May 30–June 5, 2022
Maya Garcia is a writer and poet from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She received a dual bachelor’s degree in English and Puerto Rican and Latino studies from Brooklyn College in 2020 and an advanced certificate in labor studies from the CUNY Graduate Center in 2021. She has received writing fellowships and residencies from VONA, the Watering Hole and the Seventh Wave. Her essay about the election of Donald Trump is included in The Children of the People: Writings by and about CUNY Students on Race and Social Justice, set for publication by DIO Press in late 2022. Her work seeks to explore the intersections of Latinidad, womanhood and working-class identity. Garcia was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow last year to attend the eighth annual summer retreat. She currently works as a communications and public relations associate for Kweli Journal.
My Ancestors’ Wildest Dream
I promise you my
ancestors never dreamed of
depressed socialists with useless college degrees
my ancestors were crushed under the weight of
buildings during earthquakes,
buckled under the weight of imperialism,
my ancestors coughed dust from their lungs and
got so tired of pulling bullet shells out of their hair
they cut it short and
clung to the land of the living,
never dreamed of the day the sun
became too bright to breathe,
the hours spent in front of television sets
willing for the sun to go away,
he tells me I’m tired, I’m tired,
the morning news droning on again,
and I think of bodies recovered from the Mississippi river,
how the survival becomes so heavy after time.
Am I allowed to be my ancestors’ wildest dream?
My father does not believe in an afterlife.
I don’t think I do, either. But
all of these weigh heavy in my mind every morning—
murdered priests and nuns, of confiscated rosaries growing cold in
detention centers, the plaster statue of our lady of
perpetual sorrow that was gifted to my father only because
he did not ask for it at all, my father’s dead friends,
Roberto Clemente crashing in a plane full of earthquake aid,
somebody laughing about how you speak English,
somebody laughing about how I speak Spanish,
hands hardened by work, I am still
the remnants and memories of places I do not know,
I may not be my ancestors’ wildest dream
but I am still something, after all.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
The phrase “I am my ancestors’ wildest dream” is one that is often used within immigrant communities—the idea that the sacrifices of our parents and those who came before us have brought us to the successes of our own lives, or that our ancestors dreamed of the successes and joys we find in our lives, is one that many find comfort and joy in. Yet I got to a point where I realized that this really couldn’t be true—my father and his siblings fled their home in Nicaragua to escape the violence of an American-funded right-wing government, so what is to say that any form of success in the United States would be something to dream about? I can’t speak for anybody else but myself, but I found that, personally, there was a desire to feel both embraced and honored by my ancestors, but there’s also a glaring reality of the injustices my ancestors saw at the hands of the same empire that has made my life significantly more comfortable. This poem comes from a place of frustration and sorrow.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently a resident for the Seventh Wave magazine, so I’ve been working on a few different poems and ideas that I normally wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. I basically didn’t write for all of 2021, so it’s exciting, but feeling exposed also makes me want to crawl into bed forever.
What’s a good day for you?
In my truest heart of hearts, I am a deeply, deeply lazy woman, so a good day would involve sleeping in, reading, writing and watching TV.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
I moved to Brooklyn in 2016 to study music at Brooklyn College and lived there until November 2020, so most of my experiences were centered around being a student.
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 loved the communities I found at Brooklyn College and while living in Flatbush. I ended up double majoring in English and Puerto Rican and Latino Studies. I was able to meet some incredible writers and scholars and worked with brilliant professors while also making friends of my own. It’s easy to look back at my years in Brooklyn with rose-colored glasses and pretend everything was wonderful, which isn’t automatically wrong—I loved a lot about living in Brooklyn, but I also spent a lot of time being broke and lonely.
Currently, home is Minneapolis, Minnesota, where I spent a large part of my early childhood and moved back to in fall 2020. I like a lot of things about Minneapolis—there are a lot of interesting histories and people that make this a great place to live. Yet in a lot of ways I feel largely out of touch with the larger community—I moved back during the pandemic and don’t know many people outside of my immediate family, so it can definitely be a lonely place. It’s definitely a lot quieter and slower than Brooklyn is, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
Brooklyn has a lot of stray cats, especially in the Flatbush neighborhood near Brooklyn College where I lived for most of my time as a student. While I never got to adopt one or anything like that, I would sometimes stop to pet them or say hello, occasionally leaving cans of cat food if I remembered to. Once I was walking home late in the evening after my class had ended and thought I saw a cat, so I stopped and tried to get its attention, only for this huge raccoon to hear and take a few steps towards me! In a panic I realized it wasn’t actually a cat and scurried off, thinking about how I should probably get my eyes checked.
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?
I graduated from college in 2020 while the world was still adjusting to the realities of quarantine and the pandemic as a whole, and I spent most of my time in college studying and thinking I would go straight into a PhD program like a good academic. I only really wrote for student events like open mics or art shows on my college campus, so poetry was definitely always on the backburner. Once I had graduated and realized that I didn’t want to go straight to grad school, digital spaces became a huge aid in helping me find something that resembled a poetry community. Since 2020, I’ve been able to connect with and be inspired by writers all over the world. I hear there’s a vibrant art scene in Minneapolis, but I haven’t found it quite yet.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Ocean Vuong (while he’s not from Brooklyn, we got our bachelor’s degrees from the same place, so I’m including him here), Elisabet Velasquez, Audre Lorde, Martín Espada and Rosamond S. King, to name a few. There is a lot of racism and classism that is associated with literature and poetry, and that is something that was ingrained into me at a very young age. These writers were some of the people who helped me realize that I could come from the environment I did and still be a writer—that art and beauty can come from anywhere and still be revered.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
Rosamond S. King was one of my research mentors in college, and her work, both as a scholar and as a poet, has always inspired me deeply. She was one of the first people who really helped me believe I could have a life and career as a poet and gave me the tools to envision the kind of life I would want to have and how I could get there. I also met Jason Koo at the Brooklyn Poets summer retreat in 2021. In addition to working closely with me on my poems, he gave me incredibly eye-opening advice about the realities of work and poetry, and how to navigate all those spaces as a non-White person. His work with Brooklyn Poets is just astounding.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s Sabrina & Corina is a collection of short stories about Latina and Indigenous women in the American West (most of the stories are set in Fajardo-Anstine’s home of Colorado) and I was struck by how close to home so much of it felt. I haven’t read a lot of work that really captures Latinos in that region, and the way the women in the collection were written was so grounded and visceral I couldn’t put it down. I’ve been obsessed with Ocean Vuong’s new book Time Is a Mother and Richard Siken’s Crush—both iconic texts that have been incredible examples of vulnerability and tenderness that aren’t often found in the real world.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez.
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?
It honestly depends—if I’m reading fiction or nonfiction, I can only really read one book at a time or I’ll get confused by what I’m reading or feel like I’m cheating on one book for another! I dip in and out of collections of poetry all the time. I’ve tried to plan out which texts I’m going to read but often find that I just choose the next book I want to read on a whim. I read way too many textbooks on my laptop in college and absolutely cannot read digital texts for long periods of time anymore, and if I really love a book, it will be underlined ad infinitum.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Honestly anything that isn’t written in free verse! I often only write when inspiration strikes me, which usually means I’m skipping the challenge of any kind of structure or form. I suppose there’s still a small part of me in the back of my mind that thinks of certain forms as stuffy and old-fashioned, which any sane person can tell you just isn’t quite true.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I’ve been a huge homebody since the pandemic started, but I’ve always liked working and reading out of coffee shops.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
Flatbush will always have my heart—this neighborhood was both where I went to school and the neighborhood I lived in for most of my time in Brooklyn, so there’s also going to be a factor of nostalgia there, but it’s a deeply vibrant and beautiful community. I loved my friend’s old apartment in Sunset Park, but she also ended up moving during the pandemic. The Brooklyn College library is the second-largest in Brooklyn and a place I loved as a college student.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate indifference,
And what I know what you mean but only sometimes,
For every afternoon it’s me as good as the next version of you.
Why not Brooklyn?