by Tim Seibles 

It was already on when you came in:

a two-lane road, the car’s high beams
blaming the dark.  In the rearview mirror,
the downtown of a city—familiar, but not.

Because you have found yourself
cast in the world without your consent,

you think you must be something
like other people—like the dude
two rows back with his face lit by a phone

or maybe like the star    behind the wheel:
one eye swollen, the other tight in a squint. 

You want to know what happened,
what’s happening and where the road
will go and when and soon

she’s standing outside a 7-11
filling up her dusty, dark-blue Mustang.

Early sun steams the back window.
Maybe she drove all night—

her voice: part sorrow, part wind
under the overhang.  Why didn’t I  

see it before, she asks aloud
for everyone, flexing the engine,

ready to go.
This is the story of what

happens when what
has seemed one way

turns out to be another way:
like a priest.

Even when the day is sprung,
and you wake up trapped
in everything, you want this face

on screen: cool, without a flinch.

Even the way she steers
is a declaration—you want to drive
like that. 

You could drive like that:

like somebody in charge,
somebody who “knows the deal.”

 

On the passenger seat,
half-stashed in her scarf, a .38.

Your mind moves to revenge: how

your circumstances    just don’t
make any sense.  You want

to know who made it this way

and one chance to make them
back down and beg: the reversal,

sizzling with drama and music
that means you were right

 all along.  That’s why you

keep watching—like everyone else
holding their sodas in the dark.

She could be a friend,
A nice person who deserves

some goddam justice.  You
can tell she’d like another life:

without so many
hard decisions adding up

to only one.  Maybe

you really are the character
other people think you are,   

even though they can’t hear
what’s playing in your head.

After the movie, you walk
back into the mall wondering

if you could do what
she did.  That was  

pretty good, you mutter
with no one nearby  

 and light all over your face.                                                 

 

Poem copyright 2022 by Tim Seibles. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Tim Seibles debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: “The Last Black Cargo Blues Villanelle,” and“Naive.”  


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by Tim Seibles

                                          I love you but I don’t know you  
                                                          –Mennonite Woman

Sometimes somebody says something
and a lost piece of your life comes back:
When I was seven, I would walk home
with Dereck DeLarge, my arm

slung over his skinny shoulders,
autumn sun buffing our lunch boxes.
So easy, that gesture, so light—
the kind of love that lands like a leaf.

I’m trying to talk about
innocence: two black boys                                                                                     
whose snaggle-toothed grins
held a thousand giggles. 

Remember?  Remember
wanting to play
every minute, as if that
was why we were born?

Those hands that bring us crying
into the world, that first
hold us    must be like wings,
like gills. Though this place

is nothing like where we’d been,
we arrive almost blind, astonished
as if to Mardis Gras in full swing.
There must be a time

when a child’s heart builds
a chocolate sunflower—
the air, invisible velvet
touching his face.

I remember an inchworm
walking the back of my hand,
the way the green body bowed.
I tried to keep it with me all day. 

The change    must’ve come
slowly—the way insects go
silent with the autumn chill.
I want to understand

how each day ice grows
and thins beneath our feet:
This itching fury that holds me
now—this knowing

the soft welcome
that once lived inside me
was somehow sent away,
how I talk myself back

into all the regular disguises
but still walk these
American streets
believing in the weather

of the unruined heart.
Love: a secret handshake,
a password I just can’t recall.
My friends—their eyes

cornered by crow’s feet—
keep looking for a kinder
city    though they don’t
want to seem naïve.

When was the last time
you wrapped your arm
around someone’s shoulder
and walked him home?

 

Poem copyright 2022 by Tim Seibles. All rights reserved.

 

&
See more poems from Tim Seibles debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Movie” and “The Last Black Cargo Blues Villanelle.”


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by Tim Seibles
                                                   with Cudjo Lewis

Can’t unnerstand how we fit in dis scene
The day fall down like a man wit no bones
Don’t look like dis the dream I tried ta dream

Not sure what make dem white eyes so mean
Spent most’a my life tryin not ta cry alone
Can’t hardly see how I fit in dis scene

Pockets so empty even springtime ain’t green
Look like my best chance went off on its own
‘Cause dis ain’t the dream I been tryin’ ta dream

I bet dis the saddest place I ever seen
Me and my heart prolly destined ta roam
How’d I get caught up in dis scheme?

Guess some hammer done fell on my dream
You know how it go when your good luck get gone
Who want dis place ta be like it be?

You hear what I say    but dat ain’t what I mean
Been grindin so long my song scrape like a moan
Gotta get myself outta dis scheme

They say when I die leas’ my soul be clean
Maybe they think my hard head turnt ta stone
‘Cause dat ain’t the dream I been tryin’ ta dream

Dis country roll on like a floodwater stream
Nothin much left’a my body but bone

Look like I’m fit’n’ta die in dis scene
But sher ain’t the way it was s’posed ta be

 

     Note: Zora Neale Hurston’s recently recovered book, Barracoon, features a series of
              interviews with Cudjo Lewis (born Kossola Oluale in West Africa) in which he
              describes his life before and after being captured and shipped to the
              American South to be made a slave.

.

 

Poem copyright 2022 by Tim Seibles. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Tim Seibles debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Movie,”  and “Naive.”

 


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by Amanda Johnston

for Shamika Wilson, mother of Draylon Mason

and one day the sky opens and a voice says now and after decades of church on sunday bible study on wednesday grace and faith over every meal and heads bowed you look up and scream

no

and it is done the hand that hovers eternally points its long finger and touches the body and the armor wrapped with faith wrapped with prayer wrapped in the blood now soaked in loss and grieving goes quiet so quiet you could fool yourself into thinking it is all a dream

Poem copyright 2022 by Amanda Johnston. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Amanda Johnston debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: It Begins,”  “Two Americas,” and “How Do I Explain.


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by Amanda Johnston

 

A friend says online shopping is great!
You come home and there are packages
waiting for you like little gifts.
You should do it.
You deserve it.
It’s so much fun!

My daughter is afraid to open the door.
I check the front yard for tripwire, mumble
a little prayer– take me, take me.

 

Poem copyright 2022 by Amanda Johnston. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Amanda Johnston debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: It Begins,”  “untitled,” and “How Do I Explain”

 


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by Amanda Johnston

         
            March 2, 2018, the first package bomb detonates in Pflugerville, Texas

 

What does a bomb sound like when everything is exploding?

The coffee pot drips into mourning with the eerie buzz

of cars on the verge of collision. The world and its infinite

brink of life and breath, in and out, small bursts of the day-to-day.

And then a loud note cuts through a quiet street

announcing a terror, that has always been—is—

awake and hungry.  

 

Poem copyright 2022 by Amanda Johnston. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Amanda Johnston debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Two Americas,”  and “untitled,”  and “How Do I Explain.”


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by Amanda Johnston

A coworker sees me crying at the copier. I don’t know how to explain, so I don’t. She asks if I like poetry and says there is a poet I should check out named Maya Ange –

I go deaf and close my eyes relying on the machine in front of me to continue its business
and hold me up with the flow of industry and all that shows I have value.

A boy, this time, opened a box in his kitchen with his mother.
A world stops. The machine goes on.

 

 

Poem copyright 2022 by Amanda Johnston. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Amanda Johnston debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: It Begins,”  “Two Americas,” and untitled.”


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by A. Van Jordan

“…I am dead.
Thou livest; report me and my cause aright
To the unsatisfied.”
                  Hamlet Act 5, Scene 2

                  the body’s shadow
had much to say,
but no one in ear shot
understood its language

                 ~

                   the clouds stood heavy,
and when the cops confronted the body…

                  ~

             the boy showed his prowess to indulge in play,
just one of his many gifts,
which scared onlookers

                 ~

            no black man appeared in the park,
just a child, just people judging him

                 ~

          as he approached,
she wondered how she’d explain him
to her father

                  ~

          the opportunities for joy
presented themselves
in more colors than the boy
could name, so he chose black,
enjoying them all

                 ~

         passersby who laughed at him
showed their gratitude by memorizing his face,
then by wielding his visage whenever
they found themselves in a jam

                ~

          was his laughter a declaration
of his joy or a sacred prayer
offered over poor souls resigned to their fate

                 ~

          corn chips, black licorice, marbles,
plastic pellets, toy gun, jaw breakers,
bubble gum: crushed apogee of memory

                 ~

         when he imagines knowing then what he now knows,
he imagines dying before his time

                 ~

          a jar of preserved pears,
canned by his grandmother,
occupies his mind. When he gets home…

                 ~

          a man beats a drum in courtship to his beloved…
nah, a boy dribbles a basketball,
boasting of his youth

                 ~

        a saga took place in the mind of the police,
as they glimpsed the black child,
who was caught smiling as he walked toward them

                 ~

        his sister’s scream, pulled
from a well too black to ring shallow,
echoes whenever his name …

Poem copyright 2022 by A. Van Jordan. All rights reserved.

&
See two more poems from A. Van Jordan debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Bored, Tamir Chooses to Dream,”  and  “Hex


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by A. Van Jordan

Well, once a path is chosen, there’s no limit
            to where you might arrive. Imagine his playing,
high above layered rooftops and along the edges

of trees; at one point, following the curving line
            of the park or the grade of the grass;
at another, the invisible whims of the breeze.

Imagine him sheering off as soon as the range
           of the city’s rooftops disappear and deciding
here, here is where I’ll drum, here is where I’ll

 play the cop and the robber, and here I’ll
            fall asleep like a bird, tucked head under wing,
a world of limbs and leaves to support me.

Once a boy dreams, there’s no limit
            to where he might soar off, above
pointing fingers and straining voices

trying to name his species. A boy
           like that would seek a laughter
loud enough to reach him

above anything pointed at him,
           above anyone approaching him,
above any sound thin enough to pass

through the gossamer of his dreams
           and just disappearing into a murmur
below him too faint to offer a reason

           to look at what could possibly disturb
the object of his day.

Poem copyright 2022 by A. Van Jordan. All rights reserved.

&
See two more poems from A. Van Jordan debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Fragments of Tamir’s Body,”  and  “Hex


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by A. Van Jordan

after Lynda Hull

The day of the spell was the day of cast shadows,
of diaphanous figures whipped clean of fear,
angels ablaze sailing a coastline of hushed tête-à-têtes,
adagio tenor wails laced with rage, smoke rising
from the wails, from the laughter; just when
the last local trains crawled into stations;

just when televisions grew verdigris in homes, obsolete
from indolence; just when black signatories erased
their names and put on their boots, cirrus streaks formed
on the skyline of the city. A mother held her
barely alive son, the son to whom she vowed
protection from harm. Having thrown a circle

of goofer dust to enclose her enemies, she raises
a totem over her head. It’s now time: Let her wield
the words of black declensions, new vowels,
the best nouns of home training, of damn good sense.
Let her sit for a spell, wipe sleep from her eye.
Let her obtain a license for what’s lethal

from whatever God has taken her image,
whenever the sun comes over the buildings,
whenever the moon weighs more than the sun,
more than Pisces and Neptune. Walk to
a street corner with plenty of witnesses,
where you’ll bear no isolation,
sing your words facing North or even higher.

Now, walk backward through the chains
of time from each past and current hindrance
to our future. Invoke the names of those
not ceding privilege in boardrooms, the ones who oppress
to their graves. Now summon each forgotten spirit,
each fallen son. Bless each prayed-up grandmother,

each open door and vivid corridor. Bless the pains
spared you, vicarious to you, passed down in your blood,
carrying you through the dangers and the echoes of time.
Remember: family echoes within your body; history
pulls through you as you move through a day.
Raise them in this… prayer, let’s call it,

to that God who took your image.
Go to the tree, to the home, to the street corner,
and spread these words–tossing wreaths,
spinning incantations–where torn
life collapsed under a last breath.

Poem copyright 2022 by A. Van Jordan. All rights reserved.

&
See two more poems from A. Van Jordan debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Fragments of Tamir’s Body,”  and  “Bored, Tamir Chooses to Dream


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt