Serena Yang’s “Self-portrait of my poems as the Fall” & Nathaniel Swanson’s “To Believe in Prophecies” (Urban Word NYC)

Self-portrait of my poems as the Fall

by Serena Yang

every day the birds come to knock their beaks
against the glass, thinking it air. every day my pen
scratches over the water-stained pages of my notebook
and thinks itself a vein. my blood turning to ink.
a measured spillage. call writer’s block
a blood clot. in january i lay with my legs lifted
above my heart, my knee an impatient swelling, veins
pressed close to the surface, my skin a thin
sheet of river ice. we call this healing.

last week my friend asked me my plans for the fall.
before i could answer, she said –– i meant
the autumn. not, y’know, the end of everything.

a baby blue bird dashes itself against the glass, then
another. this one a few days later, and less blue.
after the third we draw our curtains so the birds
will stop mistaking our home for the second half
of an unbroken sentence. the fifth one falls
before i realize they only come in the dark.

i tell my friend that i will spend the fall writing
my small blue poems, but this time i am thinking
of a long life. of what happens when the ink dries
& all there’s left is to lift the swollen limb above
the heart and wait for blood to run home.

every day the birds come to press
their bodies closer to themselves.
that smudge in the dark glass that looks
like a ghost limb. one you didn’t know
you’d lost until it appears as reflection.
until what you see through the window
is not a home, or the world, but only
the dark. and there, your own image.

my poems dream of a likeness in the glass
that becomes real even as the body
retreats and carries away its heart.
sometimes i mistake glass for air,
blood for ink, the fall for the fall.
sometimes i am a blue bird that forgets.


*Writing Prompt: A bird arrives at your window. What color is it, and why has it come? What is it carrying? Whose eyes are on its face? Does it come in the rain, the snow, or under the light of a full moon? Is it a songbird, a falcon, or a scavenger? Write a poem about this winged creature at your window

To Believe in Prophecies

by Nathaniel Swanson

As a child I loved watching Jean Grey wield the powerful Phoenix Force, Guardian of the M’Kraan
Crystal. It was in the complete darkness of space,
plummeting to her doom, that she found her chrysalis.
When Grey emerged from Jamaica Bay a creature of utter power my hatchling eyes supernova’d.

The other day my father found a picture of my younger self holding a phoenix,
palms turned upward,
cupping pools of flame to the camera as offering. In hopes it would immortalize the magic of the rising

My father found this at the end of 2020.
A year of ash,
heat, and painful
slow burn.
Of spread like wildfire,
smoke inhalation, and constant

Like Jean, my mind sometimes felt like a raging chorus or rather a
a home invasion. Or maybe a duet, a “two-ness”.

And like Grey I’ve been an unbecoming of myself; hurtled and crashed and survived to see another womb
splitting daybreak.
My family tree has felt heat like no other,
all those feathered birds of light and fire, just two Grandma’s ago, managed to make new from the
remnants of their burnt out lives.

If they could do it I had no right to close my wings and weep for freedom.
The phoenix is the most free thing, ripe with lifetimes. Evader of death. The OG “we gon try this again.”

Child me says here,
It is time to unearth yourself anew.
Reiterates. I was always destined to reassemble,
while the world around me combusts.

with all your ember flaws, and still burning pain you will rise fresh,
Ready to soar.

*Writing Prompt: Rebirth — 1) the process of being reincarnated or born again 2) the action of reappearing or starting to flourish or increase after a decline; revival. Think back to a time where you encountered this phenomenon and write a poem considering how it impacted you. What did you learn? How often do you think about it? What feelings are you left with? Are you the same now as you were before?

This issue of The Hard Work of Hope is produced in partnership with Urban Word NYC.

Serena Yang

Born in Singapore and raised in Queens, New York, Serena Yang is a poet, writer, and first-generation Chinese American immigrant. She believes that imagination and storytelling is critical to justice work and writes, always, with the knowledge that a better world is possible. Serena is the 2021 NYC Youth Poet Laureate and a National Youth Poet Laureate finalist representing the Northeast.

Nathaniel Isiah Swanson

Nathaniel Isiah Swanson is a 19 year-old poet and performance artist from Brooklyn, New York. Through Urban Word NYC, he was a member of the Youth Leadership Council, the 2018 National Slam Team, a three time Federal Hall Fellow, and a two time NYC Youth Poet Laureate Ambassador. He has performed at numerous venues across the country, has been published in multiple anthologies, and was featured in the Webby nominated video: “Step It Up For LGBTQ Rights”. Nathaniel is also a sophomore POSSE scholar currently attending DePauw University with an intended interdisciplinary major in English Writing and Communication Studies.