The Exchange: The Negro Speaks of Dryland

The Weekly's new poetry corner offers our thoughts in exchange for yours

The Exchange is the Weekly’s new 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.

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The Negro Speaks of Dryland
by Chima “Naira” Ikoro
After The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes

I’ve known vacant lots:
I’ve known vacant lots ancient as gang signs and older than “I’ll bring your bike back, I promise.”

My soul has grown gardens by force
like the vacant lots.

I drank from hoses when my dawgs were young.
I built my friendships near train tracks, the same ones that lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon my homies and imagined Us growing old on this side of Earth.
I heard singing at funerals when some didn’t make it, and I’ve seen
pall bearers without a single gray hair.

I’ve known vacant lots:
Ancient, unpredictable vacant lots.
My soul has grown gardens like the vacant lots.

Chima Ikoro is the community organizing editor for the Weekly. She last wrote about Juneteenth becoming a recognized federal holiday.

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Prompt: “How have the ‘powers that be’ failed the person next to you?”

“What do you know about the grief that growth causes and the growth that grief causes?”

This could be a poem, a stream-of-consciousness piece, or a short story.

Submissions can be sent to or via email to


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Featured below is a reader response to a previous prompt. The last poem and prompt can be found here.

By China Smith

I wonder who coined this term

I think they confused it with force

They wave their hands and make us bow down

I thought power was effortless…

Here we are, confined

And they dangle the keys in front of our faces

I think they confused it with the devil…

White man, you meanie!

Don’t you know that brute force is nothing to real power?

And while we haven’t all United it’s because we’re picking up the pieces

It’s because you set an ongoing booby-trap

So now half of us still can’t read

It’s because we still fighting for benches

And painting white fences Black

And you’re the mad scientist watching it happen

Watching us scramble for the scraps

And you profit off of our backs

I’m not a person, I’m a number

Someone in the IRS’s check

A check off the checklist

Sometimes this feels like some sick game that we were born to play

Now I’m chained to my bed figuring out how to make bread

You breadcrumb us and dumb us down

Now we numb, but you curse your own tongue

That ain’t power! That’s pitiful!

My freedom shouldn’t be political

I think you confused it with propaganda

It’s right when your system doesn’t suffice

But it’s wrong when we stand up?

It’s right that when your officer shines their light

We put our hands up?

And I know you can’t understand us 

But we understand you

Let us pull back the veil and show America’s truth.

China Smith is an artist and activist from Englewood. You can find them on Instagram and Twitter!

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