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Inspired by this year’s 400th anniversary Shakespeare celebrations, #wordswelivein explores the words we encounter every day and the stories they tell about our lives and communities. The initiative comes to life through live events, social media and text-and-image works by writers from around the world.

Find out how to participate in #wordswelivein.

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Mermaid and Surf

Looking at the modest buildings on Mermaid Avenue
The signs chatter English/Spanish/sort of Chinese
As the bright sun’s cracked rays splash walls and windows
You see that Mermaid is where locals go to pray at a Shrine
offering solace & recovery, buy mangos & apples & chicken
or get their hair done by African women all the way from Timbuktu
Surf Avenue is the boundary between neighborhood
and fun seekers noise & trophies & candy, beaches, bikinis & beer
There we spy the Secret Psychic’s Shack. She’s not there to offer
Solace in the name of a soul mate desired, but she does not need
to tell us about death, which is everywhere. Hear it in the shouts of
riders from the top of looping rides, in the Atlantic’s dark waves
& the cut flesh of burned hands of the fry cooks come for
“The American Dream,” but lately riding the night’s angry mares.

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Sudden Lives Out Overheard Gold Unnamed

Ours starts behind the night. The older broes
cross the road. The bird sings with a fruit. Love
designed, but never produced. White pattern
bang. Find the end of the moon—you will do.

Out from the day, a crucial blue overused;
the landscape hardly a surprise. In the spirit
of color, I give my eye to reorder
and so on the Rainbo babe sky. You construct
the lightest white; seconds brighten off
screen; replaying the color like me I’ll scream.
Swipe right! My mind added to springtime;
the velvet blue booth—Occupied.

You, crank up the sun; I’ll unbutton
your tongue. The endless stop a dark green;
the sudden suggestion of the unseen.

Still Life in Another Neighborhood We Can’t Afford

Pearl-lined with a lace stratagem
the day’s asleep in drag on the sofa.
Come upon sheets in the courtyard.
Blue first then yellow irises out front.
A park whose piers secret away a song
only fish and the drowned know to sing:
luchando, luchando, luchando.
They say no wharfage here and mean it.
Grass painted green. Living rooms full
of Lucian Freud. No sequins in the window
on the corner, only a few flags—none of them
mauve with sea-foam rings. All
the Dominicans are leaving. I repeat,
all the Dominicans are leaving.

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Thank you for writing [justice] a language for the future. Thank you for inviting me into the streets, making the streets safe by filling them with life. Thank you who walked alongside me, you who I don’t know, and trusting me to walk beside you. If we were cold that night, December 2014, we were warmed by something greater. Thank you for holding your grief in these words, for holding these words in your hands [up, don’t shoot], in your chest. For making the name a word that creates presence [Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Natasha McKenna, Michael Brown...] For bringing them into the world again, held and not rented from billboards or landlords. For echoing those words written first by a few brilliant hearts, in a love letter to Black lives [matter]. Thank you for challenging us to realize that love. Thank you for risking that endless poem, the impossible demand.

Turning Spring

Our bodies, when they were together,
knew what to do, and did it like fire
mowing brittle grass. When we pulled apart
we grew nameless to each other, and dressed
in the puncture of silence. I looked over
at you, who shouldn’t be here in my life,
dancing a little as you button, motion
tight as a spring, feet just beginning to move
with feeling now. Then again it’s your room.
I’m the watcher, silent as the tree
grown to your window, its spiked fruits
knocking in wind. It was a frigid spring.
There was a wall. Yes, it was obvious
as whiteness, and yet this did not deliver me.

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after mermaid ave
a mermaid a hybrid / trans-genre / experimental
form read end-stopped / a two-way street /
we come to / a fence as poets / we took some shots
/ i learned small things about a woman / that salt sea smell
/ our lady of solace / all who enter here / a year of mercy
gone but not forgotten / some silhouettes / some streets /
in coney island / owned and then abandoned / up
for grabs / marked for plot / written backwards / the fish
rots from the head / the road said / sink or swim here