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

by Cyrus Cassells

1

Mister, from love’s keening distance,
I send you dread, discord,

A dead pauper’s
Unerring kiss, “double, double,

Toil and trouble”—the foraged
Bolts, welts, and buffoonish stitches

Of your own meandering,
Pell-mell Frankenstein;

From Lady Justice’s impeccable scales,
I bequeath you

A child’s flimsy cootie-catcher,
Opened to the words

Comb-over or Snake!—
A throwaway crown, a fake,

Fracked-to-the-hilt
Share of heirloom land,

Acres of unsellable real estate
On the very dissipated earth

You doggedly lacerated
And dismantled—

At an eleventh hour, when the lollygagging,
Wall-building, around-the-clock inanities,

 

2

And countless renegade cruelties
Have ceased to grow and cascade

Like Rapunzel’s hair,
And the glittering hourglass sands

Have nearly halted,
Apprentice felon, primetime charlatan,

Un-budging jester on the Hill,
May the emperor-is-naked folderol,

The blight of your slipknot reign,
Your slap-shrill tenure,

Shock your tattered soul in full…

 

Poem copyright 2021 by Cyrus Cassells. All rights reserved.

&
See two more poems from Cyrus Cassells debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Maples Anticipating Their Autumn Colors,”  and  “My Only Bible


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

by Cyrus Cassells

Yoshi, at your sudden death,
What stays under my lids, in my body,

After decades: how we biked
The placid length of Kannonji,

Pedaling past ample rice fields
And Shikoku’s ramshackle docks,

The ragtag blue stacks
Of an imposing factory in the distance—

Beside an uphill shrine,
Its irrepressible maples anticipating

Their vibrant autumn colors,
We found an unlikely vendor

Hawking Cokes and gimcrack prayer beads,
His piped-in koto music

Sinuous among the pines,
A midsummer effort to conjure

The melancholy female ghost
Who lingered and sang on the glinting slope,

Her inescapable voice calling down a god
In the form of a crane,

Its white wings dripping
The cool water of Ursa Major—

 

 

Poem copyright 2021 by Cyrus Cassells. All rights reserved.

&
See two more poems from Cyrus Cassells debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: My Only Bible,”  and  “The Absence of the Witch Does Not Invalidate the Spell


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

by Cyrus Cassells

Is this blood-red joy
Of breathing beside you

And never divining
Your next beguiling voilà:

For instance, the nubile lemon
You culled in Sóller,

Brand new husband,
Shines, sun-blond and solid,

On the sill,
Pure as a murex shell

Or a nomad’s wish—
No wind whistles down

From the timeless sierra,
So after our solstice vows,

You press your apt citrus’s
Soothing, gently cooling rind

First to my lips,
Then my slightly sunburned nape—

Finally setting it to rest
On my shirtless torso;

With this honeymoon abracadabra
As nimble cue,

Let me linger and praise
The hermitage and gleaming groves

Above the cobbled village
Where your harlequin mother was born,

The gospel of bougainvillea
At your boyhood gate—the apotheosis,

Bridegroom, balm-giver,
Bell-clear dreamer,

Of your own full blossoming
And transfixing flair,

Of the soul’s endless, luxuriant
Coming and becoming…

 

 

Poem copyright 2021 by Cyrus Cassells. All rights reserved.

&
See two more poems from Cyrus Cassells debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Maples Anticipating Their Autumn Colors,”  and  “The Absence of the Witch Does Not Invalidate the Spell


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

 

by Jaki Shelton Green

my children thrive. whether i feed them or not. in this museum of tragedies. smudged handwriting of all your freedom songs. freedom prayers that do not translate into any language. smeared across walls. crawling out of equatorial fog mass. a bloom of tropical air lifts your hair into this dry horizontal wind. inside this house. a wind you deny. we love beneath bedraggled backyard roses. they too hold shadows. sadness in their petals. a slap of razor to the walls. whispering morning sorrow. becoming song for the death of things green. the eroticism of suede. bare sleek wood. glass balls hanging. steel bulbs. is not lost on me. i awaken in the center of the slave girl’s dream. not that one. but this new slave girl. in the center of her winter flower dream. in the center of white clustered petals. inside dark praying palms. fingerprints pressing hard against make believe wedding dress. a bouquet of nettle. primrose. queen anne’s lace. her life barely a whisper. barely a whimper. from the floorboards of an open book. her heart remembers all the flavors of danger. she married them all before in another dream. beneath canopies of thistle lace spread over burial grounds. singing wisteria. one legged sparrow. dagger-toothed womb. sassafras mouth. she married them all. in geeche swamps. moss covered lynching trees. houses built on rooster bones. liquor stills. cotton plants that cry when you touch them. my heart opens in the center of the new slave girl’s dream. where her vows are a shudder of blessed death. stronger than any other light she swallowed before. stronger than this dream dust. i birthed you in april. you were nobody’s apology. nobody’s unadorned table. you made the dying worth living. i am the scribe paid in silver. a shepherd girl. barely old enough to tell her story. she opens my hands. counts the silence. the emptiness inside each space of joint that is dead. breathless. my hands have emptied many wombs. cried for the remembrance of dead babies. lost shepherd girls. my hands now receive all the disguises of everything i have forgotten how to name. how to count. how to love.

Poem copyright 2021 by Jaki Shelton Green. All rights reserved.

&
See two more poems from Jaki Shelton Green debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: The Communion of White Dresses”  and  “For the lover who eats my poems


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

 

by Jaki Shelton Green

I write for these sounds of bruised whispers. Lovely indigo painted hands. Sea-washed coral brocade covers shuddering loveliness. I gasp for mercy. Scarred rainbows leave a trail of ladies-in-waiting. Trails of spent ripeness. Trails of skin so close I can hear it breathe bleed fruit into lush. It is an evening of breaking branches that we will bandage at sunrise.  Your tongue is a beckoning forest.  Star-lit. Liquid whole face conjuring a delectable pilgrimage. My hair is the only map you need. Coarse uncharted navigation deep into this tangled web of throttle rhythm infinite symphonies horizons of songs. We are tangled in binding breath to prayer. Our history of sound becomes a snare drum. A decoration of ancestral thrust. A declaration of the summer when we were full of tongues kinky mornings. You prefer a feast of hair but I offer neck shoulders a delicacy of sleepless wrists singing ribs and dangerous unhinged ankles and feet. A smile holding seven seas and unmentionable continents. We wade through a millennium of oceans tropical spasms fierce star bursts. We have stolen this land this cocoon of earth for harvest deliverance birthing of new face new love new skin. It is not a shackled dance. It is not a voodoo hoodo dance. It is not a midnight flower we bring screaming head first into this world. It is all the voices you sewed inside my heart. It is all the nights of mothers waiting. It is all the Decembers of a son’s lynching. It is all the mornings swept clean of hungry ghosts. It is all the love we can carry beneath our tongues. A tenderness so wanton it lashes petals wind the inside outside of our house. Here is the place to sow. Here is the space to scalp mercy siphon full moon mirror. We are this tangled confession. Blazing bare shadows. A treason of midriffs. Honey-laced thighs. Uncouth sighs. Neon heartbeats… and in this while it is enough to slide my fingers down into a stammering heartbeat and wait for you to become my primal scream. We breathe a soundless tsunami. We become the oak covering our windows. Our roots collapsing with thunder rising beneath masked skins and a rain that claims us. 

 

Poem copyright 2021 by Jaki Shelton Green. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Jaki Shelton Green debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: The Communion of White Dresses” and “Stillbirth.”

 


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

 

by Jaki Shelton Green

In my dreams, I am all the women in generations of white dresses white Sundays

that cover altars in all the hushed seams of white linen.

White gloves lift, pour, sift whispered prayers across crystal cups. Blood becomes bread.

I learn to lift white dresses over my head careful not to disturb the pleats that will soon

be crushed by hungry hands. What is the difference between standing, pouring blood

down the throats of phantom believers and kneeling before the parched lips of a nameless lover?

White dresses bear secrets in the neckline, along hem stitches. White dresses remember the

language of hands lifting, stretching, folding them into the froth of a cloud forest.

I am the shadow of all the white dresses hidden. I am the ghost of all the white dresses

remembering the stretch of a daughter’s shroud. The dance of another daughter’s wedding veil.

I am the tears that hold the needles steady while grandmothers stitch a Rapunzel of sky. I am 

breath that is caught in the fragrance of a mother’s hair. White communion dresses wade in the

holiness of a forced faith that does not rhyme with my name. I become red fierce bloody ocean

swallowing a procession of white dresses at dawn. Rapunzel Rapunzel let down your hair.

Come dance in the cloud forest. Come dress the nymphs in your long silky strands. Come lift the

skirts of thirsty virgins. Stand beneath the altar to catch all the white dresses that they are casting

into the wind. My shoulders sigh under the reluctance of stiff coarse white dresses woven with

shards of prisms so tight the waist becomes a prison. I want to undress my Sunday body for slow

patient redressing of Saturday night black lace. Black sweat. A Black promise to erase this white

stain. White dresses become harsh smears. Confessional cages. White dresses on my skin remind

me of the unraveling of crows hiding in the elderberry tree. Hiding all things shiny. All things

unborn to a womb of ink. This is the tightness inside the throat of a white dress that pulls stitches

tighter. That threaten mutiny. I am the night walker in white. I am the song of the legend of the

woman in the white cloud forest who is known to eat the lace from her sleeves her collars her

buttons. White dresses become succor for a timeless famine. White dresses. White doves. White

stones. White crosses. White veils. I am the one chosen to commit. Conceal. Execute. Reveal.

Undress the sorcery. Betrayal. Acquisition. Acquittal. The dowry of white dresses.

The violence of white dresses….

Cover me tenderly.

 

Poem copyright 2021 by Jaki Shelton Green. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Jaki Shelton Green debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Stillbirth,” and “For the lover who eats my poems…

 


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

Variation 2: How to Travel

by Brenda Marie Osbey

city of palms
palms and brick
sugar
indigo
palms and live oak, cypress, pine and nànier –
city veiled in sweet olive, night jasmine, rose, mimosa
breathing azalea, camellia, oleander
city blooming straight from swamp
bamboo and black willow flat upside the
noisesome votives of human sweat, dung of pack animals –
the pound and slip and cloy of the far too many funky corner dives.

should you chance to come to my city
pray do not be taken in by the vaunted allure of the place
storied beauty of so many dark women –
men darker still –
do not tarry along the various and sundry water bodies that will seem
to rock you, coddle, contain you for a song.
at all costs, keep to outer edges of all narrow public walkways.
if you can help it, do not walk at all.
keep birth certificate, at least one passport
exactly one set of keys always among yourselves and always at the ready.
if you must drive
then
lock yourself snugly – always – inside your car your companion’s car the nearest taxi, any seeming suitable and available vehicle or secure building
bearing in mind that few buildings here ever are secure.
obey warnings read signs
many, though by no means all of which will read:
we cannot, will not be responsible for loss of life
nor any truer, more costly valuables.

travelers. travelers so often find themselves spat up
slim pickings from oh-so-lovely pearlescent teeth of small bands of natives
– wanton waste but true –
for lack of sufficient savor and spice
wanton

connoisseurs of known and of unknown delicacies
we
finger fond memories of cane liquor and sugar-tit
sweet-oil and blackest softest earth
innards and outtards gristle and bone
we
suffer from so great a wealth
of hungers
as never to grow quite full or fat or oily enough
true. all true.
the lies you have heard about my city – thoroughly simply unmistakably true.

(we still do
go at times to lake lagoon bayou-water sea  
to count
whether by head or feet excised organ or vulnerable member
our own long-captured-tortured-most-violently-anciently
discarded
on whose behalf, it happens, i appeal to you now):

attend to your your health.
at the very least keep sanitary. keep well. travel safe. stay alive.
do not chance it.

do not tarry in this city cursed and consecrated
for all its beckon and seeming beauty
the wildness
of its children
its waters
streets and street corners

ours is far too
great a hunger

we are far too many women of far too many shades of black
too lovely to be safe – and men as lovely as that
oaks and roses
tall tipsy pines
black willow
mimosa
bamboo shirring
too many
great palms and far too

many many funky dives.

Poem copyright 2020 by Brenda Marie Osbey. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from  Brenda Marie Osbey debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Fieldwork,” and “In Memory of Katherine Foster, Free Negress, Late, of these Parts.”


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