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.
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.
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 bit.ly/ssw-exchange or via email to email@example.com.
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.