• hiphopbruha


Artwork by Poesia Mariarte

in the mirror

gray hair

more than last year

half moons beneath my eyes

deeper than before

don’t sleep like I used to

sleep replaced by fragments of moments

i wouldn’t call rest

more like a non-work state

noisy mind

races to solve problems

yesterday didn’t understand

i’m not old

i’m young

i eat well (usually)

i exercise

i am just tired

exhausted actually

fatigue and time: my greatest enemies

i hate them both: too much fatigue and not enough time

my contempt should lie with work

the work that once excited me

but now makes joy feel burdensome

so tired

so tired

but I’m almost done

almost done

i’m so tired,

but almost done,

i’m so tired


work harder

the grind seeps in this narrow space

between my nights

so I crank up the pace

‘til body and spirit say no

i press on

believing things will be worse

if work isn’t done now…

it always has to be done now

3 years ago

was the first time my body told me no

and now

i am still here

in a hurry

never done

always tired

she whispers in the morning

she is familiar

though I forgot her name

i am happy/scared to see her

i know her /don’t recognize her

glad she’s here / I wish she’d leave

what does she want

want of me

she knows I’m tired

knows this fatigue

knows I’ve tried many things to cure it

but no amount of kale smoothies and ginseng tea

can fix a hole left behind by

an unfulfilled purpose

she knows that for sure

and so I tell her:

one whole year

worked on a report

no one will ever read

110 pages total

in return: a token of gratitude from the institution

a 5x8 paper certificate of appreciation…

via interoffice mail…

if I had a match…

she hands me a match and a cupcake

i take the cupcake

and tell her

it was never the classroom

it was never who or what I was teaching

it was the volume

the endless bureaucratic hoop jumping

the quiet seething anger

the empty debates over semantics

the posturing

the well-meaning smiles that want to help but don’t know how

the inadequate compensation

lack of genuine recognition that I’ve already made a difference

if I had a match…

she takes the match

lights the candle in front of me

And says:

institutions will never know how many hands keep it from collapsing

so it will always ask for more

and don’t let these eager hands be too successful

lest they be fired for making a difference

and accused of stealing the spotlight

institutions will never know how to properly thank you

but the people you serve


i take a bite of the cupcake

she takes the rest

and walks away

march this year

there is tightness in my chest

Kaiser told me to go to the ER

i went

all kinds of tests done

stellar health

“So doctor,” I say

“I’m glad the tests came out fine, but what caused this?”

the doctor asks, “So how’s work?”

i burst into tears

and so

along with ears to heal,

the doctor prescribes fun

now I listen for the feeling of fun

the feeling of joy

clumsy at first

so I watch my child

who can sense fun through brick walls

my teacher

my mentor

my baby

and I watch my friends who make differences in lives

i watch them work

and work and work

until the things they once loved lose their luster

until fatigue tells them there is no hope

someone told them that if it feels like work

then maybe it wasn’t a true passion


there was just too much of it

and so they too

go to hospitals

with pains they can’t explain

back, hip, chest, head

but they/we don’t stop

work and work and struggle work and struggle work and struggle and struggle

i watch them struggle

we struggle together

this struggle builds strength, builds hope, builds courage

to build something better for our children

we emerged from a politics of struggle, right?


so they struggle and struggle and struggle/work

because my/our survival depends on it


until they become addicted to struggle

moving from one struggle to the next

because that’s all they’ve ever known

and because they believe it’s noble

never stopping for the victories

because the tragedies loom large

and we have more work to do

never stopping to celebrate

lest we be called lazy

lest the enemy win while we rest

win while we play

and so they don’t eat

don’t sleep

don’t play

don’t celebrate

(and fascinating

when tragedy comes

they don’t mourn either

they work)

and they curse the friends who




they must not be down with the struggle

so they struggle struggle

struggle and curse friend who eats and plays

and beat their children

and beat themselves for ever wanting more

than work

than struggle

they make friends feel guilty for wanting more

and sickness takes over

play is no warm fuzzy feeling for the struggle addict

it’s work

sleep and food are foreign to the struggle addict

it’s work

the addict must practice playing until

the soul recalls this is what it’s meant for

justice needs play and food and sleep

yes, justice needs cupcakes and matches

she whispers

i look at her with confusion

she hands me the rest of the cupcake

walks away

leaving the candle lit

the candle is out

we never slept

we lay awake


philandering white cloak disguised in 3-piece suit

marches loudly:




climate change is a hoax

grab them by the pussy

such a nasty woman and oh yeah

all lives matter

knowing nothing

yet still proud

of the nothing he knows

while everyone watches and laughs

until he wins

and the white cloaks who lay dormant spewing poison in the privacy of their homes and neighborhoods

within the walls of boardrooms and dorm rooms



for decades, generations

see their long-awaited savior

their release

their green light

and remove their hoods

and take a deep breath

and smell the freshness of American air

with each breath






all gasp for air

but we don’t die

and we don’t hide

we work

we struggle

because our survival depends on it

work/struggle to regain normalcy

where hatred is normalized and pardoned

is there a place for both the cupcake and the match?

where do we reach for abundance now?

Copyright © 2016 Janet Stickmon

Artwork by Poesia Mariarte

Janet C. Mendoza Stickmon is an educator, author, and performer. Stickmon is the founder and facilitator of Broken Shackle Developmental Training and the Black Leaders and Mentorship Program. Stickmon’s Crushing Soft Rubies—A Memoir and Midnight Peaches, Two O’clock Patience—A Collection of Essays, Poems, and Short Stories on Womanhood and the Spirit have been used in courses at several colleges and universities across the country. Stickmon is best known for her essays, “Blackapina,” “A Perfect Ordinary Day,” and “Beauty Revealed: Bringing Out the Best in Others,” all featured in Midnight Peaches, Two O’clock Patience, and her latest blog series, To Black Parents Visiting Earth: A Guide to Raising Black Children in the 21st Century. She currently is a professor of Humanities at Napa Valley College, teaching Africana Studies and Filipina(o)-American Heritage. She is also leading a collaborative effort between the Humanities Department and the Associated Students of Napa Valley College Cultural Center in Spring 2016.

Stickmon holds a Master’s of the Arts Degree in Ethnic Studies from San Francisco State University, a Master’s of the Arts Degree in Religion and Society from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of California, Irvine. Professor Janet Stickmon’s professional and educational background have informed her work in the classroom and the community, influencing thousands of adults and adolescents for the last twenty years.