By Donte Collins

Illustrations © Leann E . Johnson/

we were Ferris
wheel watchers
firefly fighters
dollar store cap gun
cops and
Sunday creased collars
private school scholars
giving the church basket
the dollars our mothers
slipped into our pockets
seconds before.
we held doors for our elders
and snuck to receive communion
even though our tongues
hadn’t reached their stage of holy
water guns weren’t allowed
in our homes
but balloons were
so we soaked our summers
in Battleship,
bottled water
sipped through
naive nine-year-old lips
at horizon sunset sitting on
J.J. Hill
waiting for those street lamps
to call us home before our mothers did
and when she slept
we ditched our
screen doors
danced in the rain
rinsed out our grass stains
and became the night’s
nickname they called us kids
we called ourselves bigger
than most things our size
sneaking girls beneath the
playground slide
first kisses were a lot
like gut laughter everything
was funnier when you weren’t
supposed to smile
they told us to mind our
fold our fingers
crisscross applesauce
for dinner
did you wash your hands
before dishing them greens
did you help your mother
pick them greens
we were scabbed knees
and bubble gum fiends
all cocked up on
Mike and Ikes
and Now and Laters
sounded a lot like
a metaphor for
for the way we grew up
through adversity

and anniversaries
of jazz parades
and street signs
I guess before they built
that freeway,
there was a
colony of houses
lined up like
heritage on
an auction block
about to meet their
God the largest black
community in Saint Paul
was cut down
like it hadn’t deserved
the land it slept on for so long
like it hadn’t raised its children
under corner store stories
front porches
and grandma’s front lawn
I bet if they knew we
hid beneath the bridges
they built
they would tear
those down too
they would tell us kids
to grow up
like high rises
through minority roofs
we were minorities’ proof
that if you raise
your fireflies in the
heart of the dark
they will earn their
light in the form of a spark
in the form of a million matches
attempting to set flame the desert
until every grain is a
diamond worth giving a name
so they called us kids
we called ourselves
the reason this neighborhood lives
the reason you can clear your conscience
and throat and enjoy the right to breathe
our pigment permanent in cement silhouettes
so our street lamps never have to leave
our tattered shoes and
collard greens
our mothers
awoke us at dawn
told to walk
down the block
to Golden Thyme
given enough money for
a coffee and a Krispy Kreme
and if I remember to bring
four creams and four sugars
she would always
blow me a wink
that meant
the top of the world
or at least the
Ferris wheel peak


Donte Collins is held. Black. Adopted. Queer. A surrealist blues poet haunted by the 1960 Black Arts Movement. Their work seeks to love their people, to add to the garden. They believe poems are portals allowing us to exercise awe, gratitude, and grief. They believe poems are the beginning.

Art By:

Leann E. Johnson has been creating art (illustration, graphic design, and tile art) for more than twenty years. A resident of Minneapolis, she has illustrated for publications like the Saint Paul Almanac and The New York Times. For more information, visit

Posted in: Places, Poetry
Tagged: 2014