Three Poems by Safiya Washington


Almost Like Friends

I am closer to death than others

Not in sight
In heart
Meaning my heart holds death
Not cold
When you’ve been here
After is another adventure
Endings happen
I am not afraid of death
Meaning sometimes I welcome
Her more than I should
She eats dinner with me
Most nights
Runs hands over skin tempting
Begs come with me
Back to something gentler
Somewhere with magic for my black
On my worst days
I feel her in wind
Each hug sings
And I’d gas up a car
Give her the keys
We get as far as freeway
Before I remember promises
The way sadness hangs to death
And will hang to me if with her
She stops coming over
But I see her smile
28 hours
I know death well.
Carry her in every breath


We Made it

He said

I can see the Brooklyn in your swag

The way your jeans sit

and that knife holds your hips

But we not in the hood no mo’

You ain’t gotta be strapped here

That barrel tongue you got

Drop that

It don’t fit here

Softer baby

That’s better

Blonde don’t spit fire like that

This a different game

Home rules don’t fit

We fall asleep to a different lullaby now

He’s new here

Back in the Stuy we would’ve been family

Grew up two blocks apart

And had to meet here

Like this

He thinks this sea of white

Gentle hum of night

Is something better than our


Our base beats

And fire startin’ feet

He wanna trade

For trust fund

Thinks here we don’t have shit to fear

Thinks here means we made it

Guard down

I don’t know how to tell him the enemies that have no face

Are always more dangerous

He don’t wanna know why the grass green

That it’s fertilized with blood

Could be his at any time

He don’t care

It’s prettier than

The crack head’s crate on the corner

Same one told ‘em every day for ten years

To stay in school

Keep his head up

Listen to his momma

He’s their only hope

But here

Every face has a smile

That hides its confederate

Hides the way they try to erase where we come from

Ignore where we from in the name of acceptance

Here they don’t need guns to take your money

We got tuition

They good


Anywhere you don’t need a reason to be imprisoned


Skin is proof enough

When it looks like ours

How do I tell someone they’ve never been safe?

How do I not?

He’s one of few here

Like me

We always look out of place



I wanna tell him

I’ve seen people come here and change

Lose home

Lose black

Beauty and swag

Bullet lodge in tongue

Forget where really come from

Ain’t no need for a knife when my big Cousin two blocks up

When Gram sitting on the stoop ‘til midnight

Tell him

Here you on your own

Ain’t no army behind you like where we from

They’ll try to make you think you never really had one


It’s you and your knife and your black and what you learned in your hood.


Momma’s Afrika

All momma’s emails start: THIS IS WHY WE NEED TO MOVE!

She Google’s prices of land in Africa in her spare time

Years ago

She stenciled her Africa to her arm

Ink seeped into her blood

Made everything permanent

She’s got proof now

To ease the heavy of this months mortgage payment

To be super black woman

My Momma

Adinkra symbol strips America’s tint from her brown

Puts a Nigerian glow beneath her eyes

She remembers her somewhere better

Her promise land

Practices her accent in the mirror

Tastes the Yoruba   Honey on her tongue

She never holds English words this way

Always violent



Her white people at work call her black woman

Momma says: picture yourself a slave   that’s what we are here

They’ve modernized

It’s so subtle

You hardly taste it

A system designed to prey on melanin

This skin

This black

It gets worse here everyday

Wouldn’t you do anything to be free?

No matter how long it takes?

I can’t tell momma my Africa don’t look like hers no more

My bones are set different

They never learned to leave

To make her smile I tattoo my Africa

Stencil Adinkra & Yoruba to my forearm

But it reeks of poetry

War paint



She dances with her siblings on my body

Makes a mural of Brooklyn on my skin

Philly’s wings on my back

The poems I’ve allowed brand me:  sad song

The one she’s always hated I love wrapped around my ribs

Barrier between us

Momma says they’re taking my mind

I’ve let them shorten my name

I don’t pray anymore

History’s coming for us

The day of Trayvon’s verdict she cried herself raw had me promise to call to and from everywhere

When I cut my hair she made me promise to always wear big earrings

She understands she can’t protect me

“I taught you what this means

The deaths

These laws

This war

Why won’t you leave with me?”

I’m afraid she’ll rot here waiting for me

Nothing’s permanent

Her tattoo is fading


Safiya Washington, 20, is a college Senior at Delaware Valley University, originally from Brooklyn, NY. She has been involved with Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement for four years and is now alumni. She’s the 2011 National Brave New Voices Gland Slam Poetry Champion. She was also featured on CNN’s Who’s Black in America? and represented the Philly Pigeon at Women of the World Poetry Slam this past March. She writes to shed light to the crevasses of the world that need it the most. She writes to alleviate some of the burdens on the backs of her generation.