Introduction

The six poems in this selection were composed by undergraduate students in my Advanced Creative Writing course at the University of Texas at Arlington during the Fall 2020 semester. The poems I selected were stand-out works that demonstrate the skill, talent, work ethic, voice and vision of the students. The poems employ and adapt several forms, including the pastoral, elegy and sonnet. Written during the COVID-19 pandemic under the influence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2020 presidential election, the poems emerge from perhaps the most difficult year in the poets’ lives, a year in which cultural, economic and political turmoil added stress, anxiety and uncertainty to the regular responsibilities and pressures of their multifaceted lives as citizens, students, workers, family members, friends and colleagues. Five of the poets are BIPOC students, and the majority are the children and grandchildren of immigrants. The content of the poems reflects the diversity of their authors, tackling an array of complex themes, including immigration, ideas of home, independence, pride, identity, separation, familial relationships, political action, death, loss, and strength. I am proud of my students and their work; it is an honor to share their poetry with you thanks to the kindness of Literati Magazine.

Dr. Nathanael O’Reilly, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing

The University of Texas at Arlington

Chlon Mhasamout by Lisa Mey

Barriers by Rachel Lovell

Beautiful by Amy Selvarathinam

The Widow by Samara Kae Gibbs

I Will Not Bow by Malcolm Lacey

Pecola Breedlove by Abra Carr


Chlon Mhasamout

By Lisa Mey

Kong Rei Mountain Cambodia

My veins pulse with the arrhythmic waves

of saltwater winnowing through shriveled

ripples of my skin, fluvial fingers sluicing

between my clenched knuckles, cartilage-capped

massifs tracing Kong Rei mountain, a silhouette

of a sleeping lady—is my mother.

I dare not dam what rivulets

down the slopes of my hand,

for they could be filigrees

of my mother’s hair.

The sailors connect their mouths with cusped

hands, their cries for me to return below deck drown

in knells of thunder, in the frigid waters I wring

from my hair like Preah Thorani washing

away with torrential libations the temptations

of Mara as invisible as death.

Mother,

I return to your homeland

the only place where I will find you

and join you.

There is a Khmer saying—a pregnant woman “chlon

mhasamout”—she crosses the ocean, for giving birth

is as fraught as the journey across the sea.

I will never understand how you soldiered this storm.

What can I do for you when I know

only a fraction of your pain, a sliver

as imperceivable as a shard of glass

buried in the mud?

Rancid kelp and whale blubber gut the jasmine

incense I burn, flensing off the waxy lips

of Rumduol strung. Dry rot writhes

under the dimpled orange rinds. Howling cold

gutters the crimson candlesticks, swallows

down the throat of its ribbed

darkness my recitations for you.

This is my last prayer to you, a message

I send in this glass vessel

to finish the journey

that I could not—if you are ever reincarnated,

please have me as your daughter again.

Your sacrifices lost to the hurtling gales strip

me of my caulked stern. My tongue too bulged

by briny deluge trammels me. My legs too engorged

to dance the funeral rite of this storm.

The crystal ball of Moni Mekhala scorch

the sky, bursting asunder with lightning,

given chase by Reamesor’s thundering axe.

The crystalline scintillations suspend my breath

along the buoyed beads of rain, encased

in the glass into which Moni Mekhala squeezed

morning dew, seeded by the gold

sequins that swayed from my mother’s sbai

while I fastened to my mother’s anchor

as she helmed us.

Mother,

I am almost home

so please wait for me.


Barriers

By Rachel Lovell

Plexiglass is impenetrable.

My voice attacks

the hard surface,

reverberations

like tiny troops

on a massive field.

My grandmother’s

slim fingers cup

her ear

in an attempt to amplify

my words.

She can’t hear me.

Instead, she

scoots her wheelchair

closer, reaching

a trembling hand

towards the glass,

blue veins

forming a family tree.

My palm drags

against the smudged

surface, my hand

still smaller,

always smaller

than hers.

Her watery

blue eyes

mirror mine,

a clearer replica.

We stay like this,

imagining touch.


Beautiful 

            In memory of Sundaram

By Amy Selvarathanam

photo of a woman sewing clothes

When the burning sun begins to lower.

The light shimmering on the haze of dust.

The shouts of vendors

sweat dripping from their faces

from hours of labor.

You will be remembered,

Sundaram,

coming from up the dirt streets.

Sandals on worn feet

that walked from your village to school.

They said you would never make it.

Not a Brahmin. Not a somebody.

You will be remembered,

Sundaram,

sitting among the pale colonizers.

Passing judgment on your fellow men.

Your head gets whiter. 

Hours spent, 

deciding between life and death. 

You will be remembered, 

Sundaram. 

Gavel replaced with a machete. 

Your back stoops lower. 

The steady rhythm of each strike 

on the green coconut. 

Eager little hands await the feast.   

Never to realize each time 

your hand came down,

so did time.

You will be remembered,

Sundaram.

The sun lowers past the horizon.

The stars dimmed in the polluted smog. 

The strangers would say. 

A man of few words. Strength of kindness.

They would cry. 

Halfway across the world 

so did I. 

You will be remembered,

Sundaram.


The Widow

(For my Grandmother, 2020)

By Samara Kae

old woman sitting on chair near girl while reading a book

Six feet apart, now six feet down

you lay without me, Schatz.

You in the earth, while I am surrounded

by the clothes you left behind

and the love letters you sent.

Too much time has passed.

When we were young, it was the war,

now it is the hospital staff keeping us separate.

Too late, too late,

I shook at you who left noiselessly

in the night before I had the chance

to hold your head in my lap.

Your time allotted was not enough,

Death was too eager.

Now, even Comfort must stay six feet back,

half covered and emotionless,

arms at its side, taking the place

of daughter and granddaughter

who are not allowed to enter our home.

They stood outside, watering the flowers you planted

years ago with their tears,

shoeless from rushing at my calls,

but unable to gather around and lay hands

on the quivering shoulders of a widow.



I Will Not Bow

By Malcolm Lacey

handsome black male looking at camera

I will not bow.

To you, black skin allows me to speak,

I will stand and be strong now.

My skin, unmarked unlike a branded cow,

though our freedom you tell me to seek,

I will not bow.

Through your phantom cage, you scream “How?”

I forgave the blood on the Eagle’s beak,

I will stand and be strong now.

You see yourself as a newborn sow,

herding together, “Make the strong fear the meek.”

I will not bow.

Disgusting rhetoric like flavorless chow.

I seize my life with a roar, you beg with many a squeak.

I will stand and be strong now.

You cry that I am oppressed like you, I only mutter “Wow.”

I carve “Individual” in my heart when times are bleak.

I will not bow,

I stand and be strong now.


Pecola Breedlove

By Abra Carr

stylish young ethnic woman in white shirt and leather jacket

Before a sun-drunk window, you may scrape

grease from a cast-iron pan into the sink,

and if a mosquito tickles the nape

of your neck, his slap will leave the skin pink.

He covered your cornflower eyes with lace –

plucked you up like you pick a white crocus.

He paints on your knees, your belly, your face,

till pale petunias fill skin’s dark canvas.

Watch close. Your tongue can’t slip free of its silk.

Say no thanks instead of I don’t want none

when he bleaches your coffee with sweet milk.

Uncock loaded hips, and police your tone,

or the man who smacks a bug in your name

will crush a Black girl with blue eyes the same.


Photo Credits

Chlon Mhasamout: Photo Kong Rei, Cambodia

Barriers: Photo Rachel Lowell

Beautiful: Photo by Your Photo Trips, Pexels.com

The Widow: Photo by Suzy Hazelwood, Pexels.com

I Will Not Bow: Photo by Muhammadtaha Ibrahim Ma’aji Pexels.com

Pecola Breedlove: Photo by Olanma Etigwe-uwa, Pexels.com

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