I Can Count To 10 vol.2

 

My Mother’s Child 

by Jasmin Roberts

 

AIN'T NEVER LIED 

by Jared Paul

A 50s themed diner serves my family for breakfast

by Sara Mae

America

by Valerie Lawson

 

In a Place Where Everyone Was Empty

by Victor Infante

 

Soundscape: 51 Holworthy Street

by Evan Cutts

 

Everyday Is A Black Girl

by Siaara Freeman

gray-black-broke

by Justice Gaines

 

ode to stubbing your toe 

after Angel Nafis 

by Myles Em Taylor

the bullet teaches us how to dance

by Daphne Gottlieb

 

 

I Can Count To 10 vol. 3 # August - September 2017 # Broken Head Press 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Mother’s Child

by Jasmin Roberts

 

I tell myself we are alike

That there is softness in her for me

I have never seen it

Even affection came

With hard edges

Hugging closed doors

Is all but impossible

The knob kept hitting me

In the stomach

I stopped trying and

Embraced the hinges that

Kept her hidden instead

 

The first time she said “I love you”

I was 18

On the other end of

A land line in a college dorm room

The words felt unsafe

I waited for the air to

Smell like something I recognized again

Inhaled

And hung up without

Saying goodbye

 

My roommate was playing

Alanis Morrisette’s Ironic

And I sang along to the last verse

Rocking slowly

Arms tucked into my body

 

She still says it

I say it back now

Rushing through

The vowels sounds

Holding myself

The way I always have

The “love you too”

and the “bye”

Run together

As though they are the same word

And for us

They probably are

 

Goodbye is the thing

I'd been waiting to say

To her since I could talk

And I love you

The thing she taught me

By omission

And mostly I only know

How to say goodbye to love too

Through years of practice

Silent tears soaking soggy cheeks

I have perfected

The art of goodbye

“Hello, I love you”

Is much more unfamiliar

Like a dry pillow

In childhood

I'm not sure I'd know it was mine

If you asked

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AIN'T NEVER LIED

by Jared Paul

 

 

Out of nowhere Dad turns to me and says:

Remember that summer when I lent you the apartment,

back when I was working up in Boston?

I never told you this, but one night 

I came back to get some things 

without letting you know.

I walked in and you were on the kitchen floor 

back against the wall sobbing like a baby.

 

I just kind of stopped for a second,

you hardly noticed me. I saw the bottle 

and knew that you were drunk, 

but that's not why you were crying.

I got you a glass of water,

then patted your hair and went to bed.

 

I wanted to tell you that all the things 

that hurt you in life weren't that awful.

Or that they were that hard sometimes

but being hurt like that was part of how 

the whole thing works. That it gets better.

That in the end everything will be alright,

but I just couldn't do it.

 

I couldn't lie to you like that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A 50s themed diner serves my family for breakfast

by Sara Mae

 

My mother hates runny eggs but will still sit beside me 

while I swallow them down in a red booth

Or will smile bright yolk eyes that run, 

get mopped up in a hunk of rye

 

My father is the box of Cheerios a waiter eats 

in the corner of the kitchen

three cigarettes into his third double of the week

 

My brother is the Heart Healthy omelette

or at least the wilted spinach in it, 

that which is always first in the pan,

the way it shrivels in cooking oil,

the way it folds into mushrooms and tomatoes so quietly

 

My sister is the three bites of cold pancake

The hardened syrup left behind in their wake

The pad of butter opened, but untouched

 

My dad’s parents are two smoking cups of black coffee,

dark roast because it’s 7PM 

and decaf gives Elaine a headache

 

My mom’s mom is the half-a-grapefruit add on

or the cottage cheese

or the tub of I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Butter 

stashed in someone’s purse

 

My mom’s dad is the syrup

But only if its Hungry Jack

 

The niece that got suspended from school

is the ketchup everyone insists tastes funny

 

The cousin that is depressed

is the meal sent back

 

The nephew that lives with a “roommate”

Is the green cholula hot sauce

 

My panic attacks

are the side of avocado slices everyone wants to order, 

but are just too much money

 

The check is

“The only thing we fight over”

 

The 50s themed diner

Is the way that we don’t talk about this poem

 

The napkin they wipe their mouths on is me

I am the crumpled lipstick kiss

I am the clean up after,

Where the crumbs collect

Or what is folded and set aside with an empty plate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

America

by Valerie Lawson

 

I am a spectrograph.

My number is oxygen

and the color blue

 

what’s left after the whoosh/

the tidal bore/ the homonym 

ad hominem

 

the humdrumthrum like a Beat Poet

beyond its prime in a velodrome 

of sound 

 

filled with fireflies, inconsistencies, 

the matter—the ooze and stink,

the wrack armature on which 

fantasy draped

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a Place Where Everyone Was Empty

by Victor Infante

 

I grew up poor in a place where almost everyone was wealthy, child of salt water and sand. Declared I wanted nothing to disguise my coveting, armored myself in leather to protect myself, tattooed Clash lyrics to my skin. In retrospect, it was never the baubles I wanted, the surfboards and video games and automobiles. It was the freedom I envied, the innocence of never fretting a missing meal, of being able to travel without sacrificing bits of bone to the gravel, of not understanding death all. I grew up empty in a place where everybody else was empty, but that wasn't visible from my vantage. All of us swallowed salt water. All of us nearly drowned. Horatio Alger is standing behind me, arms folded, telling me that I should be happier than they are now, that mine was supposed to be a story of hard work triumphing over indolence. It doesn't really work like that, though. Sometimes the broken remain broken. I am happier than some I knew as a child, less so than others. Some of them have become so beautiful they radiate from a country away. Some have become drunken shambles. Some are dead now, and at least one took a turn so dark we don't discuss it in public, save to say I only knew her slightly, yet sometimes I cry for her and what she's lost to a blackening sky. How do we compare lives so greatly diverged when we're ignorant of what demons each other are facing? That we're told to do so was just the first of many lies we need to unravel and unlearn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soundscape: 51 Holworthy Street

by Evan Cutts

 

rewind // Big Willie Style //

just 

the two 

of us

 

I hear the claw marks of loss

climbing off our front stoop, 

cussin                                         tearin up

the sides of

 the rock—

 

remember the fourth of July:  castles in the sky, tiny rockets 

 

crying over my Pops—

 

them stoop kids, I hear, 

grown now; slang street, 

cop snow 

 

groundhog’s March:

get shot 

clap back

 

our block 

had me hearin 

 

death 

at a young age—

 

*

 

 

 

 

the corner is bumpin      Summertime 

 

heat cracks wide-eyed smiles like

yolk on the street / somebody busts a hydrant  

 

& Holworthy swells up

drowns in

laughter         

I hear it

surge through my bedroom window—

 

speakers shudderin ‘gainst the wall / we didn’t 

hear them /

 

Duane’s hesitant hands / locked  / hug the 

  hall door        

 

/ open the goddamn door! 

 

/ I think I hear a safety click 

back / steel raid on marble / 

our second 

     story: stone & glass 

screaming blue / I catch a        wish

purr in my mother’s chest,

feral breast heaving 

for the sirens  to        stop!

 

else today mother us into song

for the late night / as if that kind 

of ‘luck’ is

a blessing (

a rickety ‘twang’

a red-metal storm

in the earth’s mouth

forever)—

 

R. Kelly’s I Wish

on repeat—

*

 

 

 

 

I hear laughter lapping  

everywhere––

 

Duante  Duane  Ty  Me      

 

bouncing from mattresses 

to floor, to ceiling;

 

Playstation’s crystalline startup; 

the roar of us

tireless

challenging day 

to open & close;

what we made 

of careful youth 

 

all of us 

 

singing time 

to shelter home

 

our memories, our joy 

preserved:  alive—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyday Is A Black Girl 

by Siaara Freeman

 

Monday knows you do not like her. You will say it to her face &

behind her back like you did not pray about & for her yesterday.

 

Monday is a black girl & she mean business. Monday know you hate 

her soon as you see her coming. Monday coming whether you like it or not.

 

Tuesday still surprised you had the nerve to treat Monday like that. 

Tuesday don’t fuck with you either. Tuesday will take off her hoops

& will fuck you up foreal. Tuesday from the wrong side of the week.

Tuesday 2 steps from the church & one from your ass.

 

Wensday just want to hump without you calling her a whore. Wensday wants to know why

you wont just let her be great. Wensday wants to go pop her pussy, but you call her pussy

a gun, you call anything that it releases dangerous.

 

Thursday can’t wait till Friday get here so they can go have a drink. Thursday been watching this shit for four days now and wants to know how it’s gone end. Thursday feet hurt. 

Thursday ain’t did nothing but work from the time Thursday got here.

 

Friday could not wait to pop off. Friday shining on you mutherfuckas. Friday got her weave did and your lover paid for it. Friday don’t give a fuck about all the shit you was talking. Friday wearing that dress like she wear your nerves. Friday wear that dress like she wear her dreams. 

 

Saturday is Fridays twin. Saturday knows tomorrow she will have to talk to God, either personally, or through prayer, and she just wanna shake her ass tonight, she know you gone say, what you said about Monday, what you said about Tuesday, what you said about Wensday, & Thursday, & Friday, about her, & Saturday don’t give nary a fuck.

 

Sunday smells like hot combs and grandmother hugs, smells like judgment and warm rolls all in one. Sunday loves you as she loves herself, like a lesson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

gray-black-broke

by Justice Gaines

 

cracked open a rotten egg

 

had to bang it a little harder than usual

peel the two halves of the shell from the split

smell the fatal mistake seep instantly into the air 

watch the death fall out

it dropped so quickly 

 

it should have been gold

the yolk there should have been a sun

now it’s just gray-black-broke as the bodies 

worked like mules in the heat

 

it should have been a body

grown into a sun kissed skin

grown into a son or daughter or child 

now it’s just a corpse not even worth a funeral

 

it should have been a home 

a soft fluid womb

a nourishing protection 

a promise and a future

it’s just a foul wreckage now

 

there is no salvaging this spoil

no saving this egg 

this black

this once could be separated

now it’s all just run together 

white indistinguishable from sun kissed 

rot indistinguishable from body

home cracked and split and seeping 

stench reeking of lineage 

 

cracked open a rotten egg

and it dropped so quickly 

fell right into what i was cooking  

one drop

one bad egg 

and now the whole meal is ruined

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ode to stubbing your toe

after Angel Nafis

by Myles Em Taylor

 

Thank you to a life that can afford all of this hard furniture. 

Thank you to a childhood so full of clutter,

to afford the Legos I’ve stepped on,

to have edges and awkward shelves to bump against. 

We are not here for the minimalist aesthetic, we

are here to fill ourselves as much

as we are able, and we did:

all of this clutter. All of this ownership

in this tiny, dilapidated house that will

never fully be ours, so we claim 

everything else. Claim cheap plastic. 

Department store shoes. Thank you 

for the kind of pain that results in better spatial awareness.

Thank you for all the corners that taught me

not to trust a room that was too pretty.

Thank you for teaching me to feel comfort

in sharp, dangerous imperfection,

to come to terms with how inherently cluttered

this life was bound to be. I end up stubbing my toes

on it most of the time. Thank you for helping me 

grow accustomed to the pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the bullet teaches us how to dance

by Daphne Gottlieb

 

I want you to know:
When the girl shot herself in the street,
I was not dancing.

I was in the club darkening a corner,
or walking lonely home with
my heart balanced on a cigarette tip,
a wounded deer, my chest, staggering,
that night, that year, my whole life that
I could not find
the girls whose mouths matched mine,
whose mouths made history
eating fire in the street,
yelling because it felt good
and maybe because it mattered.

The girl knew the difference 
between yelling and screaming.
The girl shot herself in the street, 
haloed green in the traffic light, painted gold
detonated like a disco ball, 
spilling like a drink and red red red. 

She didn’t say a thing.
Blood shines black in the dark.
The unhurry of the ambulance lights 
floating lazy around and around.
 Everyone walked away.

After the bullet, the white chalk halo.

Believe: This was everything she had
left of her, lonely and angry 
and rage and gone.

People did not stop dancing.

Let’s say we wore the same skin, or wore it differently,
if she was browner or blacker or redder or the geometry
of ribs or the kindness of her swells or mine. 

We were not friends. 
I did not know her. But maybe
I had seen her, 
breathed her in and out 
as we panted on the dance floor, 
I borrowed her lighter,
we rattled our side-by-side spines with coffee, 
and listened to poets speak like it was the first time
they heard their own voices.

I mean, I didn’t know her. I never met her. I heard her name was Jasmine.

Jasmine, maybe I was looking for you that night,
for someone you had been, someone before
your slow suicide by cigarette, your faster suicide
with the powders and the tar and the spirits
that dragged you forward, a gun in your hand,
into the intersection that night. Jasmine, maybe
I was looking for me.

Blood and guns are the same color in the dark.

Our bodies have always been battlegrounds.

You became your own weapon
firing through time and space
and me, despite my first girl lover, that razor,
and my SOS heartbeat,
and despite my cyanide first girlfriend
and my mayday kisses,
and despite my stomping a coming-out song
over and over in emergency broadcast time
with so much silence instead of a mother,
I knew that despite all this,
I was lucky, 
and lucky goes dancing.

That night, the music did not stop.

When the bar closed,
I was covered in sweat. You were
covered by the tv news. We were both
alone.

Even through the breakbeat, there is the graveyard,
the tyranny of if and when,

and Richmond, California, in 2008 ,
when a dyke was gang raped by 4 men;

and Washington, DC, in 2009,
when five dykes were attacked 
by two men and the police 
would not take a report;

and Portland, Texas, in 2012 ,
when two dykes 
were shot in the head;

and Mesquite, Texas, in 2013, 
where a dyke was beaten to death;

and in Chicago, Illinois, in 2013,
where a dyke couple clung to each other 
while attacked by 10 men;

and Galveston, Texas, in 2014, 
where a dyke was choked in an elevator;

and Seattle, Washington, in 2015, 
where a dyke was attacked with
a pocketknife, a dog leash, and a black marker

and Kenyon Colege in Ohio, in 2016,
where a dyke was raped because
she was “too cute” to like girls,

and Brooklyn, New York, in 2017,
where a dyke was attacked on the subway
until her eye socket broke.

I was always queer
but when a man’s fist hit my lover’s face 
I became a dyke.

I had aimed to please, 
but now I could shoot to kill.

Jasmine, your body 
was always a battleground,
when you walked to work
or walked home
or walked to a club.
The holy war was
in your head and
your body and my body, 
so near but never against, 
bodies that can coil and gasp,
that can recoil and twist 
into coffins so easily
at the ends of cigarettes 
at the mouths of bottles and why 
should those men’s violence 
come as any surprise? 

Jasmine, the gun was pointing the wrong way.

This is not rage.
This is resistance.
This is resilience.
This is ours.

Living well is not the best revenge.
The best revenge is living.

The best revenge is to keep going.

So despite Portland and DC and Memphis and Chicago,
we keep going.

This resistance.
This resilience.
This is ours.

Your lonely is ours, and we
keep going. So in your name, 
I might just live in sin
whether or not marriage 
is now legal. In some states,
I am lewd and lascivious 
and my kisses are still crimes, 
so I will find girls 
to dance me slick and dirty 
in Kansas, where that is still 
illegal and mouthfuls of girls 
in both Carolinas, 
where that is still illegal, 
and in your name,
panties on the bar bathroom floor
in Louisiana, where that is still illegal, 
and maybe two girls
in Oklahoma, just to make it 
doubly illegal. And in Alabama
and Florida and Idaho, I will say your name, 
say it in Michigan, in Mississippi, 
in Texas and Utah. 

And now in California, in San Francisco, in the city
of junkies and thieves and whores and poets,
we will dance for you, lonely ghost. Lost girl.
Dyke.
And we will keep going. 
We will not march.
We will dance. 

From the beginning of San Francisco 
through allp the bars and clubs:
Maud’s and Amelia’s, 
and the electric slide into memory
of the Box and Club Q and Club Ecstasy, Female
Trouble, Faster Pussycat, Wet, Club Q, Snatch,
dancing the blisters into our heels and don’t 
stop dancing for Klitz Club and Red; Junk, 
Club Confidential, Muffdive, Club Jesus, Litterbox, 
bathed in sweat at Backstreet, 
Brownies for my Bitches, a kiss 
for the bartender at Hot Pants, 
Stay Gold, Rebel Girl, and the Lex the Lex the Lex.

Jasmine, this is not last call.
We are still calling.
Put down the gun.
Come dance.

. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for participating.

Broken Head Press (2017)

poems for life.