Alex is an aspiring young adult author and publicity assistant living in New York. When she is not immersed in the pages of a great book, she is taking dance classes. Her passion right now is salsa.
Alex is also one of my favorite bookish people and one of the first friends I reached out to when I was looking for new contributors to Poetically Speaking this year. Today Alex is sharing one of her poems and talking about how and when she started to write poetry.
What Abuela Carries
A poem by Alexandra Hernandez
Abuela carries a large wooden spoon,
to stir the pot of hearty sopa we use for healing.
For a cold, for a bad day, for a broken heart,
She carries the pain of it,
She may not always understand it, or agree.
But she pushes against the weight of it,
Abuela carries our brown eyes, our Taino tan skin, our dark hair,
Although hers has long been gray.
She passes them on and on down the line.
As we grew, we cut it, we dye it, we change.
But she carries our original form, for it was hers to begin with.
Abuela carries his heart in hers.
She keeps it there, like a secret.
Maybe she knew from the beginning,
That he wouldn’t always be hers.
Before her, he belonged to another, after all.
Nights spent dancing in corners of darkened rooms,
Surrounded by strangers that could never judge them.
Those memories, she carries them too.
Abuela carries that baby in her belly,
That baby she didn’t plan.
That baby is my mother.
She is heavy.
Heavy with love she already has for a child she’s never met,
She is already her pride and joy.
With this blessing, she also carries guilt, anger, pain.
Most of all,
Abuela carries strength.
She carries hope.
She holds it high for us to see when she wipes away our tears,
When she feeds our bellies.
Abuela carries proof.
That even in darkness,
There is light.
My relationship with poetry has evolved over the last few years. To be honest, it’s not something that has always been part of my creative writing life. However, I realized fairly recently that while I loved to hear poems read aloud, it scared me to try writing them. My favorites poets are great writers of love like Shakespeare, Rumi and Pablo Neruda. When I was a child, I was all about Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. Most recently, I discovered and fell in love with contemporary poet and fellow Latina, Mirtha Michelle Castro Marmol and the social media juggernaut, RM Drake. But with my own work, I felt that my poems were slightly melodramatic and, frankly, not very good. For me, reading them back, I sounded awkward or like I was trying too hard to sound deep and insightful.
A few years ago, a family friend and mother of an old dance student of mine approached me about my writing. She wanted to know if I’d be interested in contributing a number of pieces to an anthology she was editing about grandmothers, or Abuelas, as we call them in Spanish. She spoke to me about The Abuela Stories Project, about the fact that the contributors were all women of color with powerful stories to tell and as much as I wanted to be part of that, the old fear snuck back in. I did not consider myself a poet by any means.
“It doesn’t have to be a poem!” She insisted, her bright, contagious passion beginning to rub off on me. “It can be an essay, short story, anything that inspires you.” Easy for her to say. I’d heard her read her poetry aloud before – it was electric.
But I thought about it. It wasn’t the first time I would be writing about my own Abuela. At the time, I was taking a memoir writing class in college and she had been the focus of many of my projects. My Puerto Rican heritage, ancestry, and the secrets of my family’s past have always been of great interest to me and I spent a lot of time that year reflecting on where I came from, the people I came from. And so, as intimidated as I had felt, I knew I wouldn’t be saying no to the project. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to connect with other writers and to put my own thoughts down on paper.
Fast forward to the end of last year and the pieces were due. And still, I was second guessing myself. Since our first talk about the Abuela Stories Project, I had fallen in love with spoken word, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the Lower East Side, and using poetry as a therapy, whether it was screen shooting my favorites from Instagram or starting a small collection of books. So it wasn’t that I felt uninspired! I just never considered myself to be a poet. I was already struggling with using the word WRITER to describe myself.
In November, the writers of the Abuela Stories Project came together for a writing and reflecting session at El Fogon Center of the Arts in the Bronx. It was my first time meeting all of the women at once and while I thought I would be more shy and reserved, I started to feel comfort within this circle. I felt safety. I felt acceptance. During one of the writing exercises, we were given a prompt – What Abuela Carries. I don’t know why but my first instinct was to use the prompt as an opportunity to try writing a poem. I never thought anyone would see it. It was meant to be for my eyes only. I wrote and wrote. I took the poem home and I worked on it again. I worked on it until it became something I could really be proud of and wanted to share with people. I haven’t read it aloud to an audience yet but it’s something I feel like I might want to do in the future. The best part is, it makes me want to write more poems. It makes me want to connect with that more hidden part of myself. It makes me want to incorporate my Latina pride into other works, like my young adult fiction writing.
When Emma asked me to take part in her poetry celebration for National Poetry Month, I said yes right away because it felt like more opportunities were presenting themselves for poetry and sharing that in a new forum. I can honestly say that poetry has grown into a new role in my life and I can only hope that it’ll continue to inspire me and prove to me that I can write anything, as long as my heart is connected to it. So, Happy National Poetry Month, readers and friends. Here’s to the greats. And here’s to us making our own magic.
Thank you Alex for this terrific post!
If you want to follow her on social media, you can find Alex here:
You can also learn more about The Abuela Stories Project at their website: http://abuelastories.com