“This makes absolutely no sense,” Lynn muttered, as she stood over her dark-haired companion. Her short red curls were sticking to her scalp as if they too were unsure of their surroundings and were cowering near what they knew best. She could taste the salty sweat dripping down her cheek. Lynn’s partner was sitting against the wall, her legs splayed in front of her, seeming to stretch across the room. She held her hand in front of her face, so she could blow softly on her fingers, her eyes closed in contemplation. “Any reason in particular that we’re here, Cyn?” Lynn kicked her partner’s muscular thigh.

Cyn peeked one eye open at the Amazonian redhead before her, and shrugged. “It feels like the right place to be.”

“Of course it feels like the right place to you! There’s candles everywhere! We may as well be sparks hiding in a matchbox!”

“If I remember correctly, I used my last bit of fluid to burn whatever evidence you left at the bank.”

“Last bit? There’s no way that could’ve been a ‘bit’. You burnt the whole place to the ground. No one would even know we had been there if it wasn’t for you!”

Cyn bit her lip to keep it from trembling. She remembered the blaze. Beautiful. Bright. Tall. Red, with a hint of blue in the eye of it, just like . . . Now was no time for that. The police were on their tail. She had hoped that hiding out in one of the most combustible places would benefit them at least for a while—hiding in plain sight and all that. But how were they supposed to get out of town. Especially with Lynn as angry as she was. She gets clumsy when she’s angry, and when she’s clumsy, they get caught. Cyn wouldn’t leave her, but there was no way they were getting locked up again. Not when they finally had enough money to disappear forever. The thought of losing that opportunity left a bitter taste in her mouth.

“Fuck, do you hear that?” Lynn had gotten antsy.

“I don’t hear anything, Red,” she replied, but Cyn’s eyes were wide open now. The red and blue of sirens was barely visible in the distance through the windows of the factory, but they were growing, fast. And they were approaching from every angle.

“Where do we go? Is there a way out of here?” Lynn panted, her eyes darting in every direction, her taunt body growing stiff. Cyn pulled herself off the ground. If this had been last year, they could’ve escaped through the sewers into the river, but those sewers had been sealed shut when she attempted to burn down the candle factory and the wax melted over the drains. The place wasn’t as combustible as people thought, but one more fire and it would probably blaze correctly. “Come on, Cyn. Wake up! We have to get out of here,” Lynn yelled, as she shook Cyn to attention. Cyn grabbed her partner by both shoulders. She was probably the only person, male or female, who could look Lynn in the eyes. That speck of blue was bouncing around her pupil, as it always did when she was excited or scared.

“There isn’t a way out. Not without running into those cops. The sewers are sealed tight, and they have us from every angle.”

“They aren’t gonna catch us!”

“They are.” Cyn had to resign herself to the fact that they were headed back to prison. If the judge was smart, they would be sent to separate cages, far away from each other, so they couldn’t escape again.

“Don’t say that like we only have one choice.”

“We don’t.” Cyn released Lynn’s shoulders and dug into one of their duffel bags of stolen cash. Out of it she pulled a small bottle of lighter fluid and a pack of matches. “You know I always run out, so I packed extra this time. We can go out in a blaze. So they can’t send us back to the awful box. So they can’t separate us.”


“I’m not going back, Lynn.” Cyn said, the passion brimmed over in her eyes. Lynn sighed deeply, but the sound of it was drowned out by the wailing sirens. We have you surrounded! Come out with your hands up!

    The same old routine.

She’s heard it before. It only ever trapped them once before. She didn’t want to go back either.

“Okay, we’ll flip for it. Heads, we burn. Tails, we surrender.” Lynn said, somberly. She dipped into her pocket for the two-headed trick nickel she’d had since her father died. “Let it hit the ground.” She flipped the coin in the air.

Cyn looked up, biting her lip in anticipation.

Lynn closed her eyes.

    The coin clattered to the floor.


Photo by Rafael Pol on Unsplash

This is the type of place that forced you to be an artist. It was like melting down the Harlem Renaissance and New Orleans jazz, and tucking that bronze brick in a rundown alley, an unknown shadow to the Fox Theatre. But there was no doubting this place was special. It had an aura, and that aura could influence the mind of anyone within the sound scope of the music. The rhythms vibrated through the sidewalk, recalibrating how you walked. Your pace was now in 4/4 time, mimicking the music, hips swaying to the bassline. It was as if you could not break the plane into the building unless you had a certain swagger. It was as if the bouncer would not let you in unless he could smell the paint or ink staining your hands, or see the residual flash of a camera in your eyes, or hear the faint hum of an instrument or song emanating from your body. It was my first time at the Apache Night Café, and I can already tell that this was where Atlanta’s artists breathed.

I remember having to rip through a wall of smoke to get through the doorway. “Eyes wide open,” my best friend warned, wagging his short dreads at me, “so you don’t catch the cover charge desk in your belly and get thrown back out into those streets.” Josh had been there plenty of times, with his new friends, but it was my first summer back home after starting college so he knew he had to educate me. He already looked the part of an artist, his vibrant dashiki bold against his dark skin, only missing the strap of his Nikon snug around his neck. The bouncer sat behind the desk, old but powerful, like he was seated at a table in Valhalla, a cigarette perched precariously on his lips. The silver cash box propped up his elbow as he took my license and the ten dollar bill from my hand. His touch was gentle and careful. A quick scan made him take my wrist and mark it with a thick ‘X’ from a felt tip pen. There was just enough space to slide between the desk and the back corner of the stage to get to where the floor finally opened up and I could breathe.

Photo by Joshua Lee on Unsplash

On my right was a bar, with what little light there was, blocked by the people leaned all the way over the countertop to yell their poisons into the bartender’s ear. To the left was a large dance floor, half-covered by a barely raised stage, where a Black punk band shook the building, threatening to rock off the roof. It could hardly hold them in so it clung desperately to the high halls, covered in Black Modernist art, each painting punctuated by orange wall lamps, giving the room its dark fiery glow. The rest of the dance floor was jam-packed with Black bodies grooving in a way punk music has never seen and never will see outside this building. Three steps at the end of the dance floor carried me, Josh, and one of his new friends, up to a neat, café-like sitting area, peopled by short, black tables lit by fake candles and with backless couches for chairs. Off in the front corner of this night café was a DJ booth, where the DJ and the band’s sound engineer shared too little space, and were way too open to the drunken requests of those few people who were not dancing. That’s where I wanted to be.

I approached the booth, already abandoned by Josh. He had other friends tucked into some corner somewhere. There wasn’t much for me to say, so I leaned my back up against the booth and just listened: listened to the music, listened to the banter between the DJ and the sound engineer, and listened to the people living their lives, Black in Atlanta and flourishing. Josh said this is where Black artists came to network, photogs found models, bands found an audience, painters found a muse, and I found myself so out of place. I was barely an artist. I had not written anything that wasn’t a tired essay for a professor who was tired of reading essays in what felt like years. Novels festered in my laptop like open wounds, untouched for fear of infecting them with someone else’s ideas as I read an unending chain of British comedies and Scottish short stories, by and for White men who would never know me, while I was forced to know them—my degree depended on it.

I barely knew how I got into this place, because all there was for me to do was imagine I was the lead singer of that band, ignoring how much I wasn’t badass and had let my voice go to hell. I was sinking into the floor as the drummer tap, tap, tap, tapped out all the things I had let fall to the wayside, all for chasing an education that wasn’t designed for me. I closed my eyes and thought about how I could dare to be a writer when I spent my entire first year of university reading books by not-Black women and being taught to write by not Black women. It was enough to force me to think that writing was for not-Black women, and I felt like Salvador Dali was melting my face into the heat of the DJ booth, while the floor wrapped around my ankles to pull me in. The only thing saving me was the Blackness of the place.

Photo by Nayanu Teixeira on Unsplash

“How are you drowning in your sorrows when I haven’t even bought you a drink yet?” I opened my eyes to Josh’s smirk near my face.

“Shushhhhh,” I replied, as I mushed his face away from me. I hadn’t even noticed that the band had finished playing during my pity party; stagehands were carrying away their drum set and mixing board.

“Look, this is the best part. This is why I brought you.” He nudged me excitedly, focusing me on the tall, Obsidian woman gliding onto the stage. Her hair was platinum blonde, the striking contrast shaved close to her head. Her full lips ‘ahem’d into the microphone before she let out this immaculate stream of passion of a like that poetry had never experienced.

He toiled and sweated, working the damp ground.

Around him lay the treasures he needed,

All the wilted, dead flowers he weeded.

He lifted the dirt, pound by pound by pound.

The squelch of the mud not the only sound,

Though the moans of muscles went unheeded,

‘Til he saw his prize. He’d finally reached it

And his body recoiled at what he found.

They call him harvester of black bodies.

They call him a traitor of his own kind.

They call him an enemy of their kin.

They judge him, neglecting that their follies

Create the surplus that he had to mine.

Everyone fears the Resurrection Men.

“Damn, it’s like she’s just breathing a whole new world into existence,” I whispered.

“Yeah, doesn’t it just make you wanna be great? Damn, I wish I brought my camera.” I looked into his ardent eyes and nodded. I wanted to be her, so intent and amazing at what I loved. I couldn’t leave that place without wishing I was writing more, developing my art. At school, I was letting the artist in me die, but I stood in that dark building surrounded by Black poets, musicians, photographers, dancers, and I knew, the doors of that great hall were open, eagerly awaiting me.

*As published in Jasper Magazine, Fall 2017

Yellow River

The beach was solid rock, baking in the sun, and my blanket did nothing to relieve it but catch the sand that would blow across in the breeze. I couldn’t help wondering where the sand came from, since the ground was all granite and Georgia red clay. Intrusive memories of some high school, maybe middle school, science class came to mind—something about erosion—but I blocked it out. I just wanted to enjoy the moment. The river was calm and steady, so not a nice river by any means. The water had a murky, sickly yellow element to it, and closer to the middle you couldn’t see through it at all. But at the shore you could see through to the rock underneath, and watch the little water bugs swim around. Neither of us was in water, not because of how it looked; people swam in it all the time. We just weren’t big fans of being in water. He had almost drowned once in this river, and my paranoia always got the best of me after hearing stories like that. Across the river, the shore sloped up in to a hill, mimicking the forest behind us, except the one across the way was spotted with giant lake houses with precariously placed balconies, perfect for taking a fall from. The trees were tall, strong, and dark with green leaves, their height carrying your eyes to the already warping sky. The blues were starting to mix with pinks, yellows, and oranges, swirling as though God was a little kid with a stick, playing with the surface of the sky.

I was trying to avoid looking at him. I hated looking at him. I looked at him all the time. He was so tall, strong, dark . . . darker than me . . . dark like ebony, but with a deepness to his skin tone like mahogany. I don’t know how he wasn’t burning up in the jean jacket he wore, but he didn’t even break a sweat. His hands were tucked in his black joggers; eyes staring off into the distance. His face was framed against the sky, a hand raised to it as he sipped on a cup of frozen lemonade, shaming the sun with how he glowed. My eyes drifted to my legs, hoping he wouldn’t catch me staring, but he always knew when I was staring. I think he could feel it. But he wasn’t looking at me.

My legs were starting to fall asleep. I didn’t mind, though; it kept me from feeling how sweaty they were, suffocated by the jeans I had on. I wished I was wearing a dress or a skirt—he liked it when I wore those—but my laundry was home, sitting damply in the washer since I was too far to switch it to a dryer. I wriggled my toes in the sun, my socks and shoes left behind in the car. He was really enjoying how quiet it was, I could see it in his face: a peaceful contemplation. Who could know what he was thinking about, since he was always thinking, but unlike the usual, his thoughts were happy. I could see it in his eyes. If thinking was his hobby, then focusing on him was mine. It was summer; I had nothing else to think about.

Screeches and giggles erupted behind us, breaking our beautiful silence. Two young, White couples pushing a baby stroller were crossing the beach behind us, headed to where the rocks stacked up, and created a small waterfall. He had been up there before, with his friends, late at night, but I wasn’t so adventurous. I just knew I’d fall in the water and be carried away by the deceptively slow current, just like he was the night he almost drowned. He shook his head at the little group, dropping beer cans on the rock, disrupting our moment. I was trying to see how many babies the group had: sometimes there was one, sometimes there were two.

“Maybe they’re here to sacrifice the baby to the river gods,” I mumbled, half-jokingly. He looked at me for a second, thinking what I said was kind of dark, then he exploded with laughter, real, hearty laughter.

“Yeah, they’re gonna lose that damn baby up there. You wanna save it?” he said, walking over to me. The grimace on my face brings back his laughter.

“Nope, you know how Poseidon’s temper is.” My eyes linger on his face as he turned back to the little family with a smirk. I don’t get to see it often, his smile, especially during the summer. Seeing all the people together with their families heightens his depressive episodes. I know he wants to go home, but he feels like he can’t go back to his family without more than he left with. He feels far too much pressure to be the man his father never took the time to raise, and he wants to peel the weight of the world off of his mother’s shoulders. At times, he feels like his little siblings don’t even remember who he is, and his twin . . . I think that’s the worst part. It broke his heart to lose the one friendship he was born with; now they never even talk.

He glanced down at me, still smiling at my comment, his eyes meeting mine and sending butterflies raging through my stomach. I reached up for his lemonade, which he handed over without even a moment’s thought, and I drank it. It tasted so cold and sweet, and somehow soft against my lips; I couldn’t help focusing on how it felt, like the taste barely mattered. I looked up to see him staring at me, his eyes just as soft, even softer than the first time he said he loved me, and I couldn’t look away. We did that for a while, just looked at each other, not saying a word. We didn’t need to. The giggles and splashes from the water just faded away, and it’s like we’re all alone again, and the river was ours.

Suddenly, his phone rang, cracking open the silence. He answered it wordlessly; his face changing and his eyes going dark.

“What’s wrong?” The concern invaded my voice.

“Nothing. We gotta go,” he muttered, snatching up our trash, hands shaking where they were normally so steady. I stood up and folded the blanket into my arms, but he gently took it from me. He doesn’t look at me. His walk is so fast against the tar path back to the car, I struggle to keep up with his long strides, wincing in pain from the burning heat of the path on my bare feet. He never looks back. We stuff ourselves back into the car, and he speeds out of the parking lot. I can’t help looking sadly out of the window, trying to take a mental picture of the moment we shared, and scared to look at him and see his smile faded. With one hand on the wheel, he reaches the other over to my hair and entwines his fingers into my afro, massaging my head. For my comfort, I wonder: or his?