November Reading Series Spotlight: Jyreika Guest


November Spotlight: Detox


“Proximity” by Jyreika Guest chronicles the experience of the past eight months of living through the Covid-19 pandemic, the poem’s speaker uninfected by the virus biologically, but deeply affected by myriad life-altering changes. The poem begins with a series of short lines, many just two or three words, each holding something the speaker recognizes as out of proportion, “silence” “uncertainty” “hurts,” or missed, “hugs” and “high fives.” The stanza’s longest line stands out starkly: “I am still trying to love how to breathe in the same air.” This line is followed by a series of phrases that rhyme, “I miss you” “I want to” “shimmy through” with the final “see you…” followed by an ellipse, missing a beat, the word “soon” delivered late.

In the second stanza the first person becomes plural, the speaker referencing “our bodies” and “our minds.” The vocabulary of technology enters the poem, “Zoom for glances,” “virtually fulfilling” with the stanza’s final two words each given their own line, “Face / Time” divided and layered one on top of the other like faces in the gallery of a live video conference.

The speaker conveys the ricochet of emotional reactions, some days feeling “like jail” others “perfect/introspective.” She dissects words to discover added meaning, “Alone / But you’re not / We’re not / A lone casualty.” Repetition amplifies meaning, as the word “when” holds both declaration and interrogation: “When all this is over / When the sickened wind is healed / When the breath no longer fears finality / When the humans of this Earth / Sit still long enough for nature to detox.” The poem closes with a variant of “detox” and the assertion “…that we may move the toxins out,” the answer to the existential questions the poem raises held within us collectively, dependent on our actions.

Guest spotlights Audre Lorde, and her poem, “A Litany for Survival,” a poem that revealed the truths of its moment when it was written four decades ago, and remains prescient today.

Jyreika Guest

Jyreika “J.Evelyn” Guest is an actor, dancer, singer, poet, and director in Chicago. She’s been featured at several festivals in the Chicagoland area, including as a storyteller at the Ravenswood Art Walk; Chicago’s own “Beast Women: All Female Cabaret” for two seasons; and Still Point Theatre Collective’s “Strong Women,” a play created from poetry written by women, not just inmates, of Cook County Jail. She uses her poetry, movement, and storytelling to help motivate and inspire others to realize their voices. In 2012, Ms. Guest opened for Civil Rights Activist, Angela Davis, reciting an original piece entitled Courage. She treasures the opportunity to tell stories and help others searching for their voice to find it, use it, and share it.


By Jyreika Guest

I get it
The silence
The uncertainty
It all feels
Seems to swell more
Hurts deeper
The needing to reminisce
On hugs
High fives
and the occasional side eyes
Sitting in malaise
Or content for the break (?)
I am still trying to love how to breathe in the same air
Yeah… I know
I miss you too
I want to bump past
Brush by
Shimmy through
I want to cruise
See you… soon

The monotony wishing for traffic jams
And cacophonous disruption
It’s funny how this distance makes us more social
Forced our bodies to be still
Now our minds wander
Zoom for glances
Second chances
And laughter
Virtually fulfilling
Exhausting the hours so we don’t have to

I want to witness your laugh IRL
“Remember that one time we…

This sucks most days
Feels like jail
Utters doubt in the morning
And worry at night
Then it feels perfect
The different faces are revealed at home behind the masks
When doors close
We peel back the cloak
To see the mirror
To see the virus
To see what aches
To see what can’t be avoided
Forced to feel the wounds
And made to apply the Bandaid

But you’re not
We’re not
A lone casualty
Is a collective experience
We’re all here in this
If we’re willing to be here
For all of US
To Gather

When all this is over
When the sickened wind is healed
When the breath no longer fears finality
When the humans of this Earth
Sit still long enough for nature to detox
We will embrace in tear-stuffed sleeves soaked enough to rain
Clouding all worrisome thoughts we’d never get back to this place
Hold space
make space
Respect space

This won’t
This can’t
Be like it was
We have to close the gap letting the virus in
Shift And Create
So that we may move the toxins out

© Jyreika Guest 2020

Jyreika Guest’s Poet Spotlight: AUDRE LORDE

Guest: A poem that’s been resonating with me lately and from a poet I’ve always admired is called “A Litany for Survival” by Audre Lorde. We’re still fighting for time, space, and life that we weren’t expected to have this long. This poem spoke truth in 1978 as it speaks louder and louder in 2020.

Photo Credit: Elsa Dorfman

A Litany for Survival

By Audre Lorde

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.

“A Litany for Survival.” Copyright © 1978 by Audre Lorde, from The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde by Audre Lorde. Copyright © 1997 by the Audre Lorde Estate.

Chicago Poetry Center Team Spotlight: GABRIELLE NELSON

The Chicago Poetry Center welcomes Gabrielle Nelson as our new (remote) Social Media Intern. Nelson is from Idaho, she has a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing from The College of Idaho. Currently, she wrangles horses, rock climbs, and camps in New Mexico when she is not working or writing. Gabrielle is slowly growing her video editing portfolio and exploring multimedia poetry! Her work has been published in Rattle Magazine, Stonecrop Magazine, Pulse on the Ridge, The Boise Weekly, and 101 Words Magazine.



Shaped like a Moth, Shaped like a Mantis Shrimp

By Gabrielle Nelson

Living kaleidoscoped is not pretty, a brain goes in all colors, all directions/ A mantis shrimp can see all the colors/ but they’re too busy throwing match-snap punches
I know those punches
I used to watch a boy throw mantis punches
Light bulbs popped behind his eyes and he fell like feathers
Hidden in an old ski coat that only knew plow-pushed snow/ He’d been
pushed out of the way again and again/ like the mustard rug we rolled upthe last day I saw him
both of us dripping sweat like
lemonade in the dust-light from the browned windows
It will look different somewhere new, I said.
But will it be different? He asked.
On the floor were moths scattered with their legs bent just so, holding
We made those shapes when his father died, scattered
His voice on the phone was somewhere black and soft, vesseled
Seven rounds/ submerged/ under a car/ under a body asleep/ with his own bones/ with the broad wrinkled face/ beyond kaleidoscoped
Seven heart attacks before he could land one punch


“There is never a time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment, the time is always now.”

-James Baldwin



“Writing poetry makes me feel like I can see myself, like I can see my reflection, but not in a mirror, in the world. I write and I know I can be reflected.”
-Oscar S.

“Writing poetry makes me feel free.”
-Buenda D.

“Writing poetry is like your best friend.”
-Jessica M.