the survivors (or the ones left behind).

deziree brown

Inspired by: The Survivors, 1923 by artist Käthe Kollwitz. 


I held the hand of a brown girl in my dreams last night. 
her mother was wailing on the wet pavement across from me, 
hands smashed together, eyes closed tight, 
willing each drop of blood escaping her daughter’s
abdomen to find its way back into her veins. 

blue buick, older model. 
matches the description of the stolen

Aria was the name she spat between gulps of blood
collecting in her cheek. her mother was rocking, 
murmuring pleas to her Jesus for mercy, 
for his favor, for his gossamer fingers
to lift death’s murky shadow
from her daughter’s body. 

what does the suspect look like again? 

I’ve never seen a body bleed
so much; the waves of red rolling
free from their fleshy prison, encasing
us in its wet escape. Aria’s skin was a wildfire, 
angrily flaming around her belly; 
the stench of rotting, metallic flesh
engulfed my nostrils. Her mother
and I knew the ambulance
on its way to the ghetto
would be too late. 

this car has been reported stolen. 
I need you to step        away
hands in the air

                                 I’m gonna die, 
ain’t I? 

officer, this my mom’s car. 
the keys are right -

her mother
took the scarf compress I was holding
away from the metal slugs
embedded in her daughter’s belly into her own, 
humming, and told Aria to close her eyes. 
I closed mine too, 
until her breath
finally stopped. 







Aria’s mother folded
herself around her daughter’s bloodless body
until paramedics peeled her from the street.  
I could see Aria in her eyes; 
watched her pre-pubescent frame
launch into the air as bullets ripped
through it, heard the thwack
of her skeleton connect with concrete, 
silently slide against her mother’s car. 


Aria’s mother used the sky’s tears
to wipe her daughter’s blood
from her door, climbed inside. 
I know sleep will not find her tonight. 
Her daughter’s memory is an empty abyss, 
a martyr’s bloody cross to carry, 
a mother’s eternal stare
into her child’s empty bedroom. 

shots fired. 
I think I need the coroner. 

my baby’s gone, 
dead and gone, 
and this country don’t march
for black girls
or the women that birthed them



deziree brown

inspired by: Dining Room in the Country (detail), 1913 by artist Pierre Bonnard. 


mama sings. 

for one moment, she limps
across our dining room floor, 
flings open the vine-strung
window and door, awakening
the foliage surrounding our home. 
her red dress fans open
in the breeze, a flame
climbing into the clouds. 

for one second, our small world
sets on fire. her voice
stretches and pulls, 
ignites and illuminates, 
a mournful melody
that pricks the tiny hairs
awake on my chest. 

the grass shines brighter, 
leaves painted across coral sky, 
nature simmering
in surrender to the music
she digs from her chest. 

I’ve never felt that power
inside. the atmosphere
could never respond
to my sorrow that way. 
in our next life, 
she will teach me. 
for now, I sit
next to our korat, 
watch mama’s earth
glow amber-gold, 
smolder as she staggers
against the cream
window pane; sweltering skin
slick with sweat, whispering
somber hymns to cool
the blaze surrounding us. 



"I was exposed to the Kollowitz piece in my Senior Seminar of undergrad, and the overwhelming suffering that it contained resonated with me deeply. It reminded to me that being a survivor is not always a blessing, especially when the world that you reside in considers you less than human. We've seen in media that there is a focus on black men's death but the suffering that black women, black girls, and black trans women are going through is often downplayed or ignored. We are specific targets for sexual, mental and physical violence. We are expected to survive, but to what end? Experiencing this kind of erasure creates an emptiness which, over time, can drown you, and Kollowitz captured that."

deziree a. brown is an African-American queer woman poet and activist. She is a 2015 BFA graduate of Hamline University in Saint Paul, MN.  Originally from Flint, MI, she arrived at Hamline a pre-med major and left a poet, editor, and writer. She plans to be the Toni Morrison or Shonda Rhimes of poetry when she grows up, and often claims to have been born with a poem written across her chest. She currently attends Northern Michigan University, where she is pursuing an MFA.  She is an Editor-at-Large for the Runestone Literary Journal.