Five Poems – Joshua Merchant

Alt Music to 2007

when it wasn’t my brother and I
it was just me and when it wasn’t

the blunt I knew I couldn’t be or
the smoke I ran away from, spindled

within the confines of my bedsheets,
it was the ragtag bunch pre awkward

and black boom- picture silicon valley,
gentrification extracted; not quite displaced

on purpose, loud sometimes, ashy sometimes,
over it often. I was the goofball. just for them

though. there was no pecking order.
vultures can only spell names when they’re

spoiled and I didn’t speak possum. none of us did.
in my peripheral there’s some guy- chiseled

or something of a brush stroke- and I turn
my head to see my friend making the most

hilarious noise I’ve heard all week and I think
to myself how lucky I am to discretely kiki

with a tribe that pushes me to click
the spine of a binder with Japanese song

lyrics– each ring a slow clap
home. and if that guy

says he’s Him he better
recognize that sound.

On Being Raised Anemic

I never knew the significance of the cast iron skillet. the weight of it. how it is an
un/spoken dialect amongst my ancestry. only that it burnt eggs too quick.
you couldn’t flip pancakes on it. making fried rice with it was cool but most of
the rice and eggs fed the iron. not my plate. wasn’t worth it. the scrubbing. the
traces of orange fresh out the dishwasher reminded me of frosting, the kind
you scraped during parties with no escape route. it was always in the cabinet
slimy, dirty and gross. it wasn’t until later I learned oil was how you cared for
it. the first time I had a frittata from scratch was from a skillet in a city that
separated peace officers from law enforcers. in tv shows and brochures they
used the skillet to make the cornbread. somebody who’s never made the loin
of me sweat as easily as the next seen on tv purchase once said they can’t
even cook the way they want without one. the first utensil I bought myself
was online. affordable. red. big enough. glass lid rimmed with silicone. nonstick.
metal handles. easily my favorite thing in the kitchen. after it burned during
a night where the smoke kept me company, I didn’t want to take it back, just
clean it. a few times. it wasn’t until later I learned I could use it as a slow
cooker by accident- a desperate need for tenderness that slid
off the bone without cinder lacing the bottom of my soup.


by the time I moved out of my father’s apartment there was always still a part of
me tethered to that place. I’d visit, slumbered, whenever being the beloved
manic pixie dream negro on the other side of town or across the bridge left me
feeling jilted. I needed to go someplace where it all made sense. there

were a couple of restaurants in the neighborhood called Café LaFong’s. was
only open between seven in the morning and three thirty. the one I frequented was
a couple of blocks down the street from my father’s place. next to the abandoned
lot that used to be a small market and restaurant. across the street from an elephant
graveyard where abundance was replaced for a hub serving the abundantly failed; Bone
Thug theory informs me this exists in every corner I’ve yet to see. the harmony of me would

view all the Black men on their way or coming home from work. some on coffee dates
with friends or family or lovers. all on mornings I needed to leave the couch in “North”
Oakland, or Berkeley. San Francisco. Santa Cruz. I didn’t always arrive feeling expired

from one big trial period I couldn’t afford. no, not every morning was like that. sometimes
I just needed a taste of something familiar. like an omelet. or french toast. or
“The Kitchen Sink.”


when there isn’t anyone around safe
enough to help wring the hot silk
from one’s waterlogged skin
they’ll roll over from or in
most would caress
their own.
I’m not most.
I scratch and smell
yellow tape. my mind
becomes a minefield of needs
I can’t have and wants
from others I never asked for.
I become property. question
if they belong to me now too,
and if a deleted blocked number
is enough to pluck the pandora
from my eyelids- one blink
for the don imus I scrape
the other for the baldheaded hoe
anthems I shake to- all of this
glory rinsed- meant to bless
the sewage no one wants play in.
I’d turn the nob cold
but I have a pulse.
I lay as low as gravity.
play the floor is lava
until I am sediment.
until I make it to the
other side of what was
never meant to be a burden


there is always discomfort in celebrating
the wounded who appears unscathed

those who appear unscathed don’t want
to be told they’re pretty for a bullet wound

a bullet wound walks into a bar and the gun
who owns it tells the pretty nigga
they owe him money

the pretty nigga meets a man worthy
of holding them and tries not to
stain him or his couch

the bullet wound doesn’t tell the man
I like you too much and the man tells
the pretty nigga stop being a bullet wound

and the bullet wound laughs awkwardly
wearing the man’s clothes, more comfortable
than what the pretty nigga arrived in

and I say pretty nigga because the bullet
wound doesn’t always want to bleed

an E14th podcast, hushed, standing
across the street from a community center
naked; I rub aerosol in my skin and shout
someone died here and I’m being dramatic

I say dramatic because the bullet wound needs
room to breathe just as much as my soft

release; a man gently presses the small of my back
and I let loose such a fluorescent the shadow
holding the label of me together confuses him

he says you don’t have to do that here and we press
against each other and I pray for a mural this time.

Joshua Merchant is a Black Queer native of East Oakland, CA exploring what it means to be human as an intersectional being. What they’ve been exploring as of late has been in the realm of loving and what it means while processing trauma. They feel as though as a people, especially those of us more marginalized than others, it has become too common to deny access to our true source of power as a means of feeling powerful. However, they’ve come to recognize with harsh lessons and divine grace that without showing up for ourselves and each other, everything else is null and void. Innately, everything Merchant writes is a love letter to their people. Because of this they’ve had the honor to witness their work being held, understood, published or forthcoming in literary journals such as 580Split, The Root Work Journal, Anvil Tongue Books, Spiritus Mundi Review and elsewhere.  Twitter: @ibursailor_dune

Art: Setting Out, Sitting In, a collage work collaboration by Katy Singleton and Robert Frede Kenter. Katy Singleton is a designer/visual artist who is a secret member of the Ice Floe crew. Robert Frede Kenter is the press publisher & series director & midwife, dancing on the midway.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close