How Queer People of Color Heal Through Poetry

By Cindy Elizabeth

Spring is one of my favorite times of the year. For me, it represents a time of rebirth and transformation, providing us the opportunity to shake off the coldness of winter and welcome the warmth of a new, healing sun. If that’s not enough, spring also kicks off with Women’s History Month, Black Women’s History Month, and National Poetry Month.

LGBTQ communities of color have a deep history of healing through the arts, so in recognition of National Poetry Month, I wanted to honor the relationships queer people of color have with healing through poetry. I asked various QPOC in Austin to share one of their favorite poems with me with the intention of interpreting them visually through the art of photography.

Carolyn Davis

To S. M., A Young African Painter, on Seeing His Works

By Phillis Wheatly

To show the lab’ring bosom’s deep intent, And thought in living characters to paint, When first thy pencil did those beauties give, And breathing figures learnt from thee to live, How did those prospects give my soul delight, A new creation rushing on my sight? Still, wond’rous youth! each noble path pursue; On deathless glories fix thine ardent view: Still may the painter’s and the poet’s fire, To aid thy pencil and thy verse conspire! And may the charms of each seraphic theme Conduct thy footsteps to immortal fame! High to the blissful wonders of the skies Elate thy soul, and raise thy wishful eyes. Thrice happy, when exalted to survey That splendid city, crown’d with endless day, Whose twice six gates on radiant hinges ring: Celestial Salem blooms in endless spring. 

Calm and serene thy moments glide along, And may the muse inspire each future song! Still, with the sweets of contemplation bless’d, May peace with balmy wings your soul invest! But when these shades of time are chas’d away, And darkness ends in everlasting day, On what seraphic pinions shall we move, And view the landscapes in the realms above? There shall thy tongue in heav’nly murmurs flow, And there my muse with heav’nly transport glow; No more to tell of Damon’s tender sighs, Or rising radiance of Aurora’s eyes; For nobler themes demand a nobler strain, And purer language on th’ ethereal plain. Cease, gentle Muse! the solemn gloom of night Now seals the fair creation from my sight.

Phillis Wheatly

For Carolyn Davis, this poem is both “fascinating and beautiful because of the way it defines black futurity on an eternal landscape”. Davis is moved by the idea of “muse inspiring friendship through art.” Touched by the life and artistry of S.M., Wheatley creates a lasting image of the young painter through her words and Davis wanted to honor the legacy of this exchange by recreating the portrait of Wheatley, the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry.

Photo by Cindy Elizabeth

Carolyn Davis is a podcaster and historian of queer friendship.

Jasmin Patel


By Tracy K. Smith

This is the only world: Our opaque lives. Our secrets. And that’s all. A streak of orange, a cloud of smoke unfurls. The century’s in rubble, so we curl Around pictures of ourselves, like Russian dolls Whose bodies within bodies form a world
Free of argument, a makeshift cure For old-fashioned post-millennial denial. A lake of fire. A Christ in cloud unfurled.

Knowledge is regret. Regret is pure. But sometimes what we do with it is small. We ride the season, married to the world. I’m the same. Another hollow girl Whose heart’s a ripe balloon, whose demons call. I strike a match and exhale. Smoke unfurls. Our two eyes see in plurals: What we understand, and what will fail. They’re both the only world. A streak of orange, a cloud of smoke unfurls.

Jasmin Patel connects with the “melancholic feel” of this poem. For people who often face oppression, sometimes it feels that all there is to do is “retreat into our lives and continue to live the best way we know how…and do things to make [us] happy. What we experience is fleeting.”

Photography by Cindy Elizabeth

Jasmin Patel is a first generation Indian-American and Georgia native.

Gabi Padilla

Quote from the documentary, A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde

by Audre Lorde

“I’m finishing this piece of my bargain…And what I mean by that is it doesn’t matter how long it takes to finish it; I don’t know

But that is the shape of where I am living and functioning

And that I’m going on to something else the shape of which I have no idea

Only thing I know is that its going to be quite different

What I leave behind has a life of its own

I’ve said this about poetry

I’ve said it about children

Well in a sense I’m saying it about the very artifact of who I have been”

Lorde spoke these words not long before she passed away due to cancer-related complications. This quote symbolizes the “end of life, death, and what happens after that” for Gabi Padilla. It also speaks to accepting the journey of your spirit when you are “not so certain” of what that may be. These words help Padilla remember to let the Universe “do what it does.”

Photo by Cindy Elizabeth

Gabi Padilla is a brown (Mexican-American) queer producer and MC born and raised in Austin, Texas.

Tameika Hannah

Sonia Sanchez, Prologue to Morning Haiku:

let me wear the day 

well so when it reaches you

you will enjoy it

The first thing Tameika Hannah thinks of when reading this poem are smiles, inner joy, and happiness. She imagines herself “moving through the world, confidence up. Moving ‘cause that’s all I know to do…What’s the best way to wear the day when so much around you is heavy?”

Photo by Cindy Elizabeth

Tameika Hannah is a poet, artist, and writer creating in Austin, TX.

Will Mosley

When My Brother Fell

Essex Hemphill, Ceremonies

When my brother fell
I picked up his weapons
and never once questioned
whether I could carry
the weight and grief,
the responsibility he shouldered.
I never questioned
whether I could aim
or be as precise as he.
He had fallen,
and the passing ceremonies
marking his death
did not stop the war.

Standing at the front lines
flanked by able brothers
who miss his eloquent courage,
his insistent voice
urging us to rebel,
urging us to not fear embracing
for more than sex,
for more than kisses
and notches in our belts.

Our loss is greater 
than all the space
we fill with prayers 
and praise.
He burned out 
his pure life force
to bring us a chance
to love ourselves
with commitment.
He knew the simple
spilling of seed
would not be enough
to bind us.

It is difficult
to stop marching, Joseph,
impossible to stop our assault.
The tributes and testimonies
in your honor
flare up like torches.
Every night
a light blazes for you
in one of our hearts.

There was no one lonelier
than you, Joseph.
Perhaps you wanted love
so desperately and pleaded
with God for the only mercy
that could be spared.
Perhaps God knew
you couldn’t be given
more than public love
in this lifetime.

When I stand
on the front lines, now
cussing the lack of truth,
the absence of willful change
and strategic coalitions,
I realize sewing quilts
will not bring you back
nor save us.

It’s too soon
to make monuments
for all we are losing,
for the lack of truth
as to why we are dying,
who wants us dead,
what purpose does it serve?

When my brother fell
I picked up his weapons.
I didn’t question
whether I could aim
or be as precise as he.
A needle and thread
were not among
his things
I found.

Will Mosley often closes his eyes to bear witness to Hemphill’s above ode to his loved one, Joseph Bean, who died of HIV-related complications. To Mosley, this poem feels like a hymn, giving insight on the best ways to think about friendship and memory. Reflecting on When My Brother Fell, “a meditation on mourning the loss” of Bean, Mosley can’t help but to think about how he is only one generation removed from the many people who were mourned, or were in mourning of, the loved ones they lost. Mosley states, “HIV/AIDS is still present, but our generation is a little more prepared and more knowledgeable.” This reality, along with the profound words of Hemphill, gives Mosley hope and makes him brave as he moves through the world in his body.

Photo by Cindy Elizabeth

Will Mosley is an Aries-sun, Black and queer culture aficionado from Bridgeport, CT.

View more photos from this series: Healing Through Poetry.

Special thanks to allgo for the opportunity and to enakshi ganguly for assisting with the shoots.

What are some of your favorite poems that bring you healing? Share with us as we end the month of April on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!