Poet Of The Week

Alexis Aceves Garcia

     June 22–28, 2020

Alexis Aceves Garcia is a first-generation genderqueer Latinx and Indochinese poet from San Diego, CA. Their poem “ODE TO TRANS BOXING CLASS” was awarded the 2020 Peach Bronze in Poetry by guest judge ALOK. They are the curator and host of the Abuela’s Backyard Reading Series and Open Mic at Bowery Poetry, a virtual space that centers and uplifts QTBIPoC voices once a month. In 2020, they were awarded a spot at the Tin House Summer Workshop. They are also the recipient of a full fellowship as the teaching assistant for Catapult’s 12-month Poetry Generator Workshop with Angel Nafis, and attended the Jack Jones Literary Arts Retreat as a Cisneros Poetry Fellow in 2019. Their poems are forthcoming in Apogee and Peach Mag. This past winter, Garcia was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Shira Erlichman’s Creating a Book workshop.

Author photo by Casi Moss

AQUÍ HAY TODO, MIJA

National City, 2019

 

i open the screen door slowly

n wait for Abuela n her red walker

to begin the procession

from the back door out to the street

ay, mis rodillas

vines wrap around the wooden deck n reach to steady

whatever cartilage is left in her knees

down the ramp she stops near the lemon trees

there are more than i remember

glistening in the sun, a kingdom

she softened w/ her voice

tan bello mi limón

n the lemons blush off the evergreen

branch into her bowl

the granadas kneel from trees

to crown her Abuela, reina of E. 8th St.

she smiles her three perfect teeth

toward the palm tree

mira, perece que está abrazando todos

los árboles

despacito caminamos past the Jeep blooming rust

she points to the tomate y melón, mint, the birds

of paradise that didn’t survive

the pink roses that did

cuando paso los rosales les doy un beso

tan preciosas mis rosas

she palms the banana tree

the neighbor planted

swinging heavy over the wire fence

lo que está de este lado es mío

whatever is on our side

we keep

whatever is on our side

we eat

 

Brooklyn Poets · Alexis Aceves Garcia, "AQUÍ HAY TODO, MIJA"

Tell us about the making of this poem.

“AQUÍ HAY TODO, MIJA” follows my Abuela Olivia Rivas Garcia on a tour of her backyard, a procession she walks almost every day. I had the privilege of accompanying her on this route for the first time during her ninetieth birthday week last July. She still lives in the same National City house my family first migrated to from Mexico, where her four children grew up and out and where I lived for a time after I was born. It’s been a safe haven to me all of my life and I feel so strongly about honoring this site as an alternate-ending space to the migration and labor narrative imposed on my family.

We took our time walking down the wheelchair ramp built during the last years of my Abuelo Luis Garcia Garcia’s life. I listened and wrote down her compliments for the lemon trees, granadas, mandarins and guayabas. She blew them kisses sitting on her red walker in the shade, talking to each branch with wonder and respect. At the end of the tour one day, after naming each and every plant, Abuela turned to me and said “Aquí hay todo, mija,” and she was right.

This poem is a part of a broader manuscript I’m working on called COMO MANGO. I spent so much time thinking that my family’s story was about the legacies of our labor, starting with my Abuelo Luis, a bracero who came to this country to work the land. But these poems are also about joy and rest in the face of our history. This poem asks: what if everything we needed in America was each other and the rich soil surrounding this house? So many drafts fell short and it wasn’t until I threaded my Abuela’s voice into the poem that it awakened. I want everyone to hear her voice in this poem and hear her voice in my voice. We are so much more than our labor.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on being more loving towards myself, showing up for Black liberation (ongoing, forever), and educating myself and my family on police and prison abolition.

I run a reading series at Bowery Poetry called the Abuela’s Backyard Reading Series and Open Mic, an ongoing series for Black and brown queer and trans poets, and an opportunity to bring folks into the embrace of my Abuela’s garden. The series operates virtually now but I hope that someday after a vaccine is widely distributed, I can host the readings in-person and give poets the pink roses they deserve. That is a deep dream of mine.

I’m also collaborating with Bowery Poetry and Maracuyá Peach curators Devyn Mañibo and Danilo Machado on an upcoming intergenerational zine and broadside initiative centering queer and trans Black poets and poets of color. The name of this project, already felt: poems in revolt & bounty, comes from Audre Lorde’s “Poetry Is Not a Luxury”:

This is poetry as illumination, for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are—until the poem—nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt.

We will be donating the funds from the purchasing of the zine and broadsides to organizations that support Black queer and trans folks. We are hoping to raise at least $10,000. For announcements on which poets are being featured and where to pre-order, follow us on Instagram. We plan to reveal all of these delicious things at the end of June!

I have the privilege of comoderating the Writing Our Worlds (WOW) Writing Club at Ethel’s Club with Francisco Gutierrez and meet with members twice a week to build and shape a new world. I love working with Francisco and treasure their vision of writing and holding space. Ethel’s Club is truly unlike any organization I’ve ever been a part of and I really appreciate Naj Austin’s mission and practice.

I’m on the twelfth draft of my first full-length manuscript and am hoping to finish it sometime this fall. I will be working with Aimee Nezhukumatathil at Tin House this July to bring the thirteenth draft into existence. And last but certainly not least, I run social and do editorial research for Deem Journal, a biannual print journal and online platform focused on design as social practice. Deem’s latest interview with adrienne maree brown is live, in case folks are interested.

What’s a good day for you?

A good day for me is a day I commit to imagining a better world for us all to live in, whether that is through my own writing, reading, facilitating space for others, or through my work at Deem. Another world is possible and I want to be a part of that envisioning.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

I fell in love with Brooklyn during the summer of 2014. I was accepted into this terribly white NYU extended learning program called the Summer Publishing Institute and worked two jobs to save up some money to move from my home in the Bay Area to NYC. My friend Rhea had a spot in Bushwick off the Jefferson Ave stop and it’s where I landed the Memorial Day weekend I arrived. I remember sitting in her backyard smoking a cigarette and listening to the birds chirp happily in the branches of her neighbor’s tree. The spring rain had made everything green and lush and I was twenty-two, so far from California and open and possible.

Tell us about your neighborhood in Brooklyn. How long did you live there? What did you like about it? How has it changed? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

I lived off the Halsey J stop in Bushwick, Brooklyn, from 2015–2017 and in Sunset Park from 2017–2018. I think my favorite part about living in Bushwick was riding my bike through open fire hydrants during block parties in the summertime. I also had this little website called TRASH METROPOLIS where I would bike to different DIY spots and smaller venues like Sunnyvale, Alphaville, Shea Stadium and the back of Baby’s All Right to cover the bands that played there. I remember having a little reporter’s notebook that I drew a trash can on the cover of to feel more official. It was an incredibly short-lived project but one that felt so Bushwick I had to share.

What I loved about living in Sunset Park was getting off the N train at 36th St and picking up dinner at the Tacos El Bronco truck outside the subway stop, hablando con los hombres que trabajaron allí, cocinando the best fucking tacos and birria ever. Folks would bring their foldable chairs and sit out on the block next to the bowling alley. It felt closest to the National City, CA, neighborhood where I spent so many of my days as a kid. There was also this great tree nearby the bowling alley that I would greet on my walk to the subway every morning. I think I named them Arthur after another tree my friend Brandon named in Bushwick. It stayed green so far into the winter I felt it had a sort of magic. I took a selfie with the tree the last day I lived there. I miss you, Arthur.

Each of the rooms I lived in had windows that overlooked the backyard. And there was this stillness in the late afternoon. The wind would part the curtains and I’d be listening to Aretha Franklin or Alabama Shakes or Billie Holiday softly, a tall blue candle lit on the dresser, and I’d take pride in the life I’d built for myself. The rest and care of my genderqueer body. What a miracle to find myself over and over again in Brooklyn.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.

My partner Ali Blumenthal and I were two of 15,000 folks that walked for Black trans lives at the Brooklyn Liberation March on Sunday, June 14th. The march began at the Brooklyn Museum where we gathered to mourn the deaths of Tony McDade, Nina Pop, Layleen Polanco, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Riah Milton, Tete Gulley and countless other Black trans and gender non-conforming folks gone too soon at the hands of police and neglect of the state.

The voices and concerns of Black trans folks were centered and amplified from the museum steps and out onto the streets of Brooklyn. Ceyenne Doroshow, founder and CEO of G.L.I.T.S; Ianne Fields Stewart, founder of the Okra Project; Black trans activist and journalist Raquel Willis; and Melania Brown, Layleen Polanco’s sister, all took the mic to call in the community to protect Black trans lives. We recited, “I believe in my power, I believe in your power, I believe in our power, I believe in Black trans power.” And to hear it echo through the crowd was so powerful. I will never forget that day and will continue to fight to build a better world for Black trans folks as long as I live. Black trans lives and joys are sacred.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Did you find that here? Have you found it where you live now? Why or why not?

Poetry community is care. The folks I want to be in community with make intergenerational space and push against the limited boundaries of the white publishing imagination. I am so thankful to have found that type of community with Geleisa George, Angel Nafis, Shira Erlichman, Katy Ilonka Gero, Kim Mayo, Angbeen Saleem, Mary Ma, Diane Exavier, Alice Liang, Maghan Baptiste, Sophie Christenberry, Dante Clark, Jennifer Lai, Leena Soman Navani, Hannah Schneider and Caitlin Wolper. And to have read at houses and shared stages with poets like Melissa Lozada-Oliva, Hannah Rego, Jimena Lucero, Moncho Alvarado, Aldrin Valdez, Jasmine Reid, Khaty Xiong, Hardeep Gill, Danilo Machado, Devyn Mañibo, Chekwube Danladi, Van Newman, Francisco Gutierrez and so many more folks, so so so so so many more. This world is full of gorgeous talent and folks who care about each other. I love all of y’all in Brooklyn and beyond.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

I could write an essay about how Angel Nafis and Shira Erlichman build nests of care and love for a queer-ass poet like me to come and roost in the brilliance of their teaching and art. There aren’t enough words to describe how their love for each other and their love of poems propels the work of so many people I love. I was the TA for Angel’s year-long manuscript generator class at Catapult and there were nights we would walk each other to the subway talking about poems and the brilliance of the class and catch a glimpse of the moon between buildings and stop before the steps and keep chatting and laughing and hug each other goodbye before we went our separate ways. And that might seem like a series of small moments to you but for me, moments with Angel have always held a deep richness. Even her laugh holds knowledge. To know her is to love her.

Similarly, I could write a dissertation about the ways Mahogany L. Browne moves and creates poetry community every day. I have immense respect for her poetry, her work as Executive Director of Bowery Poetry, her endless championing of young Black and brown poets through Urban Word NYC and beyond. I feel so grateful to be in her orbit and aspire to create space like she does. Everything Mahogany builds is driven by care and love for the people in her world.

I also have to shout out my #1 Brooklyn Gemini, Geleisa George. To say she is important to me would be an understatement. She is my accountability partner, my friend in cartoons, little joys and small starts. To witness her joy and growth on and off the page brings so much light into my life. She inspires me endlessly.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

My Mom, Gina Garcia, and my Dad, Fausto Aceves, are some of my biggest poetry mentors. I remember calling my Mom after my first creative writing class in college thinking I made a mistake majoring in poetry and she didn’t hesitate to tell me how wrong I was. She completely broke down my imposter syndrome and saw me for the storyteller I was. My Mom also spent SO many days and nights at the Barnes & Noble in Grossmont Center waiting for me to bring my stack of books to the small table she had her stack of books on. We read silently across from each other and I’m tearing up thinking about how much those moments meant and still mean to me.

My Dad is an Aquarius Sun/Pisces Rising and introduced me to sci-fi and movies like Stargate at an early age. When I was a kid, we used to write each other notes and fold them into paper airplanes before throwing them into whichever room we were in at the time. I don’t know where I’d be without his dreamy sense of reality. I am grateful for my parents and the ways in which they have always seen me. I wouldn’t be a poet without them.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

Jasmine Reid’s gorgeous chapbook Deus Ex Nigrum, out now with Honeysuckle Press, has been reverberating in my body since I read it in March. Her poems buoy my spirit and fill it with light. I would encourage folks to read it alongside Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz. Both of their works make me feel more grounded in my body. I am always thankful for poems that help me return, return, return.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

I am late to reading Wanda Coleman and I’ve never been more sorry. Top of my list is to read Wicked Enchantment: Selected Poems, edited by Terrance Hayes. I’m also working through Angela Davis’s Are Prisons Obsolete? with an accompanying guide created by Gem Nwanne. We start Chapter Two this week, in case folks are interested.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

Reading lately has been dipping in and out of The Breakbeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNEXT edited by José Olivarez, Willie Perdomo and Felicia Rose Chavez, The Book of Delights by Ross Gay, Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown, Algorithms of Oppression by Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble, and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, on top of the reading above. I keep a running to-read list in my head and I prefer physical books and an orange highlighter above anything else.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I want to take the scraps of my drafts and write a duplex, a ghazal/sonnet/blues song form invented by Jericho Brown. You can find the boundaries of the form here.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

My Abuela Olivia’s dining room table is one of my favorite places to write. I feel complete sitting at a table where my ancestors were nourished. I love to read at the park, any park, anywhere outside under a big tree or by the ocean in the sand.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Any space that Yellow Jackets Collective, BUFU or Papi Juice creates is life-giving. I am grateful for spaces curated by Danilo Machado and Devyn Mañibo of Maracuyá Peach. The fact that Mil Mundos Bookstore exists with María Herron at the helm gives me hope. Ethel’s Club is also an emblem of care.

New Women Space brought me Taylor Ursula who helped me heal with reiki, tarot and astrology. Prospect Park and its endless green, the farmers markets and bandshell concerts lit by fireflies at dusk. Hair Doc & Co. where my barbers Avi and Larry made me feel safe and seen and blessed me with proper skin fades. I’ve also written so much in the Odd Fox backyard in Greenpoint. Biking to downtown Brooklyn every September for the Brooklyn Book Festival has also given me joy. Most of all, I have to shout out Riis Beach, where the sand and ocean have held my first-generation brown trans body free, free, free.

Why Brooklyn?

I’m leaving NYC with my partner at the end of July to be closer to my Abuela and family in the years to come, and sitting with these questions has helped me process my time here. Brooklyn will always hold a special place in my heart. I’ve gone through journeys with my gender and felt a sense of belonging I haven’t had before. I don’t really have the words to answer any of these questions in the way that Brooklyn deserves but what I will say is I love you, Brooklyn. Thank you for holding me at my most broken and for bringing me back to poetry over and over again. I’ll see you soon.