I sweat out my silent tragedies from the months of may until august.
Although to the conditioned mind it may be disgusting but to me it’s just a difference in language.

Can’t you hear my insides gossiping that I’ve survived from drowning yet once again.



by Cassidy Martin
Nashville Youth Poet Laureate

For three years my sanctuary was four baby blue painted walls.
A lighthouse for a toothbrush holder
A small window above the shower
to let out steam.
The old wooden floor that wasn’t even
had been a second bed to me
many times.
I had baptized that toilet a thousand,
had cleansed that floor a million,
scrubbed and wiped that room more times than I had ever brushed my hair.
My sanctuary
was the only place I could escape
his anger,
reach my Heavenly Father’s shelter.
The only place I could go once an hour
when I was put with my nose in the corner
even though I was already a fifth grader.
The only place where my legs could finally fold and tears could finally fall.
Defeat was to let them see me cry.
My heart recreated those baby blue walls within myself.
I let the corner of my sanctuary cradle me.
Leaned against the door and stared at the window above the shower.
It was only five inches tall and two feet long with a half broken screen.
But with my imagination
I daydreamed
if I was five inches I could leave.
Play with abandoned cats outside,
with the other trailer kids that danced to Spanish music as they slurped popsicles from the edges of their lips.
I daydreamed I could escape, if I were as small as I felt,
from my sanctuary
that smelled like lavender glade candles,
and a dirty litter box.
Where the mirror was stained with the puss from the pimples of two teenage girls.
My sanctuary had the only door that had a lock,
the kind you had to move up and over,
slide into its place.
I loved that lock
because I had none
except my sanctuary.
Tires against broken cement gravel whispered to me that he was home.
The rustle of a brown paper lunch bag,
a bottle against the counter, tapped me on my shoulder.
The clink of dirty dishes against the sink and a belt buckle; twins
that I could always tell apart.
In my sanctuary
I kept a journal in the cabinet under the sink
with faded rainbow of markers and stickers on the cover,
plenty of ripped-out, crinkled, and once-damp pages.
Buried behind cleaning supplies it grew to smell like bleach.
A pen I taped to it,
too clever to realize I could just stick it between its pages.
When I laid my head against the paper,
when I watched the ink bleed between college-ruled blue lines,
I stopped crying.
My worries were the steam from the shower, slipping out the window above it.
Cuddling up with the biggest towel we had,
using the top of the toilet lid as a desk,
I lost some of the comfort a bed gives me
I don’t think I’ll ever be used to it again.
I grew up ten years in three.
I learned
how writing felt, that it was therapy itself.
Better than any counselor at school who couldn’t comprehend that kids my age could fight a war so early.
Better than any friend who was too young-minded to understand mine.
I realized plaster on the ceiling feels like marshmallows.
I couldn’t be that soft anymore.
And I wonder if other kids my age have a sanctuary in this city?
I wonder if the answer is evident in us getting gunned down in the street
as the government becomes deaf to our screams from the living room,
or if neighbors really didn’t hear me yelling so loudly.
Just like no one heard the riot at NSA when adults tried to jump children.
Like the gunshot a few blocks away from Pearl Cohn didn’t resonate and rip through more than one chest, a bullet hitting more than one heart.
Where are the sanctuaries in our homes if we don’t want to be there?
And there are plenty of sanctuaries in Nashville.
That’s why I want to be here.
But a lot of people can’t find them.
A lot of kids my age have no safe place.
So if you can’t find one,
come find me
and I’ll share mine,
so you can finally say…


Church Dresses

by Hannah Sawyerr
Baltimore Youth Poet Laureate

Some Sunday mornings
I find it in me
To find my best dress
And wear it
To church, just for God that morning
My favorite church dress is the prettiest dress I own
It is perfect for dancing
When I twirl
It dances with me
Like a choirs voice
And a believers hand
It lifts all around me
Filling the entire room
We praise the same God this morning
Girls know God through the first man they look up to
God to girls is the first man that appears God-like
Man told me to continue to wear dresses
To make his job easier
The linger of his fingers
Made my whole entire body fold
Like question mark
How did you become the God I wore dresses for?
And like my body
Even my pen folds in submission
This is not a metaphor—
It took me over one year
To write one single poem about you
And I still feel like I need your permission
Just to talk about you some days
At least one of us understands the concept of consent
And I still bear the blame
Like cross some days
I still wear denial
Even better than my prettiest of dresses some days
But this aint no Shakespearean
My vagina aint no tragedy
I will not end in disaster
I am learning, like demons
You must call abusers by name
Man’s name was not God
Man’s name is molester
Molester preys on vulnerable
I was once vulnerable
I am still vulnerable
Like oak, I will grow out of vulnerable
But man will always be molester
I have built an entire empire within my own body
And it belongs to nobody other than I
Molester once tried to build his home here
Molester does not reside here any longer
He can take back his rib
My name is not Eve
I am one woman wonder
Wonder woman
I am woman
Woman is weak sometimes
Woman still wallows in a pillow stuffed with tears some nights
Woman needs reassurance sometimes
Woman now paints her own story
Woman will water color stroke her blues away
Woman’s words carry weight
Woman gets weary sometimes
Women knows that pain will come back some days
Knock on the door of her heart some days
Disguise itself, wide-eyed intruder
Behind the back of progress some days
But that’s okay
Because it only reminds woman that she is human
She is finding God these days
Wears dresses for nobody but her God and self these days
And if woman ever feels like dancing again
She’ll find her best dress
And wear it
Not necessarily to church
But always just for God this morning
And she will dance
Dress lifted
Like choirs voice
Like believers hand
Praising one God this morning


Back Left-Molar

by Nkosi Nkululeko
New York City Youth Poet Laureate

A dentist told me that I needed a root canal.
The last one dug out too much of the bone
when cleaning the back molar & now there’s
a destroyed country on the side of my face,

ruined cities, split marble walls where death
is an occasional activity. Through the streets
where the jawline rests, I heard a boy’s knuckle
crack against the face of another boy who

resembled me so much when submitting to
agony, that my gums began to swell. It’s funny
how pain makes the body remember things,
like how years ago, the left side of my face

was flung into a dune of snow, flakes stinging
the flesh until the black faded, it, now a bright
brown. The blood could almost be seen crawling
through the windows of the cheek, looking out

into the world as if to want to escape the prison
of this body, but the tooth needs containment,
needs a lack of air for the thin blood to breathe,
needs the baton of a toothbrush to rattle against

the cages of the mouth at night to put the teeth
to rest and maybe that’s the meaning of a gov-
ernment in the mouth; to undergo an endless
slumber as we decay into a quiet death, the kind

you don’t hear until it is gone without the music.
The nerve falls on its knees as a mother would,
praying for her son to return to the same body
that she birthed him with, with all 32 shimmering,

intact teeth and this may be only the metaphor for
a cavity, how the son only comes back incomplete,
as only a black substance, blossoming in the open,
wide space of the tooth, like coal, the suffix of fire.

His gums, of course, burning with the molar, hung
high in the back of the mouth as if attached to a cross
in the deep south, steadied, solemn and grief-made,
tethered to the roof of the mouth. I wonder if the tooth

died with the rest of his body. A lynch mob
patrols the back molar, taking a snapshot or two,
recording how death makes even the whitest parts
of us perish into a black silence. And that silence

rots us from the inside out with another body with-
in us, made of canines, crawling through the mouth
and this is called: a toothache; an event that often
causes a wanting of death, like my friend who wanted

to only commit to suicide. Maybe she wanted to return
as the tooth, decided to want to die again but instead,
by consuming something that also owns teeth: an excess
of glucose, that scalpels the enamel inside of the bone

and for that, I think we give ourselves, our own death.
For I know it well, to unsheathe myself from my self, to be
permitted to join a circle of boys who’s teeth was pure, white
and endlessly beautiful, eating Haagen-Dazs, Little Debbie’s,

and all of the sin-filled delicacies, grazing our mouths
with the sugar and syrup caught in our laps. This is how
it looks; to eat the same thing that means to kill you. How
could I have not known how silent death walks up on us,

sometimes sneaking through the back tooth, excavating the bone so deep with nothing inside
of it except for a void that the body can fit in easily, waiting for the dentist to dig you out.



Angel Gardner
Seattle Youth Poet Laureate

I’m always told to get comfortable.
You, as a carrier of breasts and a uterus.
Need to accept that you will at some point,
Be violated.
Get comfortable with the facts.
Blacks are going to be robbed.
For the culture most favored,
Yet feared for the melanin other lack.
Because difference is nothing short of terror to them.
Box braids that you know damn well are cornrows.
Nigger, porch monkey.
Half breed bitch and other expletives.
Retracted from swollen wallets and big egos.
Offered to you from every privilege protected shadow.
Your people scream out all lives matter.
While I notice that we’re all black when the lights go out.
But only the ones with thick enough skin,
Thank God for that melanin!
Are able to let it stick.
We are the ones chosen to fight the battle,
Of all things ridiculous when it comes to difference.
From caramel and lighter shades.
All the way down to the black,
That floods into even the deepest cracks.
God has blessed me,
I refuse to shame my pigment as if it’s been tainted.


Self Portrait as Hurricane Season

Fareena Arefee
Houston Youth Poet Laureate

I’ve heard that heat and atmospheric pressure on the African coast
can cause the start of a hurricane in the Atlantic and maybe
a working immigrant in Toronto can be the origin of a poet in Houston.

My mother tells me that I was born outside of the eye of a hurricane,
where the storm is strong and moves in radials;
a series of low pressure systems and winds that carry bayous.

My ninth birthday was suspended in the space between cyclone and silence.
I watched my city build itself up again after Hurricane Ike and
I think we were both having growing pains.

I’ve learned that my purpose is flooding.
I want to form inundations of words and earn
the title of a Category Four. Drought reliever and filler of bayou banks.

Hurricanes bring heat energy from the tropics
the way I would like to bring light to the city that taught me
how to hold rainwater in the form of letters.


On my thirteenth birthday, I watched the bayou
pour into this dizzy space city like a push of blood to the lungs.

I only came into my skin
after I grew into this city and both happened like storm clouds;
rolling in and all at once.

Brown is my favorite color,
I can finally see the whirlpools that rest in my skin and in flood water.
And I’ve learned to love the greens hidden in browns hidden in labyrinths of color.

I find impressions of myself in silt.
There are maps of this city pressed into my hands
like footsteps on wet ground.


On my seventeenth birthday, the clouds obscured light rays
the way I want to leave dents in my city
that can be filled with the words to warp into new kinds of spectrums.

My favorite smell is rain falling on concrete
like cumin pouring onto my mom’s cooking that she learned from her mother.
I can be a drop of water falling in multiple places.

I am sewn to the city I’ve learned to call my own
like humidity on a body that can finally
hold its own storm.



Rhiannon McGavin
Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate

Edgar Allen Poe said
The death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the
world except I think
the most poetic thing is the dress that my mom wore in France when she was
pregnant. it’s yellowed with flowers, it stretched to fit her and shrinks to hold me
now. there’s a sonnet in each of my nana’s old lipsticks, and all the coats that my
aunt wears, another device in any piece of clothing deemed lucky, in fact, the
poetry is my neighbor
explaining how her parents survived a genocide that spoke 4 languages, or maybe
the enjambment sobs in the shower, fruit aisle, and best friend’s car sinking
through deep summer
all our injuries rhyme
from singing with a sore throat to a mattress heavier than god
the freckle on my right palm, tracing every capillary popped
on purpose and stomach caesuras, who else
could place scars into genres?
I’ve seen better poems in rising bread than anything Bukowski dreamed of,
Hemingway demanded, and Sartre petitioned for
they can excuse scaring women for art though
if you are a scared woman they tie your art back to your crazy, it leaks
through the gallery, like it’s crazy how
a couple movies are worth more than children, as if they cannot see the
fingerprints on the film strip and I guess it’s a good song but that bass drum
sounds like internal bruising and we don’t dance to those at my house
the violence of creative men is more
of a burning library than a closed book
you choose what you want to read
thus I concur that picking graveyard dirt out of my nails of highest literary value
thus, the most poetical topic is me, slumped
on my desk, sleeping through every English class for the rest of the year after my
teacher said he didn’t know of any female writers good enough to study
no one, in that damned mob of scribbling women, was worth discussion
since we were only supposed to be the
flourish/adverb/stage he walks on/spit on his finger so he can flip a page
and we can’t bite the hand that feeds us, can’t
swat away pens that dip in our pretty corpses
he sweats corn syrup and
red dye and
needs someone to hurt for him
yet I can stand straight without balancing them on my head. I have always washed my troubles in extra mascara so they are defined
in the spotlight, molded them to hold
a rapier for the finale, taught them how to speak
from the gut even
when crying, to project
so all the women who ever pressed
their thumb onto my cheeks can watch me live from the back row
and the ghosts above the theater, they can see us too


Child Be Lost

by Dayana Lee
Hampton Roads Youth Poet Laureate

When I get to heaven
I pray my skin color
doesn’t appall you
I pray God
opens his gates for me

I pray society’s standard
don’t decipher into heaven
Because I know I’m on my way
I am on the government’s waiting list
I mean death list
execution style

I know you are tired
of hearing black poems
but shouldn’t we be more fed up
with the injustices of black children

My hair defies gravity
My skin reflects off the sun
like I be superman
but my cape

doesn’t protect me
from the bullets
or the slurs
or the complex

I built from being
tormented since age five

This was when
I became aware
that the white kids
couldn’t come out
To play with me
because my skin
absorbed the sun

They fear this power
They fear this
chocolate thunder
Kill what you don’t know

I did not understand
why mom cried so hard
when she hear black children

until I realized
I be black child too.

I was proud of my skin
But I didn’t know I be hated for it
Didn’t know
I’d be google searching
skin lightening remedies lemons
on bleach lemons on bleach

I couldn’t scrub off this chocolate
I wanted to get rid of myself
as much as they did
Be tough
Be vulnerable
Be aware

Red, white, and blue
Here come the sirens
Only to dance
With the little girls on the corner
There’s a war in the streets
Nobody speaks
And now a boy laying on the ground- Janelle Monae

that’s me
I made the headlines mom

I’m finally famous
I even got a hashtag trending with my name
You did say I was an angel
that i’d be special
so why you crying ma

Officer Johnson
he more famous
than me though
headline say super hero officer
kills black thug saves city
when did I become a terrorist

i was born black
so i’m a threat
Grimm reaper
done already written me
when mom pushed me out
we breed death?

I just wanted to see 18
but 15
saw me lay lifeless
on a street I grew up on

i died
hearing them laugh
at my cries
for momma for pops
for somebody to help

and i guess they couldn’t
find any pictures of me
playing sports
helping my community
I guess mugshots
make up the best eulogy’s

they wanted me to fit
The description
that they’ve made about black girls
and boys
stop crying ma

it’s not lonely
it’s thousands of us up here
just make sure
my little brothers and sisters
Are not engraved in the pavement
outside our house too

i still wish heaven could’ve waited for me ..
cause it’s getting a little cramped for space up here

it’s eerie
bullets just be in the wind now
searching for a black body to claim able

i put my hands up
right away
mommy you said God
had a purpose for me
was it death?

Had my hands up
Like you taught me ma
And they still shot me

my people
have become
walking prisoners
awaiting our death trials

I just hope
that my people
do me more
justice than a hashtag

promise that they will sing about me
I just hope my people still sing
about me even after
the next black bird is shot down

mommy please don’t forget me


Puddle Jumping

by Kenneth Carroll III
Washington D.C. Youth Poet Laureate

We grew up sucking our thumbs
Chewing on our bottom lips like salt water taffy
We grew up with our hands buried in our pockets like pockets of seeds
beneath the soil
We grew up with dirt between our fingers
We grew up biting our nails till they were stumps
We grew up stubbing our toes so often
Our soles cried mercy
Cried uncle
Our throats cried hushed curses with cracking voices
Back when corners were everywhere
And our bodies were still trying to find a way out of the

We grew up falling
Into, away from, and back again
Grew up trying to find the balance in the center
Where the scale don’t tip like the seesaws on the playground
We grew up on playgrounds
Whether they were hard plastic, wood-chipped, or concrete
All you ever needed was a dream
And your creativity would grow wings and carry you there
Back when our creativity carried us and not the other way around
Back when we couldn’t turn ourselves off
Couldn’t be any less than who were
Back when we noone knew how to
Back when no one wanted to
How we seemed to overflow with the fruits of the world
When the world tasted sweet
Sweet enough to chew like bottom lips

We grew up overflowing
Brimming up over the bathtubs we once sat in
Erupting like the fountains that beckoned us to come dance in them
We grew up filling the world with our bodies
Always awaiting the feel of the splash
Loud and bold beneath our feet
We grew up puddle jumping
We grew up with with wet shoes
We grew up with chlorine
We grew up with mildew
Whether we kept our chin up or our nose down
We all grew up smelling something
We all grew up smelling like something
We all grew up like something
Something good
We all grew up back when something was good


Black Girls Do It Best

by Bisa Adero
St. Louis Youth Poet Laureate

Black girls make it look good.
From the top twelve most natural ways I learned to use acid fruits to bleach my skin whiter.
To me gazing at a past I had no freedom being in.
To my body gaining lashes that turn to a color far more darker than my skin.
To the hues of our souls that only the sun seemed to love.
To the hot combs, twist out, cornrows, flat irons, oil treatments, weaves, and re-twist that we use and do to keep our roots from growing wild.
To the olive fitted dresses that hug our barked curves.
Damn we look like some strong trees in the making.
Black girls make it look easy.
From the tears we rolled to the back that burn like alcohol on a fresh wound.
To the mothers who could cry me a river and cut it off on cue
to start raising hell.
To the way our bodies swing in the trees.
They realize our bodies don’t flinch while we’re lynched.
To showing society that our heads are up while our babies are six feet below.
To defying gravity while balancing those double d’s and big booties.
To naturally defeating those white girl goals of the kylie jenner challenge.
To keeping the rhythm as we danced on fire.
Black girls rock,
Because we magical.
From the way our curls wine to the possibilities of creating a goddess of no melanin.
From the way our body takes the sun’s energy to make our skin glow gold.
To that sixth sense telling us to wake up in the middle of the night cause our head scarf came off.
To being seventy five when we look thirty.
Go head and say it yassssss!
Black don’t crack.
Black girls are able to move mountains when they need a little push.
And calm the storm when the rain wasn’t enough.
Damn black girls do it best.


Sunset Kid

by Samantha Jackson
Prince Georges County Youth Poet Laureate

I’m just a sunset kid.
I get cold feet.
I runaway often.
More than i walk.
I think often.
More than i talk.
I hold my fears close like footnotes my brain has yet to delete.
I’m a hoarder of things like moments and being frozen in 79° heat.
I find comfort in blankets to keep the chill away, and the deepest pits of bedroom corners to keep the real away. Sober moments are more real? More likely to deal my debt in soul and feed each other coal for breakfast. Cold we are when we walk too much.
Ironically my biggest fear is to be frozen in place.
My biggest goal is to not exist peacefully.
To disappear and be back tomorrow.

I’m a sunset, kid.
I’m warmest at 7:20 in the summer
U will only ever catch me in glimpses
I give you chills up spine like upwind like downhill doesn’t seem that tragic
I make it all-
this life-
not seem that tragic
I think this mess
I think all of this, and it may or may not be true
But who cares what’s real when you’re captivated by 7:20 sun rays and waves of an aesthetic resembling hope and love and life
despite all of the clouds and jagged forks in the road I still am vibrant oranges and purples.
I am still vibrant
still a quiet scream when you pick up your head.
I am a vast sky crying out to you trying not to fall.
I am only noticed in my most saturated moments
if only the gashes in my sky are russet enough for you to photograph… to notice
the footprints in my path of little sunset children finding their way home.
but i am always here. Always somewhere to be followed..

But Look at me, kid. I am always here, so there is always hope
There is hope. And love. And life. Despite time, and tragedy, and dark pits in bedroom corners.
I know you’re scared to get older and fold away life like ya grandmothers quilt for winter.
you never actually met her; she died before the sun came up.
They say she was a lot like you. Probably a sunset kid too.
Caught her last glimpse adieu adieu…
I know you’re scared of missing another sunset.
You’re scared your summer nights will grow colder and inside for no reason and all of the time
and that life will no longer wait for you and you’re right.
It won’t.
It hasn’t yet. I know one of your biggest fears is that one day you’ll be inside a home on bedrest all of the time, and the rest of the world will be sitting warm in an ocean of tomorrow. You’re scared that you won’t get to disappear and be back by then.
That your bones would have grown tired by now and that time will not be waiting for you. That there will be no more time for cartwheels in warm grass, late night drives and impromptu photo shoots in front of the pizza place down the street with your friends.
Or shopping cart races, bonfires, fireplace or anything left to scrapbook the scramble of the rest of your life…. i know you’re scared kid. So am i.

I’m just a sunset-
kid and never ready to go away forever.
She asked him “When does youth end?” I used to calculate my answer in numbers but lately my fingers has been getting tired of marking up this calendar.
I AM NOT dying today.
But if i do I pray tomorrow will have footprints in the sky and a warm wind to carry me home and soothe this cry.
I am only just a sunset kid. I don’t know when I’ll catch my last glimpse or if it will ever be enough.
Now, I do not plan on dying today, but if i do disappear
tell her
i’ll be back tomorrow.


the longest, wickedest street in america

by Ayla Sullivan
Denver Youth Poet Laureate

You Grandma, Grandpas, Get You Some Food I Just Fixed You Your Favourite Plate Homestead
You Belly Fat of Stars and Pavement and Violets
You Long, Weary, Tired Block of Hiding All this Colonial Pain
You survive storms with smiles, floods with laughter, and hold your real children, the ones who know the state you were birthed from should be said like blowing kisses to your mama when you’ve already said enough goodbyes
Is your mother, all complicated and blood worn and all, but Denver, you are the city that gives to its people
The home everyone wishes they could have a piece of, so they keep digging deeper

I know your mama well, know all her secret parts, have lived all over her arms but you are my favourite child of hers, my favourite Auntie in this city of the plains

You Little Brother, Little Man Complex
You White Saviour, Safety Pin Wearing So I Can Stare at the Trash Heap But Never Clean the Mess Child
You Factory of Blood Letting for Easy Views and Easy Targets
You Canyon of Forgiveness, As in Can You Forgive Me for My Privilege, Never My Actions
I don’t think you know what safety is, unless it comes in money, unless someone’s daddy can come in to fix you

You never realise how white
Or wealthy
the world can be until you attend the University of Colorado, Boulder
A predominantly white institution known to “take the cake” in terms of white representation
I learned quickly how a white lens views home
Equal parts danger and excitement
joke and terror
tempting and conquerable
Our pride and joy, the longest commercial street in the nation
Colfax Avenue
is centered in the typical white fear narrative
Colfax is a street that could be so charming if we could just clean up our “prostitution and drug problem”
If we just made it safer for all people to be around
If we just posted more Celebrate the City banners with smiling police officers who are just doing the best that they can
If you would just let us make space here, Colfax

“Making space” and “cleaning up” is the trendier form of colonisation
Gentrifiers love to forget their own history
Oppressors don’t like to keep records of the blood on their hands
They whitewash the pain, rename it something easier to swallow like charity work, progressivism, or Manifest Destiny
It’s no wonder your favourite Colorado street to demean for its behavior was named after a white saviour just like you
Schuyler Colfax, the famous VP of Ulysses S. Grant, so staunchly against slavery
He always made sure his sentiments were in the limelight
Making a show of being the last congressman to sign the 13th amendment into law
Touring across the country as the chair of the Good White People Club
Only ever speaking to Denver’s whitest, as if they were the people he needed to convince
It’s no wonder his name is carried throughout 53 miles, a reminder to the now homeless people of color that “not all white people are like this”

White folks used to parade about Denver like they owned this city, forgot our constitution was written in Mandarin, Spanish, German, and English for a reason
Forgot that natives and immigrants were forced to build their Wild West town for them
Only ever wanted a piece of the town they left once we took it back from them

My first distinct memories of Colfax were never from hysteria
They are recognising the avenue as my way back to my Grandpas’ house
Or holding my grandfather’s hand as we waved to drag queens who wished us a good day, and then it was

I have heard Boulder students terrified and fascinated by Colfax’s history of prostitution
Forget Boulder has a complex when it comes to consent
Bastardise paying for it in Denver, as if consent can only be something for the taking
Silence Boulder’s thousands of sexual assault reports higher than any other district in the state
Overlooks the sex work on Boulder’s Canyon Boulevard
Pretends Colfax is the most dangerous street for its violence instead of the Hill
A block on campus central to Boulder student night life
My first college party there, I found myself in a frat’s self entitiled “rape dungeon”
Met Chi Psi, famous for its roofie parties and forgiven for its murder of Gordie Bailey
Watched as sober black students were stopped and frisked and slammed against police cars
Beside outdoor beer pong and a lynch rope I was reminded was “just a joke”
Where are the initiatives to clean up the Hill?
Is it because you’ve already pushed out the people of colour from ever making a community there?
Is it because you are not afraid of white violence?

The Colfax stigma is a fifty year old rumour perpetuated by CU Frat Boys whose daddies idolised Hugh Hefner
Believed him when he called Colfax the Longest, Wickedest Street in America in the 70s
Like his entire empire isn’t based in sex
Like America ain’t a continental highway of a bloodstained road paved with White intentions

You don’t want to save Colfax, want to save its old reputation to save Boulder’s face
Want Colorado to be a national beacon of a Mile High State
Neglect responsibility of the Colorado Stock Show
Which brings in the highest amounts of human trafficking every year, just alongside this year’s Broncos Superbowl

It is easier to save child sex workers when they aren’t from your hometown, isn’t it Boulder?
Easier to villainise pimps if they don’t look like your father, if they don’t wear clothes your uncle owns
At the end of your Colfax hooker jokes, there are child human trafficking survivors who have no access to cope or heal in Denver
There are still children and teenagers whose trauma we don’t know about, have no way to save
At the end of your Colfax hooker jokes, there are pimps who have been arrested, but will never face prison time
Pimps whose probations are readily available, who can get community corrections instead of a prison sentence

Tell me again how much you love Boulder and hate that hooker city, Denver, Bro
Choke on your privilege since you can’t check it , Chad
When I’ve seen you go into all those Boulder strip clubs, seen you buy into all those roofie parties
Keep making those hooker jokes, Bradley
But remember you not welcome on Colfax
Remember I won’t keep you safe

Storm Chasing

by Kian Brown
Jacksonville Youth Poet Laureate

She was my tsunami
I’ve never seen a disaster so dark and deadly
Naturally and infinitely beautiful
Her body rained upon my pavement
Filled in the cracks
Nurturing the weeds that struggle to escape
She had screams like thunder
Breath like wind
Her left hand gripped mine
Sending lightning bolts through my veins
She swept my mind up into a hurricane
Spiraling full speed around my room
I landed on the shore of her sea
Hair soaked, panting, shining
I dipped a toe in her endless black waters
And caught my reflection
The thirst in my eyes
She smiled a smile of gray clouds
And I dived headfirst, splashless
Hoping to God I’d drown


The City That Bombed The Blacks

by Ogechi Ofodu
Atlanta Youth Poet Laureate

In May 1985, the West Philadelphia Police Department bombed
The black liberation group MOVE 9
Killing 11 members including 5 children, displacing 250+
This is a response to the blacks of the city that bombed the itself,
From the bomb.

“I didn’t want to be chosen.
They build so many of us
I don’t why I became a battle tactic in the race war

I pray you can forgive
I hope you can see that
We have things in common.

On that day, the sky turned charcoal
Turned the gloomiest shade of melancholy
Like death encompassed the clouds
Like it was trying to tell you something

On that day, I saw their bullets rain like hail
I saw a small-scale civil war
I saw a terrible lucid nightmare
To be black and obliterated on your own land

They succeeded in doing us both
Used me to make Philly burn
Used you as an example of what police could do to their own citizens

They made me kill Africa
I swear it was on accident
If I could only control my own fuse!

When they called my commander
I overheard them saying you too radical
You stepping out their barrier of allowed blackness

When waters hoses that pierce ‘militant’ hides, ain’t enough
When tear gas that make vision vanish, ain’t enough
When bullets that hail like white storms determined to wash
The Black dirt away
Ain’t enough
Call me in
The real weapon of mass incineration
C4 is the name of the acid my belly was blitzed on
My cast iron,
My black armor skin,
Erupted to savage shrapnels.
It is forever buried, with some of you, in your land
Scattered among MOVE 9’s familiar spirits

Is it bad,
I feel comfort in this?
That at least I didn’t play God and disappear
That we died together

Is it bad,
I feel it isn’t all my fault?
That I didn’t intend to inferno your family to ash
To make it easier to wipe out the black embers out of reality
That I was used for purposes that white men should have never Attempted to exploit.

That I was also a victim, too.

I’m not looking for sympathy
Just some kind of understanding
But if not,
That’s okay
I don’t know if I could forgive me either.”


First Black Female Police Chief: Beverly Harvard, 1994
First Black Military General: Brigadier General Benjamin Oliver Davis, Sr, 1940



Cops and Robbers

by Donnovan Pollock
Hampton Roads Youth Poet Laureate

From time to time I tend to have
child like tendencies
And chances are I’ll reminisce playing this game we seem to call cops and robbers
So in commemoration to a lifetime of joy and turmoil
Let’s play cops and robbers

the audience
can cop a seat
as I attempt to rob you of some attention
and hopefully more than 10 seconds to be at peace with the thief
that continues to follow me wherever my mind wanders
A.K.A my attention span

cop a mic stand and a mic
and in the process of spitting my piece

I think the audience is holding my efforts at gunpoint

I mean
All I wanted was connections between you and me with
a side of snap snaps and yass

But now I’m just the fate of a robber

Lost but often found on the evening news
See nothing’s really new
And the roles remain the same

So Cop a overdose of hormones and
Rob the virginity of a innocent queen
And hear the screams of her baby boys by age 20

And pray
that her sons don’t have to Rob a liquor store
and Cop a charge for possession of a firearm

Fire excuses and hang them at bus terminals by age 30
But their looks are going on their fifties
I mean it’s just old souls blazing in young bodies
All they can do is stop drop and roll
While Elvis
Can Cop rock and roll

And Rob an ethnicity of their innovation

The same way the Rolling Stones can watch our backs roll on a street saturated with sharpened stones stabbing our ingenuity

Then used to shattered the mural
Of creativity

never made me feel like I needed to be swept up and thrown in the trash
Its like Society’s burglars need to cop some new standards
But Rob us of our sense of vernacular
Until the use of slang
Is reduced to terms in an Oxford pocket dictionary and actually…..

Adolescents only Cop a pair of headphones
To Rob silence from a country that couldn’t Cop a muzzle

Oh how America is such a loudmouth female

Its like I should Cop some surgical tools
Rob her of some of her vocal cords
Send them to third world countries
So you can hear their cries for help
They got me tripping
They whisper prison..
They got me losing my mind
and I think that you are too

And them chips will arrive any day now and we’ll have to Cop  numbers
No, we’ll have to Cop cuffs and Wear them where our bodies used to be

We’re being robbed
Robbed of our ability to question and reason
Robbed of our thought processes
We’re losing our minds

Losing our sense the direction
Like going south could send you somewhere north
And going east could send you somewhere west

I don’t really like this childhood game that’s played everyday
But it’s played for sport against me and my culture the more I grow the more free and creative I am.
So cop some nerve
Or be robbed in this game we seem to call Cops and Robbers.