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.
ABOUT THE WRITERS
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?
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
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
ABOUT ANGEL’S WRITING
“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]
WHERE DO ERASED WORDS GO?
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
BUILT UP EMOTIONS
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.
INSPIRED BY SOME NEWS ABOUT FIRE ON TOP OF WATER DUE TO POLLUTION
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
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
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
ABOUT BUSHRAA’S WRITING
“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]
THE JOY OF TOGETHERNESS
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
THE MARVELOUS SAUCE
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
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
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,
those hands, equally capable
of creation and destruction,
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.
WHERE DO YOU FIND COMFORT?
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
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.
ABOUT TAYLOR’S WRITING
“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
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:
DULL EYES AND BRIGHT LIPS
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
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.
TO MY MOTHER,
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.
A KISS TO ADOLESCENCE
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.
SCIENCE & HUMANITY
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
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
STRING OF THOUGHTS
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.
ABOUT ZANAYA’S WRITING
“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.
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.