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During National Poetry Month, it is my immense privilege to showcase stellar work from Ariana Brown, Óscar Moisés Díaz, and Ebony Stewart. These poets represent the incredible range of poetry coming out of the South, from Appalachia to the Gulf Coast.
I've been a fan of Ariana's work for many years, from the moment I saw her read inside a library in Austin to the last in-person poetry reading I attended in 2020—which was the release of her chapbook Sana Sana. Ariana's poetry really does contain multitudes. Ariana's work beautifully navigates between intimacy and longing and still has the space and depth to critically engage identity, place, experiences of Blackness and Queerness, as well as heartbreak. "How to Grieve Your Lover: After Suzi Q." is a poem that burns, weaving grief into action, while asking for tender attention. Support Ariana's work through Patreon.
I encountered Óscar Moisés Díaz through the work of Tierra Narrative, a Central American production collective. This poem, written in the form of a Golden Shovel after a line from Salvadoran poet William Archila (from his excellent book The Art of Exile), is layered, a ghost slipping between past and present through details of remembrance. The poem examines the way violence is never named but always close by, connecting father to child through a memory of the El Mozote massacre and the family's rural history.
Ebony Stewart's work is simply electric and, like the title of her new poetry book, absolutely "bloodfresh." In 2015, I witnessed Ebony's solo performance of Hunger at the Vortex in Austin, and was stunned by the work's honesty and vulnerability. "Gawd of Gaps" showcases another dimension of Ebony's oeuvre – a poem that is just as dynamic as Ebony onstage. After you've experienced this poem, you need to buy BloodFresh, just out from Button Poetry.
— mónica teresa ortiz
TRACK 01 …….. Ariana Brown
"How to Grieve Your Lover"
After Suzi Q. Smith
If you need to grieve your lover—who is still there but not there—go to the pottery studio and buy a tall bag of clay. If you've never done this before, start with white clay. It looks grey right now, the same color as the grief settling into the corners of the apartment you share with your lover, the same color as the cat you fell in love with, the only being in that apartment that still loves you back. Double check your bag of clay to ensure it includes a wire with wooden handles at both ends. Use the wire to slice a square hunk of clay about two inches thick. Hold the portion in your hands. By the time you are done, it will be something new.
Did they give you a scale? Weigh the clay. This step is important—your piece mustn't be too big or too small. You want to be able to use it, after all. You paid money for it, for this experience, the distance from the grey apartment, your lover's cold eyes. Smack the clay on all sides until it forms a ball. Throw it on a large wooden board over and over until all the air pockets are gone. Since you didn't come to the studio with someone to talk to, only your grief, put headphones in and skip the love songs. You and I both know you can't listen to Stevie Wonder right now.
Take the wooden board off your station. Throw your clay in the center of a lightly dampened wheel, right on the bull's eye. If you miss the center, try again until you're close. This part can be frustrating, but no more so than your lover saying they don't want to touch you anymore and they don't know why. You'll touch the clay again soon. Wrap your hands around a sponge in a bucket of cold water and squeeze it over the clay, but don't drench it. This is not a lesson in drowning, no matter how often you think of dying.
Start the wheel spinning, smacking the clay, hard. Keep pushing it toward the center. When the clay is smooth and wet all over, use your thumbs to make an opening at the top. When was the last time you were touched like this? Do you remember how it feels to be wanted? Widen the opening, wetting the clay whenever it dries. Keep the wheel spinning the entire time.
Next, build the walls (you'll need them…). Wet your fingers again. Use one hand to steady the outside of the clay as it spins. Use your other hand to lightly pinch the wall, starting from the base and working your way up. It is not your fault if you daydream about past lovers while doing this. The guilt you feel is small compared to the number of times you've had to ask to be kissed or held or listened to. Stop! Before your walls get too thin and collapse. You want to be able to drink out of this mug you're making, it needs to be sturdy.
Take your foot off the pedal. When your wheel stops spinning, check your progress. Have you widened the opening in your mug too much? You were crying and couldn't see when it was time to say when, weren't you. Shhhhh, that's okay. It's okay. It's okay. You were trying to make a mug, but you made a bowl instead. It's not what you wanted—this or the grief—but at least you made an effort. Now you have something to eat cereal in, in your new apartment.
Ariana Brown is a queer Black Mexican American poet from the Southside of San Antonio, Texas, now based in Houston, Texas. She is the author of the poetry collections We Are Owed. (Grieveland, 2021) and Sana Sana (Game Over Books, 2020). Ariana's work investigates queer Black personhood in Mexican American spaces, Black relationality and girlhood, loneliness, and care. Her debut poetry EP, LET US BE ENOUGH, is available on Bandcamp. Ariana owes much of her practice to Black performance communities led by Black women poets from the South.
TRACK 02 …….. Óscar Moisés Díaz
After William Archila's "The decade the country became known throughout the world"
Óscar Moisés Díaz is a poet, film curator, artist, poetry teacher, and translator. Currently a member of Tierra Narrative and editor at Fence and ASPHALTE magazine. They've exhibited at the 10th Central American Biennial, International Film Festival of El Salvador, Queens Museum, and a solo at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Costa Rica. They are an inaugural Curatorial Fellow at the Poetry Project, NYC. Recent poems can be found in Schlag and Gathering of the Tribes.
TRACK 03 …….. Ebony Stewart
"GAWD OF GAPS"
So, I go to the dentist for a teeth cleaning
and the dentist keep asking me about braces
I ain't missing no teeth, but this gap be wild!
I got one mouth and a gap that greet you when
I smile or say f*ck you My daddy gave me
this gap, so you gotta know I mean it
You gotta know this gap how my mama know I'm his,
so I gotta keep it Still empress to this fallen empire
I suck my teeth with disdain A dental habit I ain't willing to change
My gap speak Afro-Caribbean, pursed lips, and a country ass b*tch please
My mouth clean, it's these gaps that cuss
How everything I'm thinking get free
Cause all my thoughts be from outer space
This here be my mound of Venus
I part my lips and I'm infinity and beyond
Separate from anything and still a physical feeling
I pray to the Gawd of Gaps that a gap be wide enough to
make you and all 100 billion galaxies jealous My teeth be overzealous
get the glory to any joke you make
Cause my gap expanded and got the last laugh anyway
You can't close the light out of dis here mouth, ever
Sometimes I sound like gravel,
sometimes I sound like coffee and cream
But every time my gap speak, it say what it mean
My gap be a landscape
I brought the cool air & wealth of my country with me
We and the teeth say, f*****ck yo standard of beauty
We be a good thing that lasted
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, some of my words gotta lisp when they talk
But that don't mean I'm starving the proper way of speaking
My gap just whistle while it work Say gimme my space
We just look like this trust me we're loved
Even if you got an acquired taste
Copyright 2022. Courtesy of Button Publishing Inc. Published with permission.
Ebony Stewart is an international touring interdisciplinary poet, writer, and performance artist from Texas. Her work speaks to the Black experience, with emphasis on gender, sexuality, womanhood, and queer-positivity. A Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion, Ebony is also the author of BloodFresh, Home.Girl.Hood., and Love Letters to Balled Fists. Her work has been featured in AfroPunk, Button Poetry, Teen Vogue, The Texas Observer, and Houston Public Media.
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