When The Chant Comes


Kay Ulanday Barrett has been bringing his unique poetry to audiences for over a decade, unpicking vital political questions around race, sickness and disability and gender, and chronicling the everydayness of life in the U.S. Empire with humor, poignancy and inimitable vitality.

Now at last a generous selection of his work will be available in print. Each of these poems is a brilliant little story. Taken together, they show a master craftsman at the top of his game. Pre-order them now.

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What People Are Saying:

Fire medicine for the soul
– Sharon Bridgforth, author of the bull-jean stories

These poems are embodied, thick and fluid. Read them with your body and spirit on notice.
– Alexis Pauline Gumbs, author of Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity

When The Chant Comes is pure, queer love that thankfully, refuses to apologize.
-Vivek Shraya, author of God Loves Hair

These poems are songs–aching, beautiful, necessary songs that transport and transform.
-Eli Clare, author of Exile and Pride

From The Book:

On Longing The Fantastical

My secret dreams Craigslist ad goes:
“brown amerikan mixed-race tender queer tibo
(former teenage beauty queen) at heart transman
seeks kindred yet platonic times w/ someone similar.
if you have stances on palabok recipes or the emo
nature yet sexism of pinoy rock music, appreciate
the patterns of bow ties and banigs, please give me
a shout. if you are known to sulk at your own reflection,
or are you never enough for yourself, and/or too much
for others? come, let’s talk about it. if you long for razor
sharp wit without the lacerations on the spirit, let’s hold
hands. priority will be given to those who don’t want
any political bullshit, who are for justice without the
righteousness. would love someone who has a thing or
two to say about contemporary pilipinx/pin@y cuisine via
diasporic interpretation or mixed race manhood. rigid
gender assumptions and amerikan vegetarians who
won’t dabble in lechon once in a blue moon, will not
be contacted.”

Rhythm Is A Dancer

Growing up, I do remember “THE ROYAL”
(pronounced like the first names “Roy” & “Al,”
for usual big gay pyrotechnics)
thursday nights as young
queers teemed in logan square
armed with body lust that could
squeeze out teenage awkward
in just one dance.
Being in 1998, under 21, for $5
we could outwit our muscles,
discover them,
boys with eyeshadow glitz to match their
graf on avenue walls,
the pants or shirt you were forbidden
to wear at home
(due to whatever that check box
on your birth certificate).
our mamas probably would have
slit their wallets
if they only knew where
their work hours went.

We kissed hard.
We held hands.
Spoke our mother tongues
Cheek to cheek, with our “bestfriends”
who were really our girlfriends,
even though being 16
meant a new best friend
oh every 6 months.
Managed “it’s time for the perculator,”
in the veins way before hipster
upswing tattered property taxes,
disemboweled heart
of brown queers everywhere.
Way before white and straight folks
took our moves, bought
our clothes or put holes
in their own to call “vintage”
Some like Joanna aka Johnny,
depending if you were her father
or his lover, banished shadows with cig butts by 3am
and gave this glare like he knew
exactly how to hold you
if you needed it enough.
Or Celía who could out
pop AND lock ANY b-boy
and move her hips stunning to freestyle
swerving more than kicked snare drums.
The following morning,
girls would itch the lines of
their palms for those
Or the kids that assembled rum
And sugary juices
to forget whatever
they were or weren’t coming home to.
or the bois
who laid down their guns
at the door for a long
slow dance.
or them,
that one queer who had The Cure
and Depeche Mode buttons all over their jean jacket.
too cool in the corner
who shook her legs a bit
particularly in appreciation of
salt-n-pepa, and maybe it was
a trick of the strobe lights
but she even smirked a little.
Or us who rounded out
summer stars
& sky with soprano notes.
How glorious could we have been
lodged in lockers by school day,
scared of the lies that mirrors told?
We came home breathless
from dancing our queer bodies
back to valid,
each time we’d make
a ruckus
as queer
as brown
not to reinforce
but to take back the

space that is ours.
The space in our ribcages
and in Chicago’s sidewalks
that would coax us
to love.
We come from ancestors who drum and dance,
who made sweat rivulets alongside the tears
because movement had to start first on the the body,
before the noose,
before the well-intended missionaries,
before the semi-automatic rifles
before the rich studied our rhythms,
before the empty and angry,
before the straight and the narrow
beat us,
We found beats.
Now when I ask you,
Giiiirrllll? What was the last jam you danced to?
I mean reeaaallly danced to?
Sometimes I wanna hear your song,
Sometimes I’ll wanna listen to your beat,
But mostly
I want us to celebrate,
to honor,
to love,
all our movements.

For Andre Leneal Gardner,
Edith Bucio, Prerna Sampat