maia medicine


The sun hangs just above the roofs of our neighbors' houses. Dad and I, lean and black, are standing in the driveway facing the light. He points to a white pin prick in the purple sky.
“See that star? That is not a star. It is the planet Venus.”
I nod my head.
“You remember I told you that the sun is a star?”
I raise my eyebrows.
“You see these stars in the sky? The sun is just like one of these stars. You understand?”
“Yes. The sun is a star...”
I stare expecting to see the sun burst into a million stars and scatter them over the sky. And then in the morning, all the stars would fly toward each other like iron fillings to a magnet and create the sun.

“Time to go inside.” Dad picks me up and carries me inside the house.


I am reading the biography of Albert Einstein, sitting next to my little brother in the backseat of Mom's boyfriend, Cliff's car. Tomorrow we are going to watch parades and fireworks in the city. Cliff starts the engine. I hear pounding on the car.
“You ain't taking my kids with that man.”
“Oh lord.” Mom looks at Cliff.
“Just taking my kids off with some strange man.”
“Nat, calm down. We are just going to the city to watch the fireworks. We will be back tomorrow.” Mom and Dad argue in front of Cliff's car. I turn my back to them and hold my breath and pretend I am a big blue balloon floating away.
“He is stealing my kids.”
“No one is stealing them. I am taking them to go see--”
“You ain't taking them nowhere.”
Dad grabs my forearm through the opened back door window. Mom snaps his hand off me.
“What is your problem? Look at what you are doing to--”
“I'm not listening to your bull shit anymore. The kids are staying with me.”
Dad opens the back door. “Come on Maisha. Get on out. You are staying with me this weekend.”
“But I want to go see the fireworks!”
Mom hands our bags to Dad. “It will be okay,”she says “We will go see the fireworks some other time.”
I take my brother's hand and we walk to the driveway.
I let go of his hand, stick my fingers in my ears, and watch the balloon burst.

That evening, I curl into the recliner in the living room and read my book. The air is wet and cloudy with cigarette smoke. Dad paces between the kitchen and the living room, mumbling. His shoulders curve into his chest.

“Let me ask you something...” He stops in front of me with his hands on his waist. “Your mom, she ever talk about marrying Cliff?”
“We'll see about that.” His arms fold across his chest. His eyes blink off tempo and slow.
“Your mom say anything else about her and Cliff getting married?”
I look at him.
“I'm sure she told you not to talk to me. She don't want me to know what's going on. Thinks I'm stupid.”
My brother lays his head in my lap.
“You know she ain't coming back. She doesn't want to take care of her kids. She wants to go running off with Cliff. You see how she do. She doesn't want to have nothing to do with you any more. Telling my own daughter not to speak to me.”

The next morning, I tip toe into Dad's room. He is sleeping, his mouth gray like the ash floating in the plastic soda bottle beside his bed. His hand hangs crooked off the side of the bed. I poke his wrist. His arm slightly swings. His head jerks. He opens his eyes.
“You okay?” He asks.
“I'm okay.”
His mustache curls toward his empty cheeks and he closes his eyes. I watch him dream.

He hears the hum of machines and insects. Suddenly the world is quiet. The trees shatter and the dirt becomes black.
He is running, one step too slow to catch his breath.
The Vietnam forest glows neon yellow and the day's humidity seeps into his pants.
He forgets how to smell, to eat, to sleep. He chews bugs like gum to kill the nerves.
He counts the trees, the steps, the men, the ammunition, the hours on the clock, the stars. He doesn't count the nights, the dead, the forgotten.
He never believed in this war, but his fate was drafted. And on the other side of hell, he tells myself on sleepless nights, is a house in the suburbs, two kids, a pretty wife, and a life that is his own.
The air red and heavy. The sky explodes. Everyone is running to the horizon. Trucks with machine guns are lingering in road. He looks at his hand, holding a lit cigarette. Red embers eat the tobacco and there is nothing but ash.

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. Albert Einstein


Mom is driving from the airport and Dad is sitting next to her talking about what he has learned since he moved to California. His eyes sparkle black and his thin arms brush against the car window. He lights a cigarette.
Mom raises an eyebrow. “Just one. I stopped smoking around the kids and I think it has made a difference in their health.”
He exhales. “I have been watching the news. You can't trust them. You think you can trust those people at your job. They got your file and since we are married they are watching you.”
Mom stares at the traffic, clutches the steering wheel and smiles through the rear view mirror at my brother and I in the backseat
“I'm telling you this for your own good and for the children's. They are after all of us.”
She puts on her blinkers. “I'm sure we are safe.”
He shakes his head. “They've got you tricked. They've got you thinking that you can trust them. But they are only letting you keep your job so that they can keep tabs on me. They don't care nothing about you.”
Mom turns the steering wheel to the left. “I'm going to stop and get some coffee.” She looks at him. “Do you want some?”
She parks the car at 7-11, opens the door, and walks into the store.
Dad lights another cigarette and exhales out the window.
“How have you been Maisha?”
“You doing good in school?”
“What are you studying?”
“Your teachers don't ever ask anything about me, do they?”
I shake my head.
“Well, if they ever do. You tell them to mind their business. Don't tell them anything about me.”

The cigarette slips out of Dad's fingers like a falling star detonating on the black top pavement.


There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.
Albert Einstein

It is midnight in the summer. I sit under a tree, my knees pulled to my chest. I am listening to the stars as if they have a secret just for me.
My friends are spending these summer nights drinking, smoking, and making out in the back of cars. I don't do that. Mom says that I have to be careful or I will end up like my dad. Schizophrenia is genetic.
I gaze at the navy blue sky. The stars start to swirl like a circle dance around the moon. The moon and stars become the sun spinning in the zenith.
My mouth opens to taste the light and my hand clutches the bones in front of my heart. I hold my breath and swallow the sun.
It erupts inside of me and fills the sky.
The stars whisper. “This is the light at the end of the shadow of the valley of death. Some are scared and it burns them like the fires of hell. Don't be scared.”

I lay on the grass. The lights descend and blanket me. I realize that in my dad's dreams he runs away from the bright lights because he believes we are alone.

But I count stars and most nights they count me

voces against violence vol. 3


for pidge

don't expose
the skin to heat
or cold, sun, stars
water or razors
let it just wrap
and find itself
layer meeting layer
like filo dough
each flake
gathering together
cold pisces
flesh simple as snowflakes
cocoon the skin
til it finds its way

as the breath of julius caesar
creates empires
my breath
is a place
of song

dont write about stars

for nadia

in another world,
you and me
on the edge of the sea
facing heart-shaped mountains
nations' borders slipping
away like trite
pop songs
we turn down the music,
off the headphones
see dawn pour out the valley
like black eyeliner scraped off the pinky
you say: yes
i say: na’am
and we walk
into the rising desert sun’

these days
piled barbed wire
divide us
i write another poem
you write grafitti on your arm

tell me
how mighty the pen is
when the hand is in chains
tell me
that freedom doesnt have a price
when i keep paying interest
for the killing machine
tell me: slow down
when i cant spring to the edge
between the right and left ventricle
someday our ashes will be silk sleeves
in the wind

for now
i keep writing poems
wrapped in a broken burning
molotov cocktail on a tire
from a star

this is not a love poem

for bfp

this is not a love poem
three days stooped in prison
my daughter bouncing
off the gated window
i pray for the bodies
unknown but fighting
for what i fight

this is why we plant
gardens in imploding anorexic cities
the black clouds cutting 
our lungs in quarters
cancerous cells flitter between
the roots of trees

we refuse to give up
an imaginary skyline of leaves
the scent of basil
chamomile drifting over the walls
a freedom we can taste
for which we have died
and are resurrected

i cannot live
for you if i cannot die
for impossible you,
it is not a poem we need
but ourselves
like a prisoner craves a cigarette

this is not a love poem
but my life, a gift 
in newspaper and
hand-spun twine

Colored girls: a Hustler//Artist production (Volume 1)

if black could shine

if black could shine

trickle down the spine

leave shimmering marks after shoe shine

then these boys would glitter

flutter under street lights

a stop sign blinking go

swerving over dirt roads

if black could sing

holler shout and swing

wind its way through white keys

and settle at home

between the tobacco smoke

and the breeze

then these boys would leap

scatter in the shadows

between cracks in the concrete

wider than their plams

blacker than song

that careens between hallelujah and r & b

sing me to sleep

and lets pray that we dont dream

yeah if black could just be


popshot magazine
co-written by mai'a williams and alexis gumbs:

because we struggle to be free

because we have been here

because we still are here

because we struggle together

to be free

Because we are supposed to forget.  Because we see our faces reflected in the spilled blood on our hands.  Because have been standing here screaming.  Because we are supposed to consent.  Because our bodies are riddled with resistance.  Because our reaching can only asymptoptically approach accountability.  Because we are reaching anyway.

Because we are supposed to live in denial.  Because we were not supposed to survive.  Because we are not supposed to be aware, to be whole and human.  Because we are supposed to be destroyed by the violence or live in constant fear.  Because we are supposed to be afraid to speak about what we see, and have seen, and our ancestresses have seen.
Because we are not supposed to be (here).  Because we still are.  Because we still are here.  Anyway.

We created the site Because We Still Are Here ( in response to Israel’s escalating bombing of Gaza in the winter of 2008-09.  We felt that there needed to be a record that women of color refuse to be silent in the face of such violence, especially those of us whose tax dollars are directly aiding and abetting the destruction of Palestinian lives and communities.  We know too well the significance of US economic and military power on imprisoned populations.  Gaza is the world’s largest outdoor prison, and our communities have been and continue to be imprisoned inside jails, prisons, ghettos, plantations, concentration camps, and reservations.

We have found and received statements of solidarity from women all over the country and the world.  We have learned that like us, women of color all over the world feel the impact of the bombing of Gaza in their bodies and are responding with hoarse voices at protests, on blogs, on t-shirts, with tears.

We call the site “because we still are here” because survival is possible.  The powers that be cannot destroy us.  As Audre Lorde says, “we were never meant to survive.”  And yet we do.  And we evolve passed their intentions for us into a world and a vision in which we create ourselves out of the bones of our ancestresses.  Because we still are here, we cannot be silent.  We cannot be compliant.  By the very fact that we are still here, in our myriad bodies and selves, may this fact provide one more imaginary space within the Palestinian communities of what survival looks like.  It is a celebration of our lives, women of color and Palestinian women and men.

Women of color in the US have been crying out against the Israeli occupation of Palestine for decades.  We honor ancestors like June Jordan by adding our voices to this dirge.
We insist that this violence, which has outlived our ancestors will not live past us. Borders are a form of violence that we resist with words and action.