Meet our April Massachusetts Poet in the Spotlight: Janae Johnson

Massachusetts Poet in the Spotlight is a monthly installment from Mass Poetry.

Highlighted by The Lizard Lounge Poetry Jam

Janae JohnsonJanae Johnson is a queer, black, Stevie Wonder-loving, Jamba Juice-sipping, slam poet, educator, and activist in the Boston area. With a jock’s mentality and a poet’s heart, Janae brings all sports and no games to poetry slam. Inspired by uncomfortable silences and midnight bus rides, Janae uses her poetry to shed light on issues of racial inequality, homophobia, and the nuances of love. Truly believing that language is power, she wishes to inspire others to find and embrace the strength in their voices. Janae ranked 5th at the Women of the World Poetry Slam (2014), was the grand slam champion of the 2014 Boston Poetry Slam Team and the 2013 Lizard Lounge Poetry Slam Team. She is currently working on a CD entitled “Black in the Sun,” as well as a chapbook, and she is the coach and adviser for the nationally ranked Simmons College (Speaks) Poetry Slam team.

Poetic Profession “It’s important not to steal anyone else’s voice, or their story. But it’s also important to re-tell important and historic events, for the sake of educating and paying homage to our roots. It’s a process, but I try to do this with my poetry.” -Janae Johnson

Gunshots

Thought it was a gunshot
But it was just a tire
Can’t tell the difference anymore
Everything sounds like screams these days
Even the melodious tone of the ice cream truck whispers into my thumb
Sounds like snapping of backs against chairs
So uncomfortable
I sink my teeth into the nearest white styrofoam cup wishing it were cold outside

Because in the summer
I hear gunshots

The metal
The ‘Pow’
The scream
Against what I loved of your skin
Is enough to keep my up at night
The Sean Bell’s and Trayvon Martin’s of this world
Is enough to keep me up at night
Being black in America
Is enough to keep me up at night
Being gay in America
Is enough to keep me up at night
All I hear are gunshots

They don’t hear them the way that I do
The way that my people hear those sirens
The way that my people hear the clip and the bang
Before they even know what they did wrong
They must not know
I’ve had trouble sleeping since the day I arrived here
I’ve had trouble living since the day I arrived here
And the white lady tells me
When she see me
She don’t see color
And I ask her
If she too hears gunshots
I ask her
If she lives here
I ask her
If the bang keeps her up at night
Ma’am I don’t have the option to move
You see, I live in this body
This body hears gunshots
Like you hear crickets
Ricochet against your earlobe
So next time you see the trauma of a black boy
Just know you are always witnessing the aftermath

I thought it was a gunshot
And I imagine a woman
With a long red robe
Curlers in shapes of lollipops
Holding a bible to her chest
Screamin’
“That was my baby!”

And when the reporter asks her where she was when she heard gunshots
She say
I was cookin’
She say
I was sleepin’
She say
I was separating the whites from the colors
I was prayin’
I was prayin’ my son wouldn’t get shot
Prayin’ my son wouldn’t be on the news until he won the lotto
Or a spelling bee
I was prayin’ my son
Was your son
For a second Mr. Reporter
So that you know how it feels to be me
So you know how it feels to be me
So you know how it feels to–

Think you heard a gunshot
But it was only a tire

So I lie awake
Look at the melanin of my skin
Thinking
It could still happen tomorrow.

Lizard LoungeThe Lizard Lounge Poetry Jam is an award winning weekly feature of the Lizard Lounge located at 1667 Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge MA. The Jam happens every Sunday night at 7:30PM and is hosted by Joyce Cunha, Arthur Collins and Jeff Robinson. A featured poet performs each week and The Jeff Robinson Trio, a collective comprising of three of Boston’s most well known musicians, lays down the musical foundation for spoken word performances that have made this event a must see for over 17 years.

spotlightMassachusetts Poet in the Spotlight is a monthly installment from Mass Poetry. Each month we shine the spotlight on a poet affiliated with, and nominated by, one of our poetry partners. If you are a partner with a poet to nominate, email laurin@masspoetry.org.