Yalie Kamara

Yalie Kamara is a first generation Sierra Leonean-American and native of Oakland, California. Prior to becoming an MFA candidate at Indiana University, she worked in the field of social justice specializing in educational access and arts facilitation. She holds Bachelors of Arts degrees in Languages and Creative Writing from University of California, Riverside and a Masters of Arts degree in French from Middlebury College. Yalie’s writing has appeared in Vinyl Poetry and Prose, Entropy Mag, and Amazon: Day One. Her forthcoming chapbook, When The Living Sing, will be published by Ledge Mule Press in Spring, 2017.


Mother’s Rules

For my mother

I. If you see me praying in the living room, never sit in front of me. You are not God.

II. When we go to a restaurant and I don’t know any foods on the menu, never order me a meal that is spelled with silent letters. I came to eat, not to explore

III. You didn’t make food. No. God, did. You cooked food. Watch your English. Watch your faith.

IV. Your Krio is offensive. When you speak, you sound like Shabba Ranks. Your accent is funny, but keep practicing. It is the only way we will be able to gossip in peace while at the supermarket.

V. Try to learn the language of your lover and his family. They could be smiling to your face and getting ready to trade you for 6 goats and 3 mules during your first trip to their homeland.

VI. If anyone stares at you for too long (more than 5 seconds), start speaking an imaginary language while maintaining eye contact. They will be the first to look away.

VII.  Consider the consequence of purchasing human hair wigs, second hand clothing, and used furniture. Maybe you will feel beautiful, and also save money, but you never know whose bad luck or misfortune will be sitting on your head, body, or in the home in which you sleep. Buy what you can truly afford.

VIII. Your father’s Muslim, so you are too (1989-1993).
I am Christian, so you are too (1993-2012).
I am Catholic now, but you keep praying (2012-present).

IX. You laugh at me now. Like I laughed at my mother. Like she laughed at hers. Like your daughters will laugh at you. And I will live long enough to forgive your folly.

X. Just make sure to pray.




At the age of 7, a letter was plucked from my name
as a test to see who would catch the error. To see

who’d care enough to go search for the rest of me.

For about 4 months, my name appeared as Yal e
on the page.

A part of me wonders why some names are sweeter than others
and become the nectar that pools at the base of our memory.

Would anyone let  ssabelle, Rchard, Elzabeth,
or Snclar escape from the 9th letter of the alphabet?

Me and my broken name, less heavy than before,
began to float away to somewhere else.

No search party was sent to check between the
monkey bars, under the desks, my cubby,

or the palms of my hands. There was no red pen
to correct the flaw.

Nobody else played the game, so there’s no
record of the joyful sound that was made when

the long, lost, me found the small, brown, I.


I Ask My Brother Jonathan to Write About Oakland, and He Describes His Room:

For D.R.

  • Night, The Wretched of This Earth and This Is How You Lose Her on his desk.
  • The yellow legal pad with the line drawn down the center. Pros and cons of attending either Stanford or Columbia.
  • Pearlescent sunlight pushing through the blinds and slicing stripes on bed and body.
  • How tiny tomato sauce splotches and the remaining angel hair noodles look like Pollock’s Number 17, 1949 against the white lunch plate.
  • The arm that tick-ticks around the silhouette of the Jumpman clock.

I wait for fire to burst once again between the hands of this chocolate wunderkind. For electricity to dance through the fingers of a young poet. Instead, Jonathan offers me an inventory of his possessions. And I wonder why he’s chosen the words that do not breathe a kaleidoscopic fury into the city scape’s slate hue.

At the bottom of the message, he includes the parts of his body that he’s most proud to own:

  • Cinnamon hands. Straight teeth. An orange wedge smile. Peace between his left and right brain. A heart that isn’t afraid of either side. A perfect canvas of skin.

Jonathan will not write about Mandana Boulevard, the six photos he took of the lady’s garden before she called the police.

Jonathan imagines:

  • Golden poppies sprouting between the novels on the bookshelf.
  • Figs dropping from the tree attached to his door and rolling onto the cream colored carpet.
  • Wet fingertips caked with sugar for the hummingbirds flying out of his memory.
  • A vine of thorns wrapping around the perimeter of the window frame so that they won’t follow him home.
  • The squad car driving past him, not using its siren to call his name.

He has no reason to leave his house if the most forgiving parts of the city are rendered in his dream.

Jonathan is creating a new town, where a young Black man lives in a garden. Where his body is unfettered by the terror of others’ imagination: when he hugs his own flesh, the “X” his arms make across his chest is not mistaken for a target.

He finds himself too beautiful to not be in hiding.