JBWC SHOWCASE Chapbook 2020


A digital chapbook made to commemorate the 2020 Just Buffalo Writing Center SHOWCASE featuring Angel Barber, Bushraa Choudhury, Taylor Yarns, and Zanaya Hussain. SHOWCASE was held on July 10, 2020 via ZOOM due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This digital chapbook was made to commemorate

the 2020 Just Buffalo Writing Center Showcase

featuring Angel Barber, Bushraa Choudhury,

Taylor Yarns, and Zanaya Hussain

held on July 10, 2020 via the interwebz

due to the COVID-19 pandemic.



Angel is a seventeen-year-old graduating from

Frederick Law Olmsted this year. He plans on

attending Buffalo State College for film with an

African American Studies minor. He is interested in

film, photography, poetry, and visual art. His favorite

novel is Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin.


Bushraa is an artist and a writer at the Just Buffalo

Literary Center. She loves to incorporate her

poetry and artworks together.


Taylor is a writer from Buffalo, New York. Her most

recent claim to fame is being the first prize winner of

the Pulitzer Center Fighting Words Poetry Contest.

She is proud of, yet not limited by, her identity as a

black girl in America. She loves poetry, prose, music,

green tea, large sweaters, thundering laughter,

deafening cries - and all other magical things.


Zanaya is a Buffalo based writer. She will be attending

UB as an international studies major. The first time she

was published was through the highly acclaimed

JBWC Wordplay anthology. And she has three cats

whom she loves very much.


[watch Angel’s performance here]


Waiting for an undoing not of my own accord

To be cut down by a hand I don’t know but have held many times

by rocks who hold an unwavering gaze to waters crashing below

A stranger to yearn for my approval like a pearl

cut from the oysters we’ve enjoyed on dinner dates while

sitting chest to chest, soaking up the entirety of the other’s being

At night we’ll dance in the ballroom, set fire to the oceans in our stomach

When fatigue creeps in, our moves grow tiresome

We’ll lie in bed once again chest to chest

under soft pale pillows and warm blankets

I will make the mistake of whispering in their ear trials of my past

Pieces of me to be destroyed when set in the wrong hands

And they’ll do the same, misguided, ritualistic youth

We’ll engage in blood sacrifice, without a thought of pathogens

Leaking together, palm to palm

So confident in the mystery lying next to us that

we forget what it’s like to not bare a soul

Naive to the flames of passion dying as bed grows cold

When we’re apart in totality

we’ll carry the blood spilled that night as a reminder of what’s to come

Alone again, now aware it’s the only way to be

Like the tree we’ll never know to have fallen or not

my transformations mean nothing without a witness

Til I reach the point where I can dance with a newcomer

my baggage will be mine alone

All I’ve suffered won’t be wrapped up neatly in a sonnet

No warm bodies can bear their share of pain

I walk in solitude, deciding everyday who will see my cold blood

Cloaked figures of the night who know nothing

that decide they’d like to feel the pain of foreign hands once again

And I do too


how will i feel about ghosts come morning

will the weight of my brothers sink past shallow end?

when i drown in footsteps was his pain worth a swim?

did he ever think about me?

probably not

too busy running from cops

bruised up in cold air

too poor and sick to sustain but

too young and free to care

not free at all

chained, institutionalized

locked inside his own mind

living in these horrors so eloquently

I wish to know his intentions

but is there ever intention in oppression?

choking up while eye fucking the beast

wasn’t an option back then

midst of tragedy it’s safe to say

he wasn’t thinking about me

the fruit of his labors

and I do not think about him

homeless on the street, the man in pain

I turn a blind, guilty eye


“Angel manages to utilize figurative language and contrasting

abstract and specific lines to move us.” -Theo

Angel and I have had so many conversations about one of our

favorite topics: horror movies. His writing reveals that interest:

often blood-soaked, examining the stains of humanity’s dark

impulses, our wounds, while still holding our beating, writhing

hearts in its palm. Asking us to look and hold that heart close.

Even if it means getting a little blood on our cheek. - Robin


[watch Bushraa’s performance here]


The word of thought,

misplaced on a surface,

removed with lengths

of strokes by texture,

has become one

with the sole piece.


Hold me to my word

cause I will always be afraid

Remind me of what I said

before I crumble away

Know that I am strong

and my heart is still soft clay

Molding by my fingertips

and changing day by day

Blue Tree, ibisPaint X


Over the years my words faced uncertainty

and remained choking in my throat.

I’ve tried plenty of times to ombre them

from deep blue to soft pink.

Only to realize the softness is an illusion.

Throwing them away only led to stress,

and I’ve found silence was not the answer.

But the trembling voice inside was still afraid

a whiff of failure might follow.

Dripped tears would not blink away

what my soul needed to say.

And regret still has time before it is written on me.

I can still see the old inside.

It’ll only get better when I learn to speak.


We are made to be part

of a whole,

with our singular soul,

falling and breaking,

we continue to move on,

leaving as fast as we came,

but always leaving an


Pumpkin, ibisPaint X

Lesu (Lychee), ibisPaint X


A coke bottle

full of mentos

closed up tight

only to explode

at late night

Listen to Bushraa read “The Strength She Gives” and watch the film by Jaila B.

Listen to Bushraa read “Blessing the Hands” and watch the film by Zaire Goodman.

These pieces were inspired by Htein Lin’s exhibit A Show of Hands. Young filmmakers of West

Side Studios and the Buffalo Youth Media Institute turned poems by JBWC writers into films.


read at the Open Waters exhibit opening at Burchfield Penney Art Center

The water carries more than fishes

It flows with bodies of nature and under-controlled tragedies

or soon-to-be tragedies built from insincerity

Who would’ve thought hell would place itself

closer to us in the most unique way — on water

reminding us of the problem we made

Skull, charcoal

Night Bicycle,

acrylic on canvas


The teddy bear’s eyes sewn shut by force

with one ear to hear faults of empty drawers

that cry every time they open up to new clothes

which never seem to fit over the teddy bear’s head.


I like to sing alone in my room

and feel the opera around me

My attention draws towards a girl in the mirror

She was staring back at me

It had taken awhile to realize who she was

We stared until time awoke us

and today became tomorrow

I turn to see my clock

a minute before the alarm went off

What a shame

A nice minute of sleep I could’ve had

and an extra minute of the girl I want to see again

I want to ask who she was

and what am I supposed to do

and why was she far

Her heart is not wooden like mine

She never seemed to worry

as if ache didn’t exist

in this big empty house

If we meet again maybe we’d be friends


“Bushraa is a dynamic writer, her writing changing to reflect

different moods and yet always carrying the real, raw emotion that

embodies her work.” - Allei

“Bushraa is incredibly talented at getting across very powerful

messages in short, simple, and elegant lines.” - Theo

“In the same manner in which Bushraa showed up to countless Just

Buffalo workshops and events, her art is full of enthusiasm to

experiment. Like her, it is full of sharp-edged humor, serrated

compassion, and woven with pleasantly startling surprise. A teddy

bear with its eyes sewn shut, water that carries more than fish: as

she writes in one of her poems, in Bushraa’s art, ‘softness is an

illusion.’” - Robin


[watch Taylor’s performance here]


with lines from Jaime Joyce’s “Let’s Make It Easier for Kids to Visit Incarcerated Parents”

I sit in a classroom of 2.7 million future tragedies.

Boys that carry their parents’ hope

that their son will be the one to win

a war that has never seen a victor

and girls that skip lunch

to practice their smiles in the bathroom mirror

for their inevitable appearance on the milk carton.

All the toothy smiles I have loved since third grade—

nothing but collateral damage

in the eyes of the law.

The boy next to me hasn’t stopped fidgeting all day.

Exactly a year ago, his mama poked fun at his restlessness,

told him that she would tie a bell around his neck

so that she would hear him whenever he moved

and no one would ever take him away.

Now he wishes that he had done the same to her.

The boy’s mother was in prison

and that is what he said

when the teacher asked what had been troubling him.

This poem won first prize in the Pulitzer Center’s Fighting Words Poetry Contest


in this house i built for us

out of the warm, sweet smells of home

we are never short of ingredients

when i have the onion you bring the garlic

and when i forgot the spice

it doesn’t matter

because you keep extra in your pocket

for emergencies such as these.

together, we make the perfect soup

or stew

or chowder

whichever you prefer

i’m more than willing to compromise

as long as it has tomatoes

as red as my cheeks

when you look my way

over the stove.

This poem was written during JBWC’s annual ekphrastic made-to-order poem event at Albright

Knox Art Gallery and is inspired by Jehan Georges Vibert’s painting The Marvelous Sauce.


when something doesn’t work,

just paint over it.

that’s what all the greats do.

they don’t dwell on mistakes,

no, they just hang upside down

and let the bad

thoughts flow

down their hair and back

to the earth

where they grow

into something brighter.

maybe you think you can’t

be like the greats

but even if you don’t

have the brushes,

we are all given

the same white paint

so paint! paint! paint!

reds and blues and yellows and blacks

and of course that gorgeous white.

cover up your mistakes,

make new ones.


satisfied with this beautiful,

imperfect world.

those hands, equally capable

of creation and destruction,

paint everything

and there is nothing left to do

but sleep naked in the sun.

until there is no more blank space

This poem was written during JBWC’s annual ekphrastic made-to-order poem event at Albright

Knox Art Gallery and is inspired by Georg Baselitz’s painting Elke-Akt 2.


In an average lifetime, human skin completely replaces itself 900 times.

My baby tells me that I have to be a new me every month, or else

she’s gonna block my number.

My girl is going places, and she cannot afford to be held back by

anymore of the same old same old.

I remember the day I first looked down into my underwear

and saw red staring back at me.

I placed my hand above my navel and stared into the mirror and marveled

all of the ways that I could mend and morph.

Those days, I lingered in the bathroom longer than I needed to, examining my body

to determine which parts I would alter,

eager to become something new, not just the same old same old.

These days, I marvel at the delicacy of my life and tamper with my body,

the only thing I own fully.

I wear red lipstick and dye my hair the same shade of cherry.

I stick metal through my left nostril, and bite my tongue until I taste red.

My mother agrees to let me carry her Michael Kors bag as long as I wear my church shoes.

I put on the shoes, and imagine that I’m slipping on her red bottoms.

The collar of the dress that I bought for fifteen dollars at the thrift store is loose

around my neck and I adjust it as I sit in the pews


As some parts of me expand and others shrink, I discover that I have trouble

fitting into my clothes, and most other places.

There is a little girl sitting next to me.

At the end of each tiny black braid, she wears a little red bow.

I wonder if she knows

that one day she will inherit this acne, these burnt fingernails, these worries

and hold onto them just as fiercely

as I do

afraid that the next time she changes will be the last.


In his arms/the big arms that I’ve imagined/holding me underwater/In the wings that sprouted

from my back and fluttered frantically to keep my body from plummeting to the ground on that

day I decided to take a dive off the roof/in his face as I hit the ground/Splat!/Such a pretty face/

A face that I had imagined, of course, overwhelmed with love for me/now looking into my

glassy eyes as I experienced/another kind of death/different from the one I had dreamed of

having underneath him/but not too different/There is, of course/a masochistic pleasure in

being horrified.


Son of Heaven, I’ve only got one quarter.

Solemn bird, she makes flowers

bloom in the hood.

Magical treasury, a touch

of celestial temper.

True love, the promise of video

games in some arcade.

Listen to Taylor read “More Heart” and watch the film by Breanna Roberts.

This piece was inspired by Htein Lin’s exhibit A Show of Hands. Young filmmakers of West Side

Studios and the Buffalo Youth Media Institute turned poems by JBWC writers into films.


“Taylor is very skilled at immersing us in other worlds within her

poems, whisking us away to lands where we feel exactly what she has

planned for us.” - Theo

“Taylor presents her grief and grievances in a way that feels

familiar, like you’ve been there before and maybe you have or maybe

you just feel a kindred spirit in her words and want to know her as

you know her poetry.” - Allei

"Taylor asks crucial questions that demand no easy, stagnant

answers. Like Taylor, her poems welcome you in with love and the

expectation that you will be open to prodding. Like Taylor, her

poems are not flat squares, confined by your expectations or hers.

They are a spoon or fork or spork. They are a black braid with a red

bow, a spot of acne, a toothy smile, a magnifying glass she brings

your eye to with loving force.” - Robin


[watch Zanaya’s performance here]





Maybe I’m walking too fast.

My thoughts are m o v i n g

faster than my feet.

There is a heavy weight on my chest, the feeling of doubt creeping in.

Did it matter if I had a goal, a plan, if I have n o time? And my

sneakers are betraying me, yet my shoelaces are tied?

Maybe if I was more honest with myself. Maybe if my confidence weighed more

than the insecurity. Maybe if my bookbag was just a little bit lighter.

Maybe if my scarf wasn’t slipping.




Why can’t I seem to stop dragging my feet on the ground?

The pit of my stomach whispers in my ear every night, “You should slow down!”

But I can’t hear because I am catching wind.

What good are feet when you have wings?




We must surpass rocky pavement, leap over broken glass, and grasp

our dreams.

The pit in my stomach needs to be reminded that my mind is strong,

strong like a rushing current determined to echo the sounds of crashing ripples.

And when it is doubted

My eyes do not jerk tears, my heart does not waiver.

Power was blown into the heart by my mother's mother.





We r i s e up!

I work when there is sunshine and will only rest when there is starshine.

Because my ancestors scold me every morning,

we never g i v e up.

This poem was written for the February 2020 Buffalove! concert conducted by Jaman E. Dunn

at Kleinhans Music Hall, and is inspired by Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Variation 11:



Her eyes are dull, but her lipstick is always bright.

Hair styled and breasts out.

Smooth skin covers her thumping heart.

She is everything they want, though she doesn’t know what she needs herself.

Stilettos make the edges of her feet ache, but she always seems to make do.

She exclaims at a constant how much they all wanted her, though she never tells us whether

she wants them.

But everyone knows that bruises can be covered up with makeup, and how easily blood dries,

and how often screams are muffled before the bed is even made.

Her body belongs to society. Her voice? Stolen.

How would she know what love felt like if she was never taught? We blame sexism on history

and culture.

When in our reality screeching fathers and complacent mothers bloom insecure girls.

But it’s alright, because there are always more eyes to look at and more lips to kiss.


Mother’s Day 2019

She was an ever-growing presence; she saw my every move,

whether or not I wanted her to.

You just wouldn’t understand, Mom. I had an ever-growing

frustration over why she couldn’t be like other mothers.

Her faults were mine, reflected onto me,

so then how did I look to others?

But I seemed to forget my mother’s hands, so strong,

lifting the very roof that covered my head from the rain.

I forgot the voice of my mother, which never failed to carry

the soothing words that rested my weary heart.

How could I forget my mother’s soul like a blanket

engulfing me in comfort? Mom, you help me to understand.

My mother is the hero in my storybook, slaying the dragon,

saving the ungrateful princess.


Made from pious hands, collectively holding a childhood and a belief.

Square windows to peek through and from which a cool breeze

hugs you during long Taraweeh nights.

How can we thank a building?

How can a building thank us?

Wrinkly old smiles and crows feet told me to never forget my location.

Even after wars, and money, and voices.

Spilled punches and the desperate need to grow up

have defined moments where I felt young.

A white building, a deliberate reference to purity.

Shrubs where little rabbits and little cats make their home.

Where we give them a house.

Where lips form into praise and hands are held up for worship.

Please keep the lines straight, no gapping in between.

Home from school and a created atmosphere of protection and family.

Reminding you to never act up, to never

reveal too much, and a reminder to maybe build a fence.

We toast to a shabby and glorious sanctuary.


Round powdered pills leave a bitter aftertaste and a lump in my throat.

Lub dub lub dub remind me that I am alive.

A picture of us smiling tells me I am human, but my eyes suggest I am not.

Throwup of words, j’s hook on our lips and k’s cut through my teeth.

So they stay there like a lump in my throat.

“We are given voices to sing,” I protest. Descendants from rhythm and melody.

Companions of the birds and bees.

But we are silent until rebellion strikes. Passion is the fuel and the noise is the grease on

the wheels. And our strength is the fist, not the fingers. Or the nails.

Translucent skin reflects in the sun, iridescent eyes shine. And so for a moment we feel


We are infinite.

Until the electrons fall producing a beautiful life. For tragedy lies in their instability.

So we open bottles, unscrew caps. Who are we if not


Brothers become friends and friends become acquaintances.


Breath in, breath out. A simple motion; pulleys, gears, and all.

A simple machine.

But when we are unable to breath what motion do we turn to?

What muscle should I move to hear the soft voice of mother

or feel the clutch of a first love?

Shoulders back, chin up to make beautiful music. To release beautiful breath.

If we want to scream you will say we are not tranquil.

But the skin over fast-paced blood cells behaving cyclically is motion.

My mind is keenly aware of manipulating these motions.

I don’t want to breathe air if it’s filthy.

I don’t want to smile if I am not happy.

Too loud to be feminine and too blunt to be sensitive is not conventionally serene.

But alas this is my equilibrium.


Who shall I become today?

My reflection will whisper to me

what new mask to put on.

Each mask further magnifies my flaws,

each mask points out new freckles and

deepened pores.

Funky and not fabulous.

But the longer I wear a mask, the faster

I forget the flaws exist.


I will bring a first-aid kit and extra masks. She will bring snacks.

He will bring flyers. We all will write our phone numbers in sharpie on our arms.

Wear black and blur out faces so they can't catch us. Criminals or activists?

A superposition of both.

Bring identification and only travel by methods untraceable.

But we're traceable.

I will bring an umbrella just in preparation for, not crying clouds,

but crying gas.


She begins to see shapes and stories come alive.

They told her those were inanimate objects.

Sometimes she speaks to the trees,

like they are her friends.

She thanks the dandelions and kisses

the clouds goodnight.

It's either strange or wonderful.

They haven't decided yet.

The above series of photos/writings were made for Different Ships, Same Storm, a student led

project combining photography and writing to explore the commonalities and differences

experienced by students globally. This project was initiated by juniors and seniors in advanced

photography class at the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn during the beginning of the

COVID-19 crisis.


I’ve always hated the feeling of being full. “Are you happy with yourself,” my reflection asks

me. “Happy enough to look at you,” I respond.

I recently came to the epiphany that I’d rather be hated than pitied so when I’m sad I get

angry. At myself.

We’re allowed to feel vulnerable. Yet we feel like fools when getting hurt because we blame

ourselves for not expecting the outcome. I wonder if they felt the same way when I couldn’t

whisper the “love you’s” back.

Mankind is made up of cyclical experiences. Butterflies must close their wings to fly. We open

our mouths to eat. I open my palm and close my hand when I feel theirs.

Life teaches us that joy is not infinite, that we have to feel sadness sometimes in order to

appreciate moments of happiness. But this makes self-loathing so easy.

I use too many “I”s, each uppercase “I” haunts me because it must mean I’m full of myself.

That I don’t make sacrifices for other people.

My mother told me about a taxi driver in NYC who, because there was no parking, slept in his

car every night. My mother disapprovingly commented, “that’s not good for your health.” But

aren’t we dying every day?

I found my old watch and I can’t stop thinking about how bulky it’s become, carrying around

the person I used to be. And reminding me that I really haven’t changed.

Listen to Zanaya read Dream Poem 2 and watch the film

by Buffalo Youth Media Institute filmmaker, Soundilou Cissoko.

Listen to Zanaya read “I Am You, You Are Me” and watch the film

by Buffalo Youth Media Institute filmmaker, Breanna R.

Listen to Zanaya read “With Liberty and Justice for All”

and watch the film by Flatsitter.


“Through specific experiences and grand proclamations, Zanaya

helps us question our world with every poem.” - Theo

“Zanaya’s writing exhibits rhythm and purpose. She knows how to

get a message across with beauty and uses her voice’s dips, twists,

and turns to bring you into the same headspace.” -Allei

Like Zanaya, her writing is inquisitive and outspoken, bravely

navigating critical conversations beneath which we find

checkered sneakers, rabbits, broken glass, our mother’s love, and

the dreams of a determined generation that refuses to slow down.

- Robin

The Just Buffalo Writing Center is a free, creative

writing center for teens located on the second floor

of 468 Washington Street in downtown Buffalo.

Visit justbuffalo.org to see what we’re up to.

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