Luther Hughes’ 10 Poems by QPOC that Shut Me the **** Up and Got Me All the Way Together
For December’s column, Luther Hughes is curating ten amazing poems by ten amazing queer poets of color, published in 2018. A special thank you to all these poets for allowing us to reprint your work!
I often think of end-of-the-year reflections as a moment to reintroduce myself to the things that have brought me joy and to reevaluate the things that have weakened me. To the things that left me weak, I see you. To the things that have brought me joy, I hope we meet again.
It’s true, if I could say so, that 2018’s poetry was phenomenal and even though many (ignorant) media outlets have said: “poetry is not dead”—proving they don’t have an idea of what poetry has looked like over the last century—this year is evidence that poetry is truly alive.
I have witnessed an influx of stellar poets and poems which has not been seen in generations. Regardless, poems in 2018 have not only reminded me to survive, but also interrogated my depression. And for that, for those poems and poets, I say, Thank you.
Deciding which 10 poems “got me all the way together,” has been difficult. But, if you must know how I chose: I either cried, or threw my phone, or ran back to the poem at the end of the night, or was utterly speechless. In Paul Tran’s poem, “Like Judith Slaying Holofernes,” I am reminded to always be ready for battle: “I am that bitch. / I am dogged. I am so damned // not even Death wanted me.” In Joshua Jennifer Espinoza’s poem, “Things Haunt,” I am reminded that desperation and exasperation is beautifully human. When I reread “Duplex” by Jericho Brown, I fall in love again and again, and that love is a cycle worth repeating. To say the least, even returning to these poems is a hard door to walk through, but I hope we, hand-in-hand, can walk through together.
by Jake Skeets, published originally in Winter Tangerine
with some lines from James Thomas Stevens
t’óó łichíínaked or all red
hastįįh łichíí’goman naked, man all red
łichīī’goI am naked, I am all red
shida’ łichíí’gomy uncle naked, my uncle all red
shínaaí łichíí’gomy brother naked, my brother all red
the closest men become is when they are covered in blood
or with nothing at all
+ + +
by Phillip B. Williams, published originally in Poets.org
In the first place—I wanted him and said so
when I had only meant to say. His eyes
opened beyond open as if such force would unlock me
to the other side where daylight gave reason
for him to redress.
When he put on his shirt,
after I asked him to keep it off, to keep putting off
the night’s usual end, his face changed beneath
the shirt: surprise to grin, to how even the body
of another’s desire can be a cloak behind which
to change one’s power, to find it.
In the first place
he slept, he opened the tight heat of me that had been
the only haven he thought to give a name:
Is-it-mine? Why-you-running? Don’t-run-from-it—as though
through questions doubt would find its way away from me,
as though telling me what to do told me who I was.
by Noor Ibn Najam, published originally in Poets.org
oh teita, the language the english no it understand tongue of you.
and no can i
i feed you these the morsels from mouth of me. language of me
the arabic half-
chewed. oh teita, let me i try and i fail to fit languages of us in
seen i face of you split open by riot laughter. the spit it falls
without grace from
lips of you thins. complexion of you light; skin of you wrinkled
flecks olive they try to jump from folds of the corners of the eyes
of you. can i
find in the mirror eyelids of you the heavy. eyelashes of you. the
echo of the
nose of you. sometimes, i split open face of me with spoon, tool
wrong. i want from you for you to bleed from in me into the sink,
so that can i i
ask these the questions sprinkled you in lungs of me. i cough out
in the time the wrong. i laugh. soil of the grave falls it without
grace from lips
by Raquel Salas Rivera, published originally in The Offing
oh to be white, america
oh to be white america
ode to being white: america:
ode to being white america
or to be white in america
or to be white america
or to be america,
“puerto rico puerto riiiico
es mi tierra natal
no la cambio por ninguna
aunque me paguen un capital”
how far will we go to believe we will save everyone with a box of rice
and beans? should i forgive myself for the cruelty i showed when i was most beaten down, clawing
up the walls of my heart with an icepick? i saw over an arm that reached down to me
from the edges of my chest, saw your face, a sudden burst of hot water in the winter air.
the pick pierced your hand and the pick was my hand, a long nail
reaching out of my flesh into yours until you were wounded. i did that
because you are white and i had been living at the bottom of this heart
eating the ashes of my ancestors and the children i bore in silence. i
promised them a whispered vengeance. you’d been living in the outside
world, seeing films, laughing, being overworked, living, paying bills.
how could i just move on?
i am sorry for the things i said when i was broken that autumn when so
many of us were killed and cremated. i’m sorry i said you didn’t care,
spit in the cactus, and broken a plate against my chest when you weren’t
looking. i’m sorry i was afraid to burn a flag because i had nowhere to
return. instead i cut across our sheets, planting red seeds in the
 arroz con pollo
she arrived three years ago
she is now married to a white man
she lives in allentown
he arrived five days ago
he is now living with a cousin
he is still looking for work
she arrived one year ago
she got a job at target
she takes pictures on the train
and wears long johns
they arrived a month ago
they broke up last week
they are depressed
they can’t remember when they arrived
they keep threatening to move back
i can live without electricity
i’ve done it before
 repartiendo pastillas como chicles
not a single blue tarp in heaven
 pero sobran cielos plásticos en el paraíso
by Melissa Lozada-Oliva, published originally in The Adroit Journal
The thing is life gets in the pits,
all yellow, all used. Get out of here
with your dog-eared under-arms, baby.
You have to pretend to be dead
or wear it for a good reason. So I wore it
to the movies & I cried at the previews.
I wore it to the cafe & I asked for some alternative milk.
I wore it to the protest & they took a picture of me
without my permission. I spilled beer on it
at the punk show. I took the train
going the wrong way. I learned my lesson & I took it back,
tucked it into a box & then under my bed.
I wore it to space. I tried to be a star-fucker
but I forgot protection. I wore it to a brand new city. I tried to live
in the moment but my bank account overdrew.
I listened to “Heaven knows I’m miserable now” & it got stuck
in the zipper. I hopped up & down & it didn’t come off.
I went to the park & I pretended to read a classic on a bench.
I held flowers then I put them in my hair. I went to parades.
I said “Woo!” because I’m a “Woo!” girl. I had a few drinks
& I said “Esooo!” instead. I walked under the archways.
I threw pennies into the fountains.
I went to the readings. I wrote down my favorite lines.
I passed by all the mirrors.
I touched all of the sandals on sale.
And it still got colder. And the leaves still
changed color. And you still couldn’t see me.
by b: william bearhart, published originally in The Rumpus
I, too, understand a body wrecked as it is and sung
with a foxtail glove. I understand a crimson dress
pulled from a hallway closet.
I get the switch of yellow tulle on sunny satin as a boy’s hips
sashay in the upstairs bedroom
far away from his father who wrote a drunken note
to a mother on a paper plate
“Take this kid back with you.”
I understand how faggot is a brother’s hand
wrapped around the throat of a blue jay.
How gasping is a copper horn of a fabulous night panther
puncturing the lung.
I understand this precious of things.
I understand hands, their volatility,
how a father builds intricate explosives:
missiles, alcoholic siblings, bodies red clayed
and inlaid with grenades. I’m unpinned
with little time. I understand being the weakest
of my father’s kids. O, Daddy,
I understand how a father can sit quiet
while his queered blue jay son is silenced
on the floor as the family watches
a brother choke a brother
because one son might not be his son.
I understand a wilted coxcomb
I understand a field of red tulips
gardened down a face.
by Paul Tran, published originally in POETRY
I know better than to leave the house
without my good dress, my good knife
like Excalibur between my stone breasts.
Mother would have me whipped,
would have me kneeling on rice until
I shrilled so loud I rang the church
bells. Didn’t I tell you that elegance is our revenge,
that there are neither victims nor victors
but the bitch we envy in the end? I am that bitch.
I am dogged. I am so damned
not even Death wanted me. He sent me back
after you sacked my body
the way your armies sacked my village, stacked
our headless idols in the river
where our children impaled themselves
on rocks. I exit night and enter your tent
gilded in a bolt of stubborn sunlight. My sleeves
already rolled up. I know they will say
I am a slut for showing this much skin, this
irreverence for what is seen
when I ask to be seen. Look at me now: my thighs
lift from your thighs, my mouth
spits poison into your mouth. You nasty beauty.
I am no beast, but my blade
sliding clean through your thick neck
while my maid keeps your blood off
me and my good dress will be a song
the parish sings for centuries. Tell Mary.
Tell Eve. Tell Salome and David about me.
Watch their faces, like yours, turn green.
by Jericho Brown, published originally in American Poetry Review
I begin with love, hoping to end there.
I don’t want to leave a messy corpse.
I don’t want to leave a messy corpse
Full of medicines that turn in the sun.
Some of my medicines turn in the sun.
Some of us don’t need hell to be good.
Those who need least, need hell to be good.
What are the symptoms of your sickness?
Here is one symptom of my sickness:
Men who love me are men who miss me.
Men who leave me are men who miss me
In the dream where I am an island.
In the dream where I am an island,
I grow green with hope. I’d like to end there.
by Bailey Cohen, published originally in The Shallow Ends
Cuando era un niño, I spoke
with a softer voice. We all flew
so ignorantly of the ground
and the muscle tendons in our backs.
Like Icarus, I am winged
only sometimes. No puedo volar
so instead I fall as deliberately as I can.
Like a coward, I wish to die
in my sleep. To float & then
keep floating. To wisp away,
leaving nothing but tastes
of salt and vanilla. My people have
always cared too little
of the velocity of burning.
Look! Today is so blue and sky-filled!
I can almost see your grandmother.
Mira! Hijo, tenemos the entire world
if we just keep walking a little bit more.
I know you want to fly,
but can’t you feel
the grass between your toes?
té recuerdas the first prayer I ever
How the words
through your feathers
by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, published originally in Poets.org
California is a desert and I am a woman inside it.
The road ahead bends sideways and I lurch within myself.
I’m full of ugly feelings, awful thoughts, bad dreams
of doom, and so much love left unspoken.
Is mercury in retrograde? someone asks.
Someone answers, No, it’s something else
like that though. Something else like that.
That should be my name.
When you ask me am I really a woman, a human being,
a coherent identity, I’ll say No, I’m something else
like that though.
A true citizen of planet earth closes their eyes
and says what they are before the mirror.
A good person gives and asks for nothing in return.
I give and I ask for only one thing—
Hear me. Hear me. Hear me. Hear me. Hear me.
Hear me. Bear the weight of my voice and don’t forget—
things haunt. Things exist long after they are killed.
Luther Hughes is a Seattle native and author of Touched (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018). He is the Founding Editor in Chief of The Shade Journal, Executive Editor for The Offing, and Editor-at-Large of Frontier Poetry. A Cave Canem fellow, his work has been published or is forthcoming in various journals including, Hayden’s Ferry Review, New England Review, TriQuartlery, Four Way Review, and others. Luther received his MFA from Washington University in St. Louis. You can follow him on Twitter @lutherxhughes. He thinks you are beautiful.