Leila Mottley

Leila Mottley is the 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate. A native Oakland author with an interest in utilizing poetry as protest, Leila attends Oakland School for the Arts. She is the editor of QUiP, an Anthology of Young Queer Writing (Nomadic Press, 2018). Leila has performed widely throughout the Bay Area and has been featured at the Women’s March, City of Oakland Cultural Dialogue, March for Our Lives, International Congress of Youth Voices and many others. She is the founder of Lift Every Voice, a youth-led arts advocacy workshop series surrounding youth incarceration.


Love Poem to Oakland

by Leila Mottley

Dear Oakland,
last night I got off a plane
rolled my neck
felt it crack
and said,
I’m home
I ain’t gonna leave you again:
This is my love letter,
This is my spilling over,
waxed, mural of a song to you.
My prayer to the Panthers,
to the Everett and Jones on MacArthur
that smell so good
got that rubber chew of a home too far
That sweet spice
of my city.

can I cradle you
like my daddy cradled me?
Hold you tight,
baby, I got you.
Tough love,
Fix yo face ‘fore I fix it for you
Fix these streets ‘fore I fix ‘em for you
Where did all the color go?
Where did all my sweat laced church clappin
handin out pies on High Street men go?
My sisters with their gloves on,
with their afros out,
Don’t care if they’re afraid of us
cuz we got these streets
We got this lake
We got fruitvale station at five pm
when the music starts

Dear Downtown,
what I gotta say
to make you love me?
What i gotta do
to strip uptown back?
If I can’t have this hair, this skin,
then I don’t want no five dollar coffee
No ten dollar cobbe salad
piled up with all this talk ‘bout how we been “criminals,” been scared straight
to they can feed us back our shame.

East Oakland,
I know you ain’t forgotten about me.
I know you been waitin for my tongue to click
Gums to throat to lungs
Scream til the bay dries up.
I know you been sittin on your heels,
for me to find the key to the Alameda Detention Hall,
tell your kids that mama hasn’t forgotten about you,
hasn’t left you chained from your childhood.
Mama been at work,
been waiting to set us free,
to give us back our city.

I’m talkin to you:
Dimond to Laurel to Uptown to Chinatown to Fruitvale to Foothill to Temescal to Eastmonte to West
We’re ten steps from home, a mile, we racin’, they been displacin’:
our bodies, our words, our letters
been trying to tear us apart
But I know you been lovin us
Been whisperin’ our history
Black Panthers to White Horse to BART at night,
We’re fightin’ home
We’re clawin’ home
We’re comin’ home.