To Our Beloved: L.A. Poets’ Tribute to Toni Morrison

I was 20 years old when I first “met” Toni Morrison. Like many it was Beloved. As an English major, I was surprised that it had taken me so long to read women of color, and here I was engrossed in a story based upon real life events that I would re-read later in life to truly comprehend. As a Cornell alum, she came to visit campus that same year, and as I sat in a 2,000-person auditorium where Psychology 101 is given, I still wasn’t prepared for Toni Morrison. I wasn’t mature enough and my sophomoric way of seeing the world was being shaken with every one of her words. I wish I could have done what I do now when I watch her interviews on YouTube—rewind a few times to internalize her wisdom. A few years later in graduate school I met Toni Morrison again in the pages of Paradise. The opening line “They shoot the white girl first” grabbed my attention, and I never let go. Fast forward to today and my most recent viewing of her documentary The Pieces I Am. Now, I am 41 years old and a single mom of three. After watching the documentary, I learned yet another lesson from Morrison—you can be a mother and a writer. I knew this beforehand but listening and watching her discuss her writing process and routine, how she leaned on family and friends to help with her kids, and how she was almost 40 before her first publishing—all of this was affirming to hear. She inspired me yet again. Inspire. That’s what she did for me just a few weeks ago, but this time I was more prepared than I was in the past. Toni Morrison inspired me through her work, interviews and, more than anything, her honesty. Leaving the theater that night, I felt like I had just been granted permission to live, write and love how I wanted, not how I was expected. And as we all continue to collectively mourn, we also collectively pay tribute to the gifts she gave us. Rest in power and poetry. — Luivette Resto, AFLW Associate Poetry Editor


Little Things That Mean a Lot —
My Life In Conversation with Toni Morrison

by Angelina Sáenz

Grip the quilt at edge of bed
Cork oak trees through French doors
remind me of our magic
White ash heart aftermaths divorce

“There are women in the world who get divorced and that’s what they
do… It’s a big thing, I guess, but it’s not that big.”

Morning cleansing walk
I see you stretch on bungalow balcony across the lake
Do you see me too and I fucking hate you
And I miss listening to Silvio and drinking wine with you

“O Lord, Sula, “ she cried, “girl, girl, girlgirlgirl.”
It was a fine cry – loud and long – but it had no bottom and it had no top,
just circles and circles of sorrow.

I am 31-years-old and five-months into unplanned pregnancy
Appointment with Dr. Hill on 2nd floor of Good Samaritan Hospital
Read Toni Morrison interview in New Yorker
Longing induced

I really only do one thing. I read books. I teach books. I write books. I
think about books.

Every MFA professor
except the one with caring eyes and a tornado cloud of wise hair
said my work was not poetry
Every time I stood up and grabbed all my bags
and stayed

“Go to work, get your money, come home.”

“Can I borrow your earbuds?”
“Can you order a pizza?”
Dog shit on the floor
I have to write you a poem

“Writing before dawn began as a necessity–I had small children when I
first began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, Mama.”


Angelina Sáenz

Born and raised in urban Los Angeles, Angelina Sáenz is a poet whose work focuses on memory, mujeres and motherhood. A public school teacher, she is eternally inspired by the daily dynamics of family life, classroom and community. She is an alum of the VONA/Voices Workshop for Writers of Color and the Macondo Writer’s Workshop. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and hosts the monthly reading series, La Palabra, in Northeast Los Angeles.




i go outside to catch toni morrison in my mouth
by Donny Jackson

the rain hits my teeth
this allows me to be both an instrument and
the one who swallows his own music
i am the witch then that you may come to for spoken sky
a blue and holy communion placed on the back of your neck
which itself becomes tongue
taking the melt as nectar
or hemlock
an invitation to shiver

the body a thunder unto itself

i learned how to do this
from a storm


Donny Jackson

Dr. Donny Jackson is a lifelong poet, clinical psychologist and multiple Emmy-winning producer in documentary television. His debut collection of poems, “boy,” will be published by Silver Star Press in January 2020.






Teacher Toni
by Jessica Gallion

I am a sister song 

Crawling across bruised skin



Too much when I want to be

Always too much when I don’t want to be 

Finding my way between ear canals when nights are full of heavy breathing

A heavy body

A blank stare

I sing loud against a wall

A ceiling 


On one accord with my sister

We hum while snapping peas

While packing our bags 

While sweeping the porch

Can’t you see the melody in our stare

These eyes glazed over in yesterday

Red clay on our heels

Shown we been somewhere further than the front yard

All our folks buried in the backyard, 

Take off yo shoes when you step unto this place

This is holy ground


Have a song ready in your pocket

Trust me, we know the words

We don’t speak them

We know bruised skin

Torn skirts

Why she never wear panties

Say it get in the way

Say he don’t like that

We know that’s how to stay alive

How to give a proper bath


Ritual ain’t nothing but God and water

Rag and blood

Snapping peas

Hanging the laundry ain’t just to get the clothes dry

We howl

We sing loud

We know how to offer a praise


Jessica Gallion

Jessica Gallion aka YELLAWOMAN Is a writer, poet, mother, friend, from Natchitoches, Louisiana, raised in Los Angeles. She is the author of Can’t No Woman Woman Like Me, published by World Stage Press in Leimert Park. She is also the creator and facilitator for Creatin’ After Hours (a guided writing nightcap) at The World Stage. She has performed for Compton College, various high schools in Los Angeles County through The Living Writers Series, Cafe Con Libros, The Pasadena Lit Festival, un::fade::able, The Table Lit Readings, La Palabra and many other venues around Los Angeles. Jessica is the 2016 champion of the Spoken Word Voices Heard Poetry Slam and a graduate of the Community Literature Initiative. Her work takes you on a journey through self discovery and affirmations, colorism, single motherhood, trials and overcoming with a cayenne cultural thread of “sho ya right.”

Feature image: Photo by Elvert Barnes of “For Toni M.” by Ernest Shaw Jr., street art tribute to Toni Morrison, Baltimore Grafitti Alley / via flickr