2022 OPEN Finalists: Part 2 of 3

Thank you for joining us on the journey through the OPEN winners! You can find Yi Wei’s winning poem here, and Part 1 of the finalists here. For Part 2, we’re sharing work by Kiki Nicole, Chelsea Dingman, and Shakeema Smalls.


BORN, SICK by Kiki Nicole

“BORN, SICK” takes its title from the Hozier song, “Take Me to Church.”


Kiki Nicole is an agender poet and antidisciplinary artist living in Charlotte, NC. Through poetry, new media, and textiles, they archive, prioritize, and nurture the realms of the Black Interior. Their work has been published in Scalawag Magazine, The Studio Museum in Harlem, beestung mag, Shade Literary Arts, and more. Kiki is the co-founder of the new media/film archival project and screening series, the first and the last, specializing in uplifting work by Black trans/queer new media artists often overlooked in traditional art spaces. In 2021, they served as the Citizen Literary Fellow at Graywolf Press. Kiki is currently a poetry editor at Muzzle Magazine and a member of North Carolina-based art collectives, Goodyear Arts and Saltwater Sojourn.


Mass (a reverse sestina) by Chelsea Dingman

That our violence might be sought—how strange
the ruins made of ordinary things. That I might’ve been that mass
you wanted to be cured of. That ruin I made of you—

my heart as it was. The world passes
away from us, then returns. By day, by night. The moon unhands
the sea. My children sleep inches from me. Undone,
we ask each other everything. I ask only that you
stay dead. I’m afraid of what the mammogram will say. Of the mass
shooting in another state that makes us strangers

to reason. Your life is all I remember of dying. The hands
of the clock, unwound. I was lonely. You
told me to go outside. You changed the locks. Estrangements:
the forest & the trees. That treeless field. A mass
in your chest, its root system. The undoing
of which almost quieted you. I want to live past

that quiet. I spent my life forsaking you
in one-bedroom houses, stale with smoke & mass
miscarriages: of light, of blood. Nothing that matters a little. I passed
off the light or dust as undone
by the children sleeping in rooms my body couldn’t fill. It’s strange
how small the distance between hurt & harm. Your hand,

its small glances of sun. That damage. A makeshift mass,
I confessed to no one how I might be undone
in the mouths of the daffodils, their hands
bright against the pines, those indigo skies. O, the strangers
we’ve been for all these years, mother. How I lose the past,
again & again, to the home under my fingertips. And you,

that fool who could not keep from undoing
light, emptied of its estrangement
from loss. Last night, I sat with you
gone, my children lining my body like a past
winter. The water they dug up with their hands
allowed the rivers that I amass

to cut through yellow grasses in the yard. Yesterday, strange
as care now. This careful hour that I pass
in an ice bath. In my breast, nothing kneels at the mass
there. That nation-state. The way I knelt in your hand
to daughter your deaths. Homeless as sky in you.
How I became, by a crack in the language, undone—



Chelsea Dingman’s first book, Thaw, was chosen by Allison Joseph to win the National Poetry Series (University of Georgia Press, 2017). Her second book, through a small ghost, won The Georgia Poetry Prize (University of Georgia Press, 2020). Her third collection, I, Divided, is forthcoming from Louisiana State University Press in 2023. She is also the author of the chapbook, What Bodies Have I Moved (Madhouse Press, 2018). She is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Alberta. Visit her website: chelseadingman.com.


Watermelon Woman by Shakeema Smalls

The cashier asks me if these are my melons.
I have three with heavy yellow spots, so sweet. I tell her
mostly. She says that’s how you got such nice skin and
this makes me solar. So I smile and lightly touch the sweet
spot on my belly, too. My afro, cotton across my neck.
My hoop earrings, cool against the edge of my jaw.
It is the hottest day of summer and the world is ending,
or so the white folks say.

Today, I can only think of how I want to be touched,
of how I want them to hear the pop of my heels when
I walk. Of how I want a holiday where I am a lamp
filled with oil, how I want your abracadabra on my thighs.
My want, no diode but all-electric.
I want to bloom like water, like want, like light—
I want
              I want
                           I want
                                            to eat your heart.



Shakeema Smalls is from Georgetown, South Carolina. Her work has been published in a variety of outlets including Honey Literary, Blackberry: A Magazine, Tidal Basin Review, Root Work Journal, Radius Lit, Free Black Space, Vinyl Poetry and Prose, Rigorous, and A Gathering of the Tribes Magazine, among others. She has upcoming work in Hayden’s Ferry and Emergent Literary. She was a Tin House 2022 Winter Workshop participant, a 2022 PEN Emerging Voices Fellow, and was named a Periplus finalist for 2023.
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