POETRY MONTH 30/30/30: Inspiration, Community, Tradition: DAY 24 :: Elana Bell on Aracelis Girmay
It is impossible to encounter Aracelis Girmay’s work and not be moved. She writes with such an enormous heart that you cannot help being expanded in the presence of her poems. I first met Aracelis at a teaching artist training for the Community Word Project and immediately knew that my universe had shifted. Simply being in her presence and experiencing her mind is pure poetry.
Many poets are brilliant and full of heart, but I think it is a rare thing to come across a poet who is so fearless in the expression of her love and imagination. There are plenty of excerpts I could give of Aracelis’ work, but I have chosen the one below, from her first book Teeth, because before I heard this poem I didn’t know you could do that in a poem—make it that real and immediate. I recommend reading it aloud.
For Estefani Lora, Third Grade, Who Made Me A Card
for Estefani Lora, PS 132, Washington Heights
Elephant on an orange line, underneath a yellow circle
6 green, vertical lines, with color all from the top
The first time I peel back the 5 squares of Scotch tape,
unfold the crooked-crease fold of art class paper,
I am in my living room.
It is June.
Inside of the card, there is one long word, & then
Loisfoeribari: The scientific, Latinate way of saying hibiscus.
Loisfoeribari: A direction, as in: Are you going
North? South? East? West? Loisfoeribari?
I try, over & over, to read the word out loud.
What is this word?
I imagine using it in sentences like,
“Man, I have to go back to the house,
I forgot my Loisfoeribari.”
“There’s nothing better than rain, hot rain,
open windows with music, & a tall glass
“How are we getting to Pittsburgh?
Should we drive or take the Loisfoeribari?”
I have lived 4 minutes with this word not knowing
what it means.
It is the end of the year. I consider writing my student,
Estefani Lora, a letter that goes:
To The BRILLIANT Estefani Lora!
Hola, querida, I hope that you are well. I’ve just opened the card that you made me, and it is beautiful. I really love the way you filled the sky with birds. I believe that you are chula, chulita, and super fly! Yes, the card is beautiful. I only have one question for you. What does the word ’Loisfoeribari’ mean?
I try the word again.
I try the word in Spanish.
& then, slowly, Lo is fo e ri bari
Lo is fo eribari
love is for everybody
love is for every every body love
love love everybody love
everybody love love
is love everybody
everybody is love
love love for love
for love is everybody
love is forevery
love is forevery body
love love love for body
love body body is love
love is body every body is love is every love
for every love is love
for love everybody love love
love love for everybody
Girmay’s second book, Kingdom Animalia, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Here is a link to an article which discusses the book at length.
Aracelis’ work has given me the courage to write from a place of deep love without apology. Here is a poem of mine, and though the theme is very different, I see them as being from the same family:
Once in a village that is burning
because a village is always somewhere burning
And if you do not look because it is not your village
it is still your village
In that village is a hollow child
You drown when he looks at you with his black, black eyes
And if you do not cry because he is not your child
he is still your child
All the animals that could run away have run away
The trapped ones make an orchestra of their hunger
The houses are ruin Nothing grows in the garden
The grandfather’s grave is there A small stone
under the shade of a charred oak Who will brush off the dead
leaves Who will call his name for morning prayer
Where will they—the ones who slept in this house and ate from this dirt—?
Elana Bell’s first poetry collection, Eyes, Stones, was selected by Fanny Howe as the recipient of the 2011 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets and was published this year by LSU Press. www.elanabell.com