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February 2022 Feature: Ebony Stewart

Award-winning playwright, mental health advocate, and one of the most decorated poets in Texas, Ebony is a respected coach & mentor, one of the top touring poets in the country, and a Woman of the World Poetry Slam Champion.

Photo by Harris Shootz


Ebony Stewart is a Black woman, an award-winning writer, spoken word artist, playwright, actress, and world slam champion. She is a Houston native and one of Baytown's finest. Ebony has a BA in English & Communication Studies and is currently obtaining her Master’s in Clinical Social Work Therapy where she hopes to work with and provide affordable therapy to artists. She is the author of The Queen’s Glory & The Pussy’s Box, Love Letters to Balled Fists, and Home.Girl.Hood. Her newest manuscript, BloodFresh, will be published by Button Poetry and released in February 2022. Her work aims to validate the human experience and provide a layered perspective of mental wellness by recalling through poetry, storytelling, and reflection. You can learn more about Ebony Stewart's work at EbPoetry.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.



DARK STAR


I’m obsessed with writing love letters to Black women,

even more so if she dark-skin

I figure,

if I’m going to go where the love feels like home,

where I can rest, where someone gets me,

then it’s better to be in the hands of Black women


I’m committed to loving us,

even more so when we dark-skin

Cause I know,

no one loves us if they not pretending

There’s too many dark complexions treated

(un)fair-ly Too much proof be in the pudding


Black women,

be tolerated or ignored Got it out the mud

clear as day

Dark-skin holding the light they think

God forgot to give But God,

bless(ed) Black women, anyway


(sometimes it’s easy to forget)


Black women,

Even more so if she dark-skin,

learned early on

to self-soothe and overcome

The anger is justified,

but unexpressed in response


cause they expect it (so)

when they go low/We go higher

Black women,

even more so if we dark-skin,

wading the tide of high blood pressure

and other “unknown” micro-aggressions


I choose us in spite of

the African-American’t urge to boost (us)

Only once,

have I wanted the luxury of being someone [other]

than myself Never once, have I not been seen as

a Black woman,


even more so since I’m dark-skin

I’m still here, always alpha & omega

be my own resolve

But ain’t nobody thinkin about me

but me


The dark star

Forever writing a love letter to

myself

#storyoftheblackgirlwinning

A Black woman,

with dark-skin (finally)



seen.


#



ANXIOUSLY AVOIDANT

shared as PDF to retain formatting


#


Slapboxing


Not just another hood game

Slapboxing

“is a physical activity somewhat simulating boxing, where open hands are used in lieu of fisticuffs.” The art form is “an intersection between sparring and fighting usually performed in an informal manner,” the hood, the bus stop, the park, on yo block where there’s no vaseline but still two young men (some niggas) squarin’ off, talkin’ trash, wit a hard gaze.

Think of it as a tool to be used to test one’s hand speed and power.

Where males show dominance over each other.

i.e., who has the longest reach, the quickest hands,

who can bob and weave, block and move forward,

all while showboating and being the most flamboyant.

A rite of passage if you will.

Little brother finally defeats and connects with older brother to gain his respect.

Aggression used as an outlet when one cannot otherwise communicate their feelings.

A spontaneous game or training drill between acquaintances

that never lasts more than a couple of minutes

because 120 seconds is actually a really long time

and usually ends from a really good hit

a.k.a. “That nigga hit me too hard and now we ‘bout to fight for real.”

a.k.a. how else is a black man allowed to express himself in anger,

when being tempered still get red confetti slung from his body?

or

name a black man that hasn’t squared up daily

with his white opponent and lost—

not because of skill, velocity, reach, or endurance,

but because white men break the rules when black men get the best of them.

(i.e., George Zimmerman, Timothy Loehmann, Michael Dunn, Donald Trump, ...)

(white men, white men, white men, …)

Crumble under pressure, only slapbox those they know they can beat

by bringing a knife or a gun to a fight that only requires the use of hands.

Name a coward that didn’t break the rules, make a fist, a bomb, a “law”,

and hit a nigga hard enough for the ground to open up and fit a whole body in.

Or at the very least, didn’t send the police mob

to our neighborhoods with maximum power and chains.

The one who gets the most licks wins the game.

And some of this country’s greatest slapboxers

(i.e., Nat Turner, Malcolm X,

James Baldwin, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Chuck Berry, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, …)

said, “I know my rights and you can get these hands”

got the most licks, is legends in these streets/

but was born defeated/dusted and given a tombstone for it.

Remember half-swings are wasted energy.

Develop an eye for what’s coming.

The idea is to strike your opponent without them striking you.

Stick. Move. Block.

The blindspot to this strategy of revenge, escape, or attempt to not be erased is:

white men never intend to use just their hands.





Compassion Fatigue


To the white womxn whose YouTube comment said,

she is tired of every other American poem being about race or rape.

I’m not sure if compassion fatigue happens

because no one taught you how not to be oppressed

or because no one taught you how not to be the oppressor,

but your comment reminds us that no one cares about us but us.

You’re right. There are no new topics,

just old problems written into new pleas

to a country that refuses to reckon with its own sickness.

We Americans,

land of the free,

can only keep our motto

if we keep our mouths closed.

And isn’t that what all rapists want?

Control and a silenced victim.

Do you realize someone has stopped listening to this poem

because I am first black and also a womxn?

Black, if I’m alive still.

Womxn, if I haven’t disappeared yet.

Got anything anybody in the world might need

except my voice—

which means,

my body must be what’s left for the taking.

I’m not sure how we became treasures we can’t afford to keep.

But there are womyn of all kinds who’ve been raped;

who also hoped their warm bodies’ heart would stop beating,

but still went to work the next day.

What we know is,

it’s hard to comfort a girl who doesn’t let on she’s hurting.

So praise every womxn who speaks out against her rapist in an effort to heal.

Praise the ones who didn’t,

but got their healing from the poems you are tired of hearing.

How easy it must be to only sit through the happy.

While we try an’ believe the only thing we need to remember about suffering is that,

eventually,

it ends.

Three times now, on social media, I’ve watched a black person be murdered

because the United States is still making us pay for the way we look or the guilt it feels.

But a person of color’s only glory hallelujah is

as long as we didn’t die, then we didn’t die.

Do you realize

that when our mothers say, “I love you,”

she is also saying,

stay alive,

come back to me whole, in one piece,

and not a hashtag

or another dead nigga whose death she’ll have to watch on repeat?

Us poets,

whose duty is to write about the times,

write, because we don’t know when we’ll become extinct.

We are what’s left.

Black ink from black poets, who dare to respond to all this black death,

instead of hiding behind everything we’re thinking.

How privileged your life must be,

that you can be tired of hearing poems about race or rape,

while we write about an extinguished race

and violated bodies that keep being raped.

It’s not hard to believe you’re tired,

but can you empathize with how exhausted

we

must

be?






THE INTERVIEW


Your work is at once powerful and vulnerable. How do you balance these positions in your writing practice?


I don’t think either of those things happen on purpose. As intentional as I am in telling it like it is and being visibly unwavering on what I believe to be true, I don’t know if it’s something I try to balance in my writing practices. Often I’m told, my writing doesn’t do enough, and isn't as strong as someone hoped it would be. I’ve also been told that my work is too forward and angry and should be toned down. Folks love to make Black women jump through hoops, sit and straddle fences, while balled and chained, then ask us to hang ourselves. Before, when I went hungry or grew tired from tricks, I didn’t know, but now, I’ve come to the conclusion that I wrote it the way I wrote it because that’s how I write.


At times your writing speaks directly to lived experiences of violence, your own, and others covered in mainstream news. Do you feel a sense of responsibility to address violent events in your work?


I think I’m responsible for telling my own truth and the times I’m living in. I am asking (and sometimes demanding) the reader to absorb and admit the role they've played in it. I’m asking the reader to not just look at color or gender, but to also observe how our lived experiences could be the same in some ways, especially through matters of violence. Sometimes White folks say that they can’t completely relate to my work, and while that’s true, I think it’s a nice excuse and an easy out. Racism and oppression affects everyone, whether you’re the one doing the oppression or receiving it, both are having an experience that is affecting the lives and daily task of being human.


For instance, in my poem Slapboxing, surely if you are not Black you have still faced the oppressive nature handed to you by “The Man'' or have had heinous things happen to you by White superior behavior too? Another person [online] said, “I wish all White people didn’t exist; then what would Black people write about!?” If Whiteness didn’t exist, in the vile ways it does, in this country, I’m sure our writing would be different too. So, [hahahahaha] me too, Blood. Me too.


In addition to being an experienced writer, you are a Sexual Health Educator and Activist. Do you feel your writing and activism support each other? If yes, how so?


Absolutely. Writing about my body or queer self as well as how sexual identity informs or denies cultural experiences support each other and align with life practices of how I am seen and help others feel seen as well. Affirming folks is important and I think writing bravely about the lack of affirmation given is also a form of activism.


Congratulations on your forthcoming book, Bloodfresh. What can readers expect from this collection? Do you feel it is a continuation or departure from your previous collection, Home. Girl. Hood.?


I don’t know if it’s a continuation or departure. I just be writin to end and begin again. There are a lot of themes that I come back to and write about: Black women, colorism, body image, and my relationship to family, mental health, and writing itself.


It should be said, a lot of the poems in BloodFresh were written during the pandemic. So, it’s raw and observing. I chose poems that matched what was coming up for me and how they swirl around in my brain. I did not romanticize my depression by trying to be clever. I did not pretend to be unbothered when I was hurt, felt betrayed, abandoned, or was longing. I felt all my f feelings with no resolution. I made it (or whatever that means), so BloodFresh does reflect triumph and acts as an artifact to document, I was here.


Your work is strong on and off the page and it’s apparent in your performance that you are no stranger to the stage. How do you care for yourself before and after delivering work that some may find heavy physically and emotionally?


Before I get on stage I decide what poems are for which audience. There is no point in baring my soul for an audience that is only there for the feeding or isn’t deserving or won’t hold me. In some cases and if possible, before sharing the poem (while on stage) I will inform the audience of what kind of feedback I am open to hearing afterward or appropriate interactions about the piece.


Afterward, I try to remove myself from the space for a bit. And then do some grounding and breathing exercises, plus drink water before re-entering the space. When conversing with folks I let them do most of the talking. If they're asking questions or wanting to dig deeper or even express what came up for them with my work, and they’re unconsciously asking me to do the labor of being completely present after all I just gave, then I'll be honest about my capacity at that moment and suggest we talk at another time via email or DM.


What’s something that comforts and lifts you up?


Food, laughter, the Sun. Bonus points if this can happen with family & close friends.


What’s playing in your car on a long drive?


Oh we gone switch it up! But we probably gone start out with Rapsody, JayZ, Meek Mill. Then switch over to Bruno Mars & Silk Sonic. I might go silent and just tend to my thoughts. Then put on some gospel music for praise and worship! If someone's in the car with me, I wanna hear what they wanna hear so I can understand them better.


How can people support you right now?


It would be really dope if folks requested my books (Home.Girl.Hood. & BloodFresh) at their local book store, purchased copies, and left reviews for the books as well.


Who is another Black woman writer people should read?


Ariana Brown & Suzi Q. Smith







Torch Literary Arts is a nonprofit organization established to publish and promote creative writing by Black women. We publish contemporary writing by experienced and emerging writers alike. TORCH has featured work by Colleen J. McElroy, Tayari Jones, Sharon Bridgforth, Crystal Wilkinson, Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Elizabeth Alexander, and others. Programs include the Wildfire Reading Series, writing workshops, and retreats.

Help TORCH continue to publish and promote Black women writers by donating today.