Because today is the ninth day of NaPoWriMo, I’d like to challenge you to write a nine-line poem.

sometimes i lose my hope
when the miracles have gone
my kind invented walls and wars
boxes cages bricks and bars
separation built of sticks
spilling blood that should not mix
signs to say who cannot come
bending fire into guns

some nights my hope is done

black joy

Today I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that relies on repetition. It can be repetition of a phrase, or just a word.

i opened the box to my black joy
it spilled out it covered my fingers
i wiped my tears away
i streaked my face with this smudge
this shade this shadow
this sweet dust
this star space
this shimmering surreal sidewalk
on a new york night

i had been dancing in my black joy
body rolling against strangers
who were all so shocked i was glee
ecstacy, was unbroken
was in my power
was magic
was spinning a golden thread
from my left hip
off that rooftop in brooklyn

long before i learned to cultivate black joy
i found myself feeling whole
because something showed through
the fog and the Secret
the life death life death in my heel
the held breath
the faux goddess
the running and running and running –
i showed through

i got gathered into black joy
got delivered got spent
got lifted up and plunged deep down
got left with
gifted and offered
got caught by
and filled up to overflowing with
got spilled over my own edges
with black joy

6 ways to see tonight

Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that looks at the same thing from various points of view. The most famous poem of this type is probably Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”. You don’t need to have thirteen ways of looking at something – just a few will do!

one missile is a devastation. what are we?

learning that under the armor, everyone (can this be true?) is a beloved.

(celebrate, my dream is in the hands of my loved ones…plant that feeling under the others.)

there’s a black writerwoman named shonda and she has learned how to take my breath away.

nothing keeps away the memories when you’re ready you’ll remember what happened to (all) the children, you’ll ask why do we hurt little ones?

in nine days, no one with a backbone will pay their taxes.


In honor of Mary Oliver’s work, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that is based in the natural world: it could be about a particular plant, animal, or a particular landscape. But it should be about a slice of the natural world that you have personally experienced and optimally, one that you have experienced often. Try to incorporate specific details while also stating why you find the chosen place or plant/animal meaningful.

the first time we howled
the moon was a sliver
a cup of light poised to pour
a stardust fascinator of gold
on the blue black

we were life moving through the forest
stepping on small branches which snapped with our weight
maple cracks sharp, oak cracks wet
magnolia cracks like fire
we sought the soft needles of pine

the moon was not bright enough
to cast truth on the borders
to say here, not here, there
all we could hear was the drum of fear
almost there, almost there

we were three miles free before we came to the endless river moving slow
the sun rising to pull pink steam off the
glistening path
us hunched on the rocks with fingers sliding into river

it’s so cold we gasp, and then we laugh
we’re so free we gasp
and then
we laugh

home going

Now for our prompt (optional, as always). One of the most popular British works of classical music is Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations. The “enigma” of the title is widely believed to be a hidden melody that is not actually played, but which is tucked somehow into the composition through counterpoint. Today I’d like you to take some inspiration from Elgar and write a poem with a secret – in other words, a poem with a word or idea or line that it isn’t expressing directly. The poem should function as a sort of riddle, but not necessarily a riddle of the “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” variety. You could choose a word, for example, “yellow,” and make everything in the poem something yellow, but never actually allude to their color. Or perhaps you could closely describe a famous physical location or person without ever mentioning what or who it actually is.

i was going home

from the store, pockets heavy
crossing the street i was eighty feet tall
a boy full of breath looking for a good time
a near-man who barely knew of kissing

pew pew pew
i was protecting everyone from robbers
with my plastic
and my wild american imagination
i was almost there

i was fear free flagrant woman
tobacco smoke in the car to balance my mind
i had a long day, my lover held my throat up for kisses before night came

to be honest i didn’t love the song
i just loved the vibration in the seat of the car, the walls, the rolled down windows shivering in rhythm
waiting for the tank to fill
to feel the wind move through our youth

i crashed the car in the night
shook up, surrounded by people in big houses, i chose the closest one
later i sent a thank you note for the moments in the light,
the use of the phone to call my momma

when i was a girl i would curl up next to grandma
so safe, i’d sleep like a cat in the sun
in the blue tones of TV light
on our hushed black street

i thought i was home
but i was going

elegy for masks

write an elegy – a poem that mourns or honors someone dead or something gone by. And I’d like to ask you to center the elegy on an unusual fact about the person or thing being mourned.

the whole time we been here we needed
another face to face the place we in
a sweet face to drift us through sour hunger
an honest face to cover the lie of ignorance
a mother face to gather up someone else’s child
while leaving our own wailing in the lean-to
a stoic face when something is taken from nothing, and for no reason
behind the faces we could breathe
the wet hot close stink air of life up against the edge of what a white world could handle

now our naked face can only say what is
everywhere we go our eyes seek the truth and bright up the moldy edges and unveil that we are not less than ourselves and not less than anyone else and our freedom has swollen us up, shaped us into a multitude of god’s face
the mask drips salt and water
into the dirt


how to love supreme

write a poem inspired by, or in the form of, a recipe! It can be a recipe for something real, like your grandmother’s lemon chiffon cake, or for something imaginary, like a love potion or a spell.

1 shackle, pile up like flower petal:
round her toe and her ankle
bare feet wounded by the earth
which doesn’t know how to hush with escape
which can’t imagine containment

idea(s) pulled from the eye:
of a beauty inverted from your own
of darkness wrapped up with danger
of hair that spread like virus
of sugar coated supremacy

1 barbed wire, unraveled from a heart:
opening the blood path to sky
soft confused touch on bruised flesh
that tried her whole life to be small
but she massive instead, even her heart

take these things under the next full moon
lay them flat on the naked soil
use one match per freedom – light it up
dance in the smoke until it thick all on you
and then dance even the smoke away

love is becoming a safe word

is becoming a safe word
one i use
when the risk is greater
than my courage

and i mean
slow down with me
and i mean
take my hand
and i mean
i want time with you
to see you whole

from this miraculous portion
we call a life
i want to give you truth
i want you to see me
off stage
and outside of wonder

love is becoming a safe word

i can taste the near-loves
with discernment
and say
oh that is unparalleled desire
oh that is a broken bowl who senses the gold in me
oh that is a new sibling
oh that is the future

and moving through
fields like curtains
i find what love is:
reflections of my self
that make me uncompromising

i find what love is:
a house where the windows
are gone
and the doors are all open
and i feel contained
and content

i feel what love is:
growing from gut heart
to the edges of my body
an ecstatic yes
to who i have been
and am becoming

saying absolutely no
smiling visceral yes
showing this, not that
a very specific please
and so much thank you
all this love in action
gives me more of my life

and with this
i write more poems
i grieve with my whole memory
i rage from the root
i care with no bitter edges
i accept what is
i surround myself with
sweetness, and excellence
and i create
with each next breath

and it is all delicious
it is all exquisite
it is all opening
it is all

letting a baby go

there is more blood than i can comprehend
my mind is full of the idea of the blood and
in the weeks after
i say more about this abundant blood lost into my body
than the baby
i look at the pictures
which seem to be from a planet of darkness
a claustrophobic place
i can see how you could get lost in there
i had a lover who was supposed to be light and casual
and then another
this is sometimes my way
and but this time
between one and the other
in the space of a month
i became with child
i was pregnant
and i don’t live a child friendly life
not in my body
the whiskey, the weed
the travels
the long nights creating in the half dark
i am a certain kind of woman
i love the woman i am
did the baby notice this
did the baby understand me so clearly
and turn it’s miraculous life
into a passing trauma
was i unworthy or unwilling
was he underwhelmed, unimpressed
was she unborn for any reason
a year of study has yielded no answers
only more tenderness and more
and this truncated
immeasurable love
this theoretical love
this vigor for a wholeness
no longer material
but magical
little lost one i want you to know
i have thought of you often
lived a parallel life with you
expanded into a great goddess full of you
labored for your entrance
nursed you from these magnificent breasts
rocked you past midnight
shown everyone your beauty
i have thought of how you were already whole
even if you were never viable
even if you got lost
as i often do
you were just like your mother
rooting everywhere
and yes
i have looked for you
in every other child
but you are nowhere to be found
outside my heart
so i know this
i know you would be 4 months old today
and i would always track time by your breath

i know everything i can know about you
and i will always love you
and i will always
love you

a pleasure activist at the dentist

dear hot dentist
your fingers in my mou-

dear hot dentist
we are so different
i learn from experience
you? years and money poured into school
so you could tilt me back in this chair
and plunge your fingers in –

dear hot dentist
it’s not all these feelings though
it’s just
it’s the vibrator in my mouth
making me giggle
uncontrollably –

dear hot dentist
even your assistant is hot?
you turn my jaw between you
telling me open
open –

dear hot dentist
you are seeing the worst of me
i swear
but i have learned so much
about small spaces
and your persistent fingers
and –

dear hot dentist
i blush and squirm
my swag a spittle on my chin
my tongue awkwardly avoiding your
everywhere fingers

but happy