Set to a soundtrack of ’80s hits, this novel in poetic form tells the story of a young man dealing with the challenges of being mixed-race, growing up, facing the police, and confronting himself. It is a time of change, for himself and the world around him, as he seeks to “remember / just when I stopped / being cute.”
|6 × 9 in
Rhythmic, musical, and at times nostalgic for a past that never was, When Did We Stop Being Cute? is a piercing view into the life of a young, mixed-race man as he processes his world and his grief with nuance, biting humor, and brutal honesty, using the microcosms of a school, a deli, and a neighborhood to examine the fraught experiences of minorities in America.
—Jeni McFarland, author of The House of Deep Water
An artist tells us who they are through their work. At times this telling is subtle, and then there are times it is bold and brazen. In Martin Wiley’s When Did We Stop Being Cute? the theme of ‘coming of age’ is turned on its head. This transition from boyhood to adolescence for a young black male from a mixed racial background is fraught with peril, substance dependency, and difficult choices. First kisses with pep rally backdrops are juxtaposed with wanting “to / drown // in the miracle of / my own survival.”
These poems reveal a truth that we should be honored to witness. The lies that America tells itself about the serenity and safety of the American suburb are laid bare for all to see. The false bravado of empty masculinity is examined and left wanting.
—DuiJi Mshinda, poet and author of Traces of Infinity
[Martin Wiley] locates a voice capable of harmonizing with the unresolved and fragmented parts of his life, remixing them to make a music that is as humorously insightful as it is angry, as generous as it is serious. I urge you to listen.
—Nico Amador, author of Anzaldúa Poetry Prize-winning Flower Wars (from the foreword)
from We Can’t Afford to Be Innocent
Secret cigarettes tasted the best.
Spying on parents & neighbors
as they slipped into matching station wagons or each year’s
slightly more expensive sedan,
or the just-turned-45 fathers as they strode into a topless streak of a car,
hidden in The Woods we could watch them,
& knowing they couldn’t see the flames
dancing on our lips
made the burn last twice as long,
made the fire feel twice as real.
* * *
I wish I could remember
I said to Pete & Danny
just when I stopped
It was a simple truth.
Unfortunately, shifting bodies don’t come equipped with
an engine light standard,
prepped to instantly flick on to warn of such looming transitions.
One day, adorable soft chocolate skin
morphed into something
* * *
By the time Demon Puberty worked his magic, our flesh
had long been transformed within the neighborhood’s peeking eyes.
At 4, we were precious,
I said to Pete & Danny.
By 8, precocious.
They said nothing.
Because this was not new information.
Before we reached 16, we felt the weight of it all, even as we denied it all,
& hid our understandings from one another.
Some things you just do.
from When they reminisce over you
A pair of metalheads roamed the hallway,
& I recognized
their shellshocked expressions from my face
in the mirror.
I nodded to the one I’d seen before & he staggered over.
but then had to reach forward to snatch him as he sagged. I guided him
into a slump along the wall.
Figure you don’t understand any more than me.
His broken eyes searched mine, as if they possessed
some hidden knowledge that would prove it all a bad joke, a hoax,
just another set-up by The Man to take down an innocent.
You & Pete close?
He nodded, then
& stood, proud, to give
one more, firmer nod.
Pete always called you,
& I had to lean in to hear,
his brother from another mother.
Once upon a time,
Life, I guess.
from I don’t need you to worry for me ’cuz I’m alright
I have never been comfortable
being honest. This
has been awkward,
as it is listed first
in the job description for poet.
I’ve never been comfortable
being a poet either, but that’s okay,
as being uncomfortable with poetry is,
surprisingly, listed second
in the poet’s job description.
Simpler to be
truthful than honest, though
the line is deliberately blurred. There
are worlds &
loves & whole lives left out, &
that has to be okay, or
nothing gets finished. Things have
changed, I’ve gotten
& that has been
In the end,
was never a given—but then
was it an option.
When Did We Stop Being Cute?
Pub date – April 2023
Trade paper – 6 x 9″
Emerging Voices – Poetry