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Brown Girl Lifted

because life @ the intersection is personal & political

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poetry

Anupama Bhattacharya is a student and a researcher. Her research analyzes bias in evaluation of leaders in STEM fields in order to fight against health disparities in Medicine due to lack of diverse leadership. She studies Biomedical Engineering and Computer Science with hopes ofworking towards a reality where healthcare is more broadly accessible and applicable for all. Anupama is an artist and creator. She is a talented indian classical dancer, painter, sculptor, jewelry maker and sewist. Anupama is working to analyze herself and her reality based in ancient Indian literature to decolonialize her perspective.

Molly Tobin is a student of English and Media Studies at Scripps College in Claremont, CA. While being on Youtube for upward of three years now with a book review blog, they have started dabbling in Video Art as a way to tell stories. They are interested in exploring documentary media and short films in their future endeavors. However, their ultimate goal is to go into the book publishing industry and work towards diversifying the works that are published, especially in young adult and children’s literature.
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I think God herself lives within

a woman’s body.

The inherent way beauty resides in

her bones,

holding the potential to recreate.

 

Guided by moonlight, birth and death meet

at the crossroads.

Two ships,

sailing,

within a sea of red.

 

I think about my mother.

And her mother.

About the women before me.

I think about the women after me.

 

(Is there a difference?)

 

I think about coincidences.

The way water travels—

Knowingly.

 

Rain embracing rivers, embracing shorelines,

with a sense of subtle familiarity.

As if, she’s crossed this path before.

 

I think about contradictions.

The way the tide grows, preparing to fall.

The gravity with which we collapse,

only to rise up again, as stardust.

 

The way creation is destruction,

is destruction,

is destruction,

is creation.

 

But this is not a poem about contradictions,

this is a poem about resurrection.

 

 

 

-Nivedita Sharma-

the narrow ledge between sorrow and a blank stare,

just remember:

 

They are offended by your capacity to feel.

They are threatened by the tears cascading down your cheeks.

Tears with the potential to turn into a tsunami,

to break down bridges, to wipe the shoreline clean,

and expose the sharp rocks hidden in the sand.

 

“You are too much,” they say.

Too much for speaking, and too much for crying, and too much for shouting.

You should’ve learned to sit down,

to cross your legs,

to contain your sadness into small boxes.

Didn’t your mother ever teach you to be polite?

To color inside the lines?

Your anger is a fire that must be extinguished.

If it grows too large it just might expose the truth;

it might just burn down this city of lies.

 

 

Don’t let them take your pain and turn it into something cruel.

Don’t let them take your anger and fray the edges, tear the seams,

Reshape it into something else.

They try and paint you as dangerous, as excessive.

Society has taught you to be small, how dare you try and become larger,

try and outgrow the narrow space you have been assigned?

 

They are afraid because they want control.

They want to own you,

every part of you

in its entirety.

 

But they cannot have you.

 

Because you own this anger, this pain.

You own this rage; this sorrow belongs only to you.

The way your blood boils, the way your heart sinks

and your breath thickens and your knees begin to shake.

This is your weapon; hold on to it like a handful of seeds.

No matter how much they ask or how hard they demand, do not give it to them.

For, with these seeds, you are able to grow a garden.

You are able to cultivate strength.

You are able to start a revolution.

 

After all, this vulnerability–this raw and uncensored ability to feel,

is the closest a human being can come to God.


Nivedita Sharma is a daydreamer, avid tea drinker, aspiring writer, frequent people-watcher, and lover of words. She recently graduated from UW Madison with majors in biology and psychology and certificates in gender and women’s studies and global health. Specifically, she is interested in promoting social equity through working on reducing health disparities and focusing on minority and women’s health. Additionally, she strongly believes in the power of sharing and embracing diverse experiences through writing and performance as a method of initiating social change and creating a more inclusive, more beautiful world.

I am so in love with learning —

what beautiful concepts illuminate our natural world

what skillful art reflects our inner growth

— on our campus on the isthmus

But I am so deeply shaken —

instances of hate and violence manifest in blatant cruelty

but also in the whispers, the whispers, the whispers

the “I’m-not-racist-buts”

the discomfort

the assumption of understanding divides that feel so great

— on this tiny strip of land betwixt two lakes…

we are packed together like sardines in a can

and you respond to difference with hate?

why do you get off on

hurting those whose throats are already choked up

whose eyes are already tired

have you ever really been tired before?

Growing up in the most racist county in America, I grew a thicker skin.

Today the skin is broken.

Something bubbled over

and burst out of me

Today

tears like a bullet

through layers of sweat and internalized oppression

of thousands of swallowed words and tears and bad moods

stereotypes — oh how i wish they were benign —

etched all over my skin like tattoos

sexualized reactions to my brown body

bolstered by “complimentary” notions of how I defy expectation

I don’t know what people see when they look at me

it is not me

it has never been me

they silenced us before we had the words to notice

that I looked different from my ivory skinned peers

before I was even a spark in my parents’ eyes

there was a conspiracy taking root

built up by holding us back

and down

and under

and behind

and dry

and so hungry

we were too precious to be squandered

too valuable to be left alone

too golden to not be threatening

I am like them

but I don’t like them

I love them

but I don’t like them

I don’t want to give them what they want

I am like them

but I don’t want to give them what they want

I don’t want them to buy and sell parts of me

I don’t want to fake an accent

tell you what caste I’m from like it’s my sun sign

I don’t want to be the only brown person in the yoga class

I keep forgetting when I’m supposed to be a “good sport”

I am too sensitive to live by the rules of this world

I am too poor not to

I have choices, but not many

today I understand why my parents wanted me to be “comfortable”

because when you have money, you can buy back the rights

stolen from you at birth

you can make choices about what worlds you want to live in

& that makes it okay

that makes it okay that you can never change your body

It’s my fucking body,

I didn’t choose it.

I have to live in it,

I have to be here

on this crowded isthmus,

shrouded in the fog

-Aarushi Agni

woman,

with breasts that you measure in “cups” and letters
and you can’t even

remember the size,

and all you know is how they perk or drop in the mirror 

with stretch marks across your thighs that look like you’ve gone to war with lions and

you have won.

remember

that you are both

woman and man

with warrior and Queen 

running and  pumping and

breathing. 

through your veins. 

-Nyesha Lashay

Continue reading “Reminder”

Inheriting America’s violence: an immigrant kid on home and leaving

10407623_1656932877859372_5773064684406291616_nPerhaps this makes me ungrateful, but I know that as america stands today, my citizenship cannot save me. I have been talking with friends about using our american passports to fly somewhere far away where we can make a new home and begin our lives as expats. We will not be known as a refugees, though the state of violence against Black people and Blackness in the u.s. is genocide and has been petitioned to the U.N. as such.

I know that being born into my americanness is a privilege. I did not have to risk death to arrive on u.s. soil, I did not have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars in a taxing and never-certain process. Even though there is a place my parents call back home, I do not have to fear harassment and deportation. Still, despite having been born and raised in “the land of the free” I am concerned deeply about death.

I have scrolled past countless articles detailing Black death in america. I have glanced over them and lowered my head. I am exhausted by the news. I worry that I’m silent and yet don’t know what to say about the death abounding, the murders made of hate, so many Black lives taken, so many trans* lives, muslim lives, so many children, elderly, and ill individuals murdered. I have a friend who is very certain of one thing: he is finished with the u.s. and I do not blame him.

Although I’ve dreamt of it, I am less certain than he is when it comes to leaving america behind for good. As the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants I carried a rasta-esque ideal vision of back home. I considered it a place to escape to. I wrote this poem called “abandon” because I thought as Ethiopia stretched her hands to God, she would scoop me up, cradle me in her arms, and keep the u.s. from eating me alive.


In December 2015, I visited Ethiopia for the first time and will spend my whole life reflecting on what my first trip to Ethiopia meant, what every subsequent trip is going to mean. I feel there is so much I cannot say, only having glimpsed a bit of Ethiopia during my four-week stay in the capitol city. I will say, that for all the promised land dreams I had, I always knew, even if vaguely, that Ethiopia has its own violences.

There I was in Ethiopia, loved, cared-for, blessed. Also, undeniably a foreigner and a guest. I went for many reasons and quickly realized I could not be saved from america or my americanness, it was embedded in me. In fact, that I feel refused full citizenship and rights to healthy, happy, and uninhibited survival within the u.s. is part of my americanness because of its history and what was built long before my family ever arrived.


In my father’s house, CNN is always on and when Trayvon Martin was murdered, his face, constantly in the news cycle, became part of our living room, like a portrait. One day, my father said, “he looks like your brother.” This moment of admittance said aloud what I knew to be true the moment I began filling forms and naming myself as I have always felt and been seen, as Black/African american. I knew these dangers could befall our family, no matter our names or our origins, no matter where we came from.

I dropped my head when I read about the tragic loss and violent murders ofTaha, Muhannad, and Adam, three Sudanese american boys who were shot execution style in Fort Worth, Indiana. Though police have said their murders are not a hate crime, the deaths of these three boys are being attributed to racism, anti-Blackness, Islamaphobia. Their lives existed so deeply in targeted intersections it makes sense to suspect a hate crime. While we wait for more information to arrive, a petition for justice exists.The petition demands the Fort Worth, Indiana authorities to conduct an active and thorough investigation.

When I learned they were Sudanese I couldn’t help but think of their parents and if they ever imagined the land of opportunity would eat their children like this. Did their fathers see a young man slain by white fear and think, “he looks like my son?” Afaq Mahmoud, my friend and the cousin of Taha and Muhannad, asked her own questions in a statement that has been shared on the Our Three Brothers Facebook Page: Do you know what it takes to run from war? Do you know what it means to flee from one war zone only to land in another? Do you know what it means to flee to “safety” and have it swallow you whole?


Beyond grief my life consists of archaeology articles and labs, surviving on a white campus, and working to remember Black Joy. In the midst of this all I eagerly await a moment to read something away from my course work. A copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me sits on my bookshelf. I’ve yet to read it but I’ve listened to interviews, I know the reading is required. I know he tells his son, “This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” I know this to be a truth of my own life — america is my country no matter how I feel about it and no matter where I go.


Hiwot Adilow is a singer-songwriter, poet, and performer. The Philly born daughter of Ethiopian immigrants writes most heavily about Love and the complexity of immigrant Blackness in all its gore and glory. Her writing has been featured or is forthcoming in Apiary Magazine, Duende Literary, and The Offing. She has also appeared on NPR’s Tell Me More and Wisconsin Public Television. Hiwot is a member of the First Wave Learning Arts Community’s 7th Cohort. She currently at UW-Madison pursuing a degree in Anthropology with a certificate in African Studies.

Elephants

When I was thirteen years old

I sat at an Olive Garden in upstate new york

My mother’s fiance

was complaining about his nose.

This lumpy broken thing

in the middle of his face

that barely allowed him to breathe

Always ruddy, red, rebelling angrily

at his otherwise pale complexion

His mother agreed.

Silly rugby accident.

Oh, well. Still a handsome man.

Her nose however,

would you look at how big it was?

Nothing delicate about this bridge.

You should see Grandmother Ward,

now that’s a nose to be proud of.

My mother joined in,

examining the slightly larger flare

of her own nostrils with a mirror.

Not enough “elegance,”

she determined.

For the millionth time

another part of her lacked

enough whiteness to be beautiful

I felt the anxiety immediately.

My nostrils are much wider than my mothers

And the complexion of my skin is just

a couple shades darker.

The bridge of my nose is nowhere

near “just short” of elegant.

“Well, I guess I have the worst nose of all!”

Silence.

The missed beat felt like a brick

thrown into the face of my father

His nose, wide and mexican

could not be beautiful

and yet neither of us

had a place at that table

Silence stretched itself

out like a cat

grooming time

At that age I hadn’t yet learned

how to turn shame inward or

how to fashion self hatred out of insecurity.

At that age I still believed

that elephants in rooms

were supposed to be acknowledged,

that we were supposed to be bigger

than our silence.

It wasn’t until years later

that I learned the price of ivory

and understood why everyone

killed their discomfort,

and stuffed its

skeletons into closets.

I want to say that that was the day

I decided never to collect shame

nor bones nor silence

but the truth is I’ve become

an expert at organizing

the things unsaid.

Now my resume reads:

Expert elephant killer.

Well-read in silence

and the spaces between lines.

(Encounters a minimum of 200 elephants a day.)

Professional.

(Never mentions said creatures.)

Skilled.

(Collects, delivers, and organizes bones.)

Secrecy is currency.

We drown rooms in silence,

and those

who remember the elephants

collect their bones.

Our closets are heavy

with what the blind call ivory.

You might call it humanity.

A note from the author: We celebrated MLK day just a few days ago, and after seeing countless reminders that only love can only drive out hate, I got to thinking about how, regardless of his nonviolent message, many white people seem to forget his disappointment with inactive white “allies”:

“First, I must confess that over the last few years, I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedoms is not the White Citizen’s Counselor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice…who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until “a more convenient season.”

This is a poem about my frustration toward white people who don’t outwardly admit they have said racist things. This is a poem expressing my anger at those who excuse their actions because they have a black friend or significant other. This is a poem expressing my anger about white folk who are down on social media but fall silent when it’s time to organize in real life. To call yourself a supporter of black lives and black liberation means that you support our methods and actions we take, and be as altruistic as humanly possible when advocating for us.

-Samantha Adams, 01/25/2016

honeybreath  (or words and things I think of when I hear ‘white liberalism’)

empty

false / promise

fake

old plastic smell

colorless

lacking

flighty

weightless

slippery

the chemical aftertaste found in a blue icee.

unhealthy

sticky

tea bags, black tea leaves smothered by honey

I agree with your mission but not with your method

be quiet,

post an article

fight the power with a fractured wrist

spoiled milk

skim milk

stuttering

covert

secret

scratchy, quickly knit blanket left red rash

soft language

prejudiced (in quotation marks), not racist oh no

mold forms relatively fast when you buy fruit just to leave it on a surface of something.

your fruit, sitting on the state-of-the-art granite countertop is growing spores

and once it starts good intention becomes rancid mush.

middle class vanilla lady watchin’ MSNBC likes to put a hyphen

between two words African and American to describe someone

doesn’t like a stir of

bigger noise or broken glass but bigger

words make her feel better. she’s kinda like

a dog with a slimy tongue begging for a treat

from a black hand straining to lift white weight.

-Samantha Adams

 

This year I resolve not to confuse the piece for a whole

to recognize the peace in the hole (give me peace in my soul) 

the cavity: negative space left in absence of friends near to heart but far from body

never-quite-replaced by impostors close to body but never meeting eyes

This year I won’t want for someone else to understand me

This year I resolve to protect my best friend, even when she is me

even when her words hit too close to home

lambasting me with lashings

spinning webs of weaponized thought

jumping the myelin bridges in my unguarded still-naive

not-yet-fully-developed

young adult mind

even when my flaws are swallowing me whole

impulses shorting — crack! 

unencumbered by

inhibitions lubed with alcohol

sometimes it’s not safe here

with a heart in swollen pieces

because I cut it up

for reasons I haven’t lived my way to the bottom of yet

This year I will write more and say less

I will want for grey matter — not for grey friendships

I want for grey hairs — but for now I’ll settle for flecks of blonde (because I’m fun)

& I’ll stop spelling gray the British way just because I think it’s classy

Nothing is inherently classy except a good book and a healthy respect for all living kind

This year I won’t confuse a piece for the whole

I think maybe humanity shares a collective soul

else, why would I find something

I want to keep in every person I meet

Even if my mind is trained to categorize and to stereotype

in spite of view

I stubbornly fight for the right to match and to defy

others’ projections/definitions/rising inflections and shady looks

remembering we all have a right to identify ourselves however we choose

& I have that right, too.

There is a part of every person that shines like the sun

There is a part of every person that wants to run

I want to run

to the future

& find my own light

& give only the best pieces of myself to the world

even as the worst parts poke out of the collective soul, thriving like weeds,

surviving generations like those light sleepers and those heavy dreamers — never wiped out by random chance

This year…

I’ll stop asking for permission to be my complete self

I’ll stop taking silence for rejection & I’ll finally buy a bookshelf

I’ll take up space and live my life

converting my potential into kinetics into weaponized love–into light.

I’ll give less of myself to each person, and more of myself to the world

This year I won’t confuse the piece for the whole

This year, I’ll create peace in my soul

-Aarushi Agni

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