There Are No Unsacred Spaces

by Cynthia Manick

I’m trying to tell you that the world is beautiful. All the
hellos we say in a week, or month, the way the grooves
of the grin know what to do. Think about the first time
man went from four legs, hairy knuckles folded over, to two.
The moment the spine realized it could brace against its
cage. That the bones wouldn’t splinter and spark. The
sound that escaped. From that height, where did his eyes
look first? I bet he wondered about who feeds the sun.
Who can stand next to him. I’m trying to tell you something
about the universe. If you connect each lake and ocean with
a pencil, they mirror constellations. The barking stars are
like dimes. They know about the tenderness of orcas, as if
their size were made to contain opposites, like we contain
opposites. They know that the surf never takes everything,
a body always documents where it’s been down to the horse-
shoe crab. I’m trying to tell you that it’s okay to curse God
a little. That your mother keeps giving you plants that you
overwater or underwhelm. To crest burden over joy, fire
over water, ’cause hurt can get so loud sometimes. I’m trying
to tell you that history doesn’t begin with language, with words
on top of words. The latest dating app has welders and
endangered blacksmiths, I like that they enter every space
with their craggy hands.

Previously published in AGNI 91 (2020).

*Writing Prompt: 2020 has been a rough year in many areas but what makes the world still beautiful to you? Is it family, laughter, chocolate, or a moment? Make a list of things that still causes you to gasp in wonder. Then write a poem celebrating those things OR a letter to those things.

The Long Emergency

by Sasha West

The government’s belief in resource-panic grew.
We watched them arm their imagination with
soldiers and detention centers. I, too, collaged
disasters into a version of the future where
it rained iron across silt-filled houses. How easy
to picture you, dear one, trying to carry
our child somewhere safe, half driven mad
by tidal surge, wreckage, your way lit by the hulls
of burning cars. To watch from the balcony
as the storms come closer. To see in the denuded
fields our future. My mind rushed to the very end
because it was, by definition, a wall: a wall
could contain my fear. My mind rushed water
up the sides of the windows, my mind stripped
sound from the forests, made us as close to wild
as we could be. Love, how to tell you, this was constant:
apocalypse a missing tooth my mind’s tongue
ran to. I’d be in the car, daughter in back, radio on
a song she liked, and be answering some small
question, how a stick shift works, or what the march
was about—and in my other self I’d be wondering
how far up our street the floods would lap, where
we could go for food when the crops failed. I laid
my shining dark thoughts onto every space like
gold leaf, shook foil, like I’d smudged out our life
again on the palimpsest to write over. I once was
a child who made ghosts too real for friends,
spent a life sharpening the blade of my
imagination until it could sculpt any substance,
quickly whittle back what is into its truest form.
With what was undoing, undone, I had made
myself a body. I tried, whispering to myself:
We will begin human history again. It quieted
no fears. The dreams nibbled at the places
in my flesh that looked like grass.

Previously published in AGNI 91 (2020).

*Writing Prompt: We’re haunted by stories: some inherited, some accurate, some imagined. Make that visible in your daily life. Fully own the inconsistencies & inaccuracies of your imagination—especially in places that terrify you—and describe the scrim those flawed visions place over the world. Pay attention to spots where inaccuracies slide closer to truth and spots connecting you to other people’s myopias.

This issue of The Hard Work of Hope is produced in partnership with AGNI.


Cynthia Manick

Cynthia Manick is the author of Blue Hallelujahs (Black Lawrence Press, 2016) and editor of Soul Sister Revue: A Poetry Compilation (Jamii Publishing, 2019) and The Future of Black: Afrofuturism and Black Comics Poetry (Blair Publishing, forthcoming 2021). She has received fellowships from Cave Canem, Hedgebrook, MacDowell Colony, and Château de la Napoule among others. She is Founder of the reading series Soul Sister Revue; and her work has appeared in the Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day Series, AGNI, Callaloo, Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB), The Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. She currently serves on the editorial board of Alice James Books and resides in Brooklyn, New York.


Sasha West

Sasha West’s first book, Failure and I Bury the Body (Harper Perennial), was a winner of the National Poetry Series, the Texas Institute of Letters First Book of Poetry Award, and a Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Fellowship. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review Online, Agni, Georgia Review, Copper Nickel, and elsewhere. She is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at St. Edward’s University, where she received the Distinguished Teaching Award.