- The Exchange: To Our Flags
- The Exchange: The Negro Speaks of Dryland
- The Exchange: blue is darker than Black
- The Exchange: Sans Fleur
- The Exchange: Blindspot
- The Exchange: Her.
- The Exchange: Lint
- The Exchange: Reality Check
- The Exchange: Caution
- The Exchange: Rubik’s Cube
- The Exchange: The Path
- The Exchange: sTREEtS
- The Exchange: Butter
- The Exchange: The Bright Side
- The Exchange: Concrete to Shoreline
- This Empty Cage
- Paper Machete
- The Exchange: Marketplace
The Exchange is the Weekly’s poetry corner, where a poem or piece of writing is presented with a prompt. Readers are welcome to respond to the prompt with original poems, and pieces may be featured in the next issue of the Weekly.
This special edition is more than just an exchange; it’s a marketplace where readers and writers have traded in an array of poems in response to multiple of our prompts. This section includes This Empty Cage, which features the writings of currently or formerly incarcerated folks, Paper Machete, where young poets turned our stories into their own tools, and much more.
And it Shall Be Given
by Chima “Naira” Ikoro
i heard that human needs are insatiable;
there will always be a new thing for us to ask God for
once that last request is fulfilled or forgotten,
but that’s just human.
i wonder if for every thing we gain, we lose one thing
to keep us wishing and wanting and busy.
what is there to live for if we have everything we want?
if we see stars crossing the sky,
or candles on a cake,
and we are speechless?
our desire—dried up in our throats.
our mouths empty and closed, having already been fed.
To Ask is to Exist.
to cross my fingers, clasp my hands on the edge of my bed,
to rejoice one moment
and to revisit that prayer with an addition the next,
is to be alive.
so i always kneel, squeeze my eyes closed,
part my lips to receive. if i can breathe
enough to ask in faith,
then, if i am not anything else, at least
i am still here.
Featured below are submissions or reader responses to our prompts. The previous prompts and poems can be found here.
Directions to find me
If you are looking for me and know it or 1
Find the nearest blackness
Whether it’s the ink you’re reading, a pot of greens, a turned off phone, your eyelids, a city’s sky.
Then find yourself lost in it.
If you come for me, follow the music, let your knees unbuckle.
put on the dirty sneakers in your trunk.
If you come for me, come with empty solo cups.
bring a bib and a tongue ready for fingers.
I’m leaving tonight and you’re coming after or with me.
Ain’t you ever disappeared before?
We don’t blend in with the blackness
we become it.
2 or If you are looking for me and don’t know it.
I’ll be a light in Chicago’s skyline or
a star in Mississippi’s sky waiting
I’ve been chasing my whole life.
your papers are slow burners
the lightness of your joint will once dissipate.
The laughter of smoke sessions always grow
into only echoes. Bills get high
in the city, someone will have to flip the switch
Stars always burn out. We all fade. I’ve been chasing my whole life
who will run for me?
Dead Man’s Dogma
by Armani Rogers
Shoot first and you just might survive
Niggas getting by
Scheming on people who keep ties
Keep ya feet alive
Pull it at the white if they eyes
I’m never sugar coating shit
Won’t even tell a white lie
We some Minute men
wading in water
For our dividends
Blood runs thick
But it never can tell where rivers end
Talking bout fives but never giving ten
Came a long way from doing nothing
Ask em where they been
Inner tensions overcome
From doing dumb shit
And other shit we grew up with
Take the time to savor ya flavor
Don’t Push ya luck
Cause when you die
All the guilt and your angst
Is what you stick with
Ode To Nikki Parker
by Alycia Kamil (2019)
This piece was inspired by the stifling experience of constantly viewing the mistreatment of Black women in film and TV. Growing up it was hard to shake the indoctrination that someone who looks like me would ever be deserving of true love that doesn’t come with being ridiculed either before or after the fact. When we’re constantly witnessing the public humiliation of Black women on screen, it aids & enables what we see in real life.
Black men don’t know what they got,
Til they don’t got it no more.
You deserve love, just like anyone else.
You don’t need to be the punchline to anyone’s joke.
The second option, someone’s last resort.
You fine, just the way you are.
When can a Black woman love, without being ridiculed?
When can a Black woman be herself, without being deemed as less than?
Who told you, you weren’t worth more in the first place?
Why does pain always have to be synonymous with love?
Why didn’t anyone tell you, you could’ve done better from jump.
We praised you for loudly being who you are,
Just to see you limit yourself to a man who only likes you when you’re silent.
How come black women always gotta be quiet to be desirable?
Why, when we rightfully take up space, we’re expected to shrink to finally be held?
And we can never seem to be small enough.
Love be that fairytale ending we never see.
Someone forgot to add that to our storyline.
True love for us be a typo.
A plot twist.
Our happiness, be the last two episodes of the series,
After going through 5 seasons of being laughed at.
And is it really happiness if we had to sacrifice so much for it?
We so good at sacrifice.
So good at holding space for others and never for ourselves.
We be placemat and fine with it.
Were told if we did that, we’d find the right one.
And what do they do to find us?
What sacrifices do they make?
Your worth isn’t because of that man.
Isn’t because he finally saw what he was missing,
After years of it being right in his face.
You don’t need that man to bring something out of you we don’t already see.
You don’t need that man to love yourself.
Which is cliche, but we not used to that either.
That’s not language we used to hearing.
Love be like those distant cousins you see once every year, and sometimes not even that.
Black women learn how to love through labor.
We learn to love through hardship.
So much work, that when it comes easy we don’t believe it to be real.
Why do people find humor in a Black woman’s discomfort?
Which part of our embarrassment makes such a good joke?
Why can’t we love without doubt always being there to remind us it’s on borrowed time.
In a world full of Nikki Parkers’ and Professor Oglevees’,
There will always be a Black woman who lowers herself to a man who is subpar.
Always will be a Black woman who isn’t scared to love too hard and get hurt.
A Black woman who allows herself to be human for once,
And bare herself to the world even if it means they’ll make a mockery out of her.
The whole world watched as you opened your arms,
To a man that wouldn’t even give you an inch,
And all of that,
For a laugh.
by Kierra Wooden
i fantasize the moment in
which I can stand up in the
center of the room and
where I can crystallize my
pain, and give halos back
to my demons.
I’m no longer afraid to cry.
i fantasize the moment in
which I can stand up in the
center of the room and
where I can look into my
eyes and not flinch at the
I’m no longer afraid to die.
The last bus stops running at 11
When the sun goes down we are speedy
snails, slugging our bodies, yearning for our feet
to unite with our porch steps. We leave a slimy trail of sweat that slips from the creases of our foreheads that work gave us
With the droop of daytime comes the drip
of the corners of the bus driver’s mouth
How his face sags down to the souls of his shoes
like jean back pockets that dwell behind knees
How denim dangles on the Dan Ryan’s thighs like dreads
Waits for me at 95th. faces jeans hair ambition
gatheronthisbus in a cluster and we are falling fireworks
to sink further south into the city like mother’s breast in a spaghetti strap
We are all floor huggers
weep like willows and wilt in Chicago’s cool night heat
At 10:00 pm on the 115, it is finally okay for black folk to be dead white light
fallen stars onto earth’s surface.
Hauntings I don’t mind
For the flashing lights
reminded by these people
Living different lives
Changing up the code
What I’m living like
A lil spice here and there
She tell me all the shìt she like
Playing by some Different rules
Got it with some different tools
Collecting on these dudes
All these niggas due
Ever since I jumped off the porch
aint had shit to prove
I give it all on every play
Like I don’t have shit to lose
That’s the game tho
Never been the same bro
Catch me at a function
But I ain’t with the same tho
If you gotta ask somebody about me
Then its case closed
Salty niggas muggin like
That ain’t the way the game goes
All my fam
When they see me in action
I guess they’re scared of the life
Like it’s a fatal attraction
They think I’m doing the most
Or I’m out here just acting
I’m not same lil boy
Who was crying from back when
Niggas clowned me all around
Cause I was so emotional
Paid a few bill off this rapping
Played a couple shows
Drove my first Mercedes this year
I want a couple mo
And different whips for different trips
something just to drive slow
I been Haunted by little things
But it make me do more for me
I been stepping everywhere
And I still got more to see
People still want more from me
Ether tapping in
You gon definitely hear more of me
Navy blue Volvo
come with more than 4 seats
I been looking at Florida suites
And I’m plotting on floor seats
Every second of my day
I be looking for more of me
The source of my anxiety
I been haunted by little things