Elizabeth Acevedo on origin, body, and belonging
In her 42-page poetry chapbook from YesYes Books, Beastgirl & Other Origin myths, Elizabeth Acevedo explores the stories from which she comes. Some pulling directly from common folklore, and some are of herself/her own body.
The first poem, “La Ciguapa,” is about a figure from Dominican folklore—a demon with dark eyes, immense black hair, and backward-facing feet. She is a succubus-like creature who has wreaked havoc on people, who “don’t know until they’re whittled down how they’ve scraped // themselves dead.” But she has all but been forgotten by her people by the end of the poem. Acevedo continues to explore themes of home, family, and what gets forgotten throughout the rest of this book.
Through these 21 poems, we get to see the mythologies that informs the genesis of Acevedo herself.
In “Conversations,” her mother says “daughters are meant to veil themselves behind the skirt / of their mothers. When are you going to visit?” In this passage, Acevedo leads the reader to contemplate one of the thorniest things about family: how we decide to direct our own body of mirrors. Whether we should point them to our parents, trying to replicate what they’ve shown us, or try to get rid of the mirrors altogether, so that we can build a self on our own.
Beastgirl explores these questions, and lands on several answers. No possibility is outright excluded and that is what makes her voice so real.
She goes between daughter, sister, self, and mother constantly, showing us how we all exist in many realms at the same time, all the while acknowledging that existing in with complex identities doesn’t come easily.
The transition between poems and states of being is almost seamless in this book. We go from “Pressing,” a soft, guilty, but fervent piece about discovering her self in masturbation, to “Stranger Tells Me My Body Be a Temple,” where she is catcalled and earnestly defies what is said, goes inside the catcaller’s manufactured temple and shows us how she dismantles it and reclaims what was always already hers.
holy of instinct
into long ago pierced flesh.
She talks femininity, masculinity, and the divine, or what those things pretend to be most times. And she’s not afraid to tell us what scares her. “It Almost Curdles My Womb Dry” stirs our guts, imagines a scenario where her fictional daughter gets enveloped in other people’s violences. Almost every line until the last four end in the hard stop of a period, like sitting in the jerking car of someone learning to drive, terrified but trying to say it’s fine.
They will help me carry grocery bags.
Then whistle. Whisper.
Crook fingers in my daughter’s direction.
She will accept their invitation.
The strength of her voice on the page is also evident in her work on the stage, where we get to see full passion about what she writes. Watch her performance of “Rat Ode” here:
In “Regularization Plan for Foreigners, 1922”:
could force him to dig the ditch for her.
she asks how we deal with where our bodies come from and where we should put them now?
Acevedo is both a Cave Canem and a CantoMundo fellow. Cave Canem is a home for African American writers, and CantoMundo one for Latinx poets. She always lives in the body of someone who is more than one thing, no matter the circumstance, and her poetry in this collection doesn’t try to run from that. She doesn’t pretend to know the answers, but she doesn’t stop looking for them either.
Purchase Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths from YesYes Books.
Elizabeth Acevedo’s full-length book of poetry, Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm, is forthcoming in 2017 from Tupelo Press.
For more information, see her website.