April 11–17, 2022
Teri Vela (she/her) is a witch, mother and former lawyer, born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada (Southern Paiute traditional lands). Her publications include poetry in Honey Literary, Witch Craft and elsewhere. She is a reader for Split Lip and a managing editor with the Seventh Wave. Last year, Vela was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow to attend the eighth annual summer retreat, and this past January she started the Warren Wilson College low-residency MFA program as a Holden Scholar. She loves the smell of tree sap stuck on clothes.
The dogs bark into the night.
We hate the fucking campo.
The hawk cries above the house and we search the trees to find it.
It looks back at us for prey.
I say nothing while people talk around me.
I seem simple, but I am racing.
The plane lands and I step onto the tarmac, an orange peel in my pocket.
If I drop it in the dark soil, there an orange tree will grow.
Luciernagas for the first time. Tarantula in my suitcase.
The dogs are filthy and bathe in the river.
I hear a secondhand story from my father.
He says my mother’s cousin is drunk and whispering into the ears of women.
A joke that depends on a maid raped repeatedly.
Instead of nothing, I say, I don’t understand.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I originally wrote “Eje” in 2018 after traveling to Pereira, Colombia, to visit my mother’s side of my family. Pereira is coffee country, also called the coffee axis, or “eje.” I was excited to take my partner to Colombia, and to contemplate the idea of living outside the US. That feeling was quickly replaced with one of confrontation—confrontation of cultures both at large and also within my family. I felt really angry at the overt sexism and homophobia people were so nonchalant about. It sounds naïve of me to talk about now, but I was angry to be the recipient of this heritage, on many levels. I wrote the first version of this poem on the plane ride home, all in one narrative piece, and it stayed that way for many years. I revived it at the Brooklyn Poets summer retreat last year and am now revising it at Warren Wilson, where it’s turned into two different poems. One poem uses a lot of Spanish, and the other keeps much of the English narrative I had in the original. The remnants of the English narrative are what you see in “Axis.”
What are you working on right now?
I am currently working on a poem that is a dictation from a ghost or ghosts. I’ve been really sick lately, and while sick I’ve had fitful sleep filled with half-communications and what sound like someone else’s words. In my personal mythology, ghosts make sense as the messengers. Another way to put this is that semiconscious is a good way for me to put words to paper.
What’s a good day for you?
I think a good day is mostly spent outside. Lately I’ve been out at dusk, and I’m cherishing the quiet loneliness of it; I don’t see too many people, and the bats are out as often as the birds. It feels like meditation. I also have a toddler and a high-strung Australian Shepherd, so a good day includes Sesame Street, nap time and collecting sticks. The writing comes somewhere in between.
Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?
Home is the Mojave Desert, and I’ve lived here nearly all my life. I’m currently enjoying the spring, but I’ve always loved the red earth and desert landscape. I used to love all of the things that made this a twenty-four-hour town, but with the pandemic and with parenting, I don’t live like that anymore. Las Vegas has expanded rapidly in the last few years and I hope to move away soon. The only other place I’ve ever lived in is Denver. Maybe we’ll go there.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
I have not been to Brooklyn, but I would love to go. I applied for the low-residency MFA program at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights because I want(ed) to visit.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
I’m still finding that out, I think. I have my beloved familial unit, and I am building a poetry community, but I am also a pretty lonely person by choice. I am also turning away from this narrative of myself as a lawyer, so I’m in an era of leaving community (as well as starting new ones). The poetry community that I’ve found so far (among the Seventh Wave, Split Lip and Warren Wilson) necessitates spaces created by and for people of color and marginalized writers. The community that’s right for me also cannot be driven by academia.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Audre Lorde, W. H. Auden and Shira Erlichman! Auden was one of those poets I met early on, in college, whereas Lorde continues to teach me how to see myself more clearly, and Shira Erlichman is a living, breathing jar of maple syrup. Her online school kept me afloat during the pandemic and my pregnancy (I was pregnant from January through September of 2020), and her zine still wakes me up every month.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I suppose my daughter is my biggest mentor. I have heroes for sure: Rachel McKibbens, Sharon Olds, Kaveh Akbar, all of whom have said or written things that have propelled me in various directions. But my daughter has had the biggest influence on my writing. When I learned I was pregnant, I somehow gained “permission” to go and do the things that I’ve been wanting to do my entire life. I finally said, I’m going to stop working in the law and I’m going to focus on the thing I care about most (which at the time was writing). I learned I was pregnant right as the pandemic started, so it’s hard to overstate the effect that time period had on me. And I’m not someone who always wanted a child either. I’m thirty-five, my daughter is not yet two. Nowadays, it’s difficult to parent a toddler with my partner and write and study and caretake, and, and, and, but it’s like a latticework of choices that I turn to every day to keep me honest and alive.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Valzhyna Mort’s Music for the Dead and Resurrected. I read it while studying surrealism, and I enjoyed seeing the decisions she made on the page (lineation, line endings, vocabulary, tone, tone, tone) while also being floored by the content. I really like that she’ll turn towards music, or what’s on the laundry line, and then look somewhere else and it all seems so natural.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Any Walt Whitman. Don’t come at me.
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?
I’m probably a dipper and a piler. I have piles of books everywhere and I like to dip in and out of them to see how they interact with one another. That’s also a product of having a kid—I don’t have as much uninterrupted time to read as I would like. The last book I read cover to cover was Rachel McKibbens’s blud, because it was goddamn fire and also because my daughter was small enough to still be strapped to my chest. I’ve learned to read books any way I can get them (digitally, on the phone, a PDF someone’s shared, etc.) but I prefer physical books. Also, yes, definite note-taker. My partner cherishes his books and tries not to crack the spines and I’m the complete opposite. I’ll dog-ear a page, highlight, note-take and bend that baby around in order to interact with it more.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
One thing? I’d like concrete elements or performative typography in something. Those are two things, but they stem from one idea of visualizing the page differently.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I used to write at work all the time. Now, I suppose it’s libraries—the local library, the university library. Under a tree.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I’d really like to visit Green-Wood Cemetery, that’s like number one. I’m pretty basic, I think. I’d like to go to Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Bridge, Prospect Park, the Botanic Garden. Oh, plus I think a Cyclones game would be fun. Baseball game is number two. This followed by a slice of pizza as number three. And a place with good Colombian food as number four.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate holding and being held,
And what I divine you will divine,
For every breath eroding me as good erodes you.
Obviously, Brooklyn has a swagger unmatched by most places of the world. In terms of why Brooklyn Poets—I had heard through word of mouth from online friends as well as someone in my local community about the classes. Ultimately, I want some of that swagger myself; some of that knowledge of self. Still working on it.