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FEATURED POEM OF THE WEEK: José Olivarez – “(citizen)(illegal)”

José Olivarez. Photo by: RJ Eldridge

(citizen) (illegal)

Mexican woman (illegal) and Mexican man (illegal) have
a Mexican (illegal)-American (citizen).
Is the baby more Mexican or American?
Place the baby in the arms of the mother (illegal).
If the mother holds the baby (citizen)
too long, does the baby become illegal?
The baby is a boy (citizen). He goes to school (citizen).
His classmates are American (citizen). He is outcast (illegal).
His “Hellos” are in the wrong language (illegal).
He takes the hyphen separating loneliness (Mexican)
from friendship (American) and jabs it at the culprit (illegal).
Himself (illegal). His own traitorous tongue (illegal).
His name (illegal). His mom (illegal). His dad (illegal).
Take a Mexican woman (illegal) and a Mexican man (illegal).
If they have a baby and the baby looks white enough to pass (citizen).
If the baby grows up singing Selena songs to his reflection (illegal).
If the baby hides from el cucuy and la migra (illegal).
If the baby (illegal) (citizen) grows up to speak broken Spanish (illegal)
and perfect English (citizen). If the boy’s nickname is Güerito (citizen).
If the boy attends college (citizen). If the boy only dates women (illegal)
of color (illegal). If the boy (illegal) uses phrases like Women of Color (citizen).
If the boy (illegal) (citizen) writes (illegal) poems (illegal).
If the boy (citizen) (illegal) grows up (illegal) and can only write (illegal)
this story in English (citizen), does that make him more
American (citizen) or Mexican (illegal)?

José Olivarez is the son of Mexican immigrants, the co-author of the book of poems Home Court, and the co-host of the poetry podcast, The Poetry Gods. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the Marketing Manager at Young Chicago Authors. A winner of a 2016 Poets House Emerging Poet Fellowship and a 2015 Bronx Recognizes Its Own award from the Bronx Council on the Arts, his work has been published in The BreakBeat Poets, Vinyl Poetry and Prose, The Chicago Tribune, & Brooklyn Magazine, among other places. He is from Calumet City, IL, and lives in Chicago.

Website: joseolivarez.com
IG/Twitter: @_joseolivarez

Photo by: RJ Eldridge


FEATURED POEM OF THE WEEK: Fisseha Moges – “Reverb”


Since the beginning of the 20th century

The Shoebox model has been considered the standard of concert hall design,

by placing an orchestra directly in the front, face-to-face with the audience.

Nowadays halls are designed in a horseshoe shape, with curved walls that reflect sound to reach ears from both sides.

but older conductors still swear by sound traveling in one direction, as the most sonically pleasing.

that it is disturbing to hear sound coming from a direction different than the one you’re looking at

That my black body is a fetish on stage but an exiled prayer off it

85% of sensory perception is taken in through our eyes.

When architects are designing the seating arrangements

They determine an intimate physical relationship is important

to create visual connections between the audience and the orchestra.

The ability to see the faces of the performers and the emotions expressed upon them can influence how we perceive their performance.

which is to say, if a black body falls on stage,

and everyone was there to see it, did they still hear it?

which is to say, a black body is born a sought after performer,

and each day is spent trying to convince you

the skin and screams are emanating from the same body.

in a closed concert hall, sound reverberates for a period of time

after the source has stopped emitting sound.

A place with long reverberation is called a live environment.

When sound dies out quickly, it is a dead environment.

which is to say

this land is the most live and dead environment at the same time

which is to say, my black body performs the loudest when it is dead

The wooden stage is designed to act as an instrument itself

Having a large pocket of air beneath that vibrates

from contact with heavy instruments, and reflects it back into space.

And the cheapest seats in the top gallery receive the best acoustics

As they are on the receiving end of all reverberated sound, traveling from the stage

Up the supports through strategically placed wooden posts that direct sound to the suspended floorboards beneath your feet

Which is to say, a black death is only loud if it’s not infront but beneath you.

On the day of a large symphony,

musicians stand on movable orchestral platforms

that can be adjusted to achieve the desired sound balance,

depending on how loud the instrument is.

Something large like a tuba or an Eric Garner

would be placed on a lower platform in the back

So as to not suck out the air Aiyana Jones’ seven-year old violin would need

To get your attention

The ceiling skylights are made with four layers of glass,

With four feet of air from Sandra Bland’s lungs in between the layers to trap sound inside the hall and prevent the hissing sound of her slow asphyxiated cell hanging from being heard on the outside

So as to have long reverberation time in a live and dead environment

Staging is just as critical as the environment

In an orchestra of 100, 60% of the performers are dead strings

Placed front and center for the audience’s viewing pleasure,

As they are the most quiet individually and must be multiplied exponentially

If they are to ever to make a note worth hearing

Because a black death is only loud if you cant see it in front of you

and the best way to kill a performer

is choosing to hear them once and never again

and during the performance

the conductor controls every aspect of the show

and he has the uncanny ability to tone a racist’s performance

down to a dead environment while elevating black-on-black crime

and blue lives matter into a live environment that drowns out the screams

and the conductor’s favorite piece of music to perform

is “A Black Boy’s Symphony Concerto No. 559 deaths in 2017…and counting”,

especially the auditory climax,

where he uses his baton and gun

to rapidly change the Tamir Rice section

of a 12 year old A minor into a B flat position

within two seconds

And the black woman’s song travels

In a different frequency than the black male,

That is so sharp to static ears

the audience cannot actually hear

Rekia Boyd’s broken body and out of tune mouth,

That the crescendo of a build up from a murmuring entrance

To a gargantuan fortissimo

Is not just dependent on the performer’s skill

But the environment, its acoustics and the positioning of the audience’s ears

When “Stonewall Riots Sonata in the key of Marsha P transitioning to the key of Miss Major No. 1969”

Gets drowned out in the Hudson River by white noise fragility

So a voice is a metronome

Or a trumpet,

Depending on who your God is

And what reverberation your body responds to.

And there is bleed that decorates black space

And there is scream that bends into a low sigh

And there is space eager to be filled with melody

And we witness a descending body and the scream in the aftermath not occur in the same breath

And the sight does not match the sound

And the air in our lungs is translated into despair as it enters an instrument’s hole screeching

And exits a digestible repertoire

That reverberates beyond the walls.

FEATURED POEM OF THE WEEK: Jude Hoffman – “Translation”



There are some things that just don’t translate.
Some truths just don’t move
from one space to another
without losing some of their original taste.
When you translate, you risk dropping some parts of it
that made it someone’s truth in the first place.

The concept of linguistic relativity
is something anthropologists have debated
for decades.
It’s the idea that thought doesn’t produce language,
but the other way around.
You cannot think without the words guiding your thoughts.

Can you think of anything without having the words to describe it?
The theory predicts that having words for something is what gives us the ability to understand it.

An anthropologist once said The Inuit had 30 different words for white.
Because they had so many words,
they were able to see the subtle differences in the shades.
We never had that many shades of white.

During translation,
some truths don’t keep the same color.

If I love you in a different language
will we both still ache?
Will my veins still sit on the table
in the perfect shape of my body
pleading to be with yours?

Will the slow dance of French
make the veins smooth out?
Will biting tongue Russian
make a beating heart somehow appear
more alive than it is?
Will rolling Spanish
to American ears
make this feeling seem
somehow less legitimate?
Love is not the only thing that does not translate.

When someone speaks in the language of pain,
somewhere, it is lost in the language of shame
that men dance to the tune of.

Somewhere, there simply isn’t a word
that speaks in white spaces
the note of accountability.

When a people sing
or cry
or scream
or die
or sing
or march
or sing
all of their words
about their identities
translate into
how they are angry,
ignoring the why.
The rest of their message is lost.

When you are being strangled,
and the words are not able to come through your throat,
will your truth be heard
by people who do not share your language?

If language drives our thinking
what a good way to control thoughts
by restricting the language
that is allowed to be used.

When we try and translate the word “liberation,”
there are a few key problems with finding the best meaning.
When one group uses the term liberation, why does the other think it means they are losing privilege?
When one group uses the term liberation, what are they liberated from? That is to ask, what are they liberated in to?
When does liberation mean “the act of setting someone free from imprisonment, slavery, and the oppression of everything white colonization brings, except a Jesus”?

An anthropologist once said Eskimos had 30 different words for white.
Because they had so many words,
they were able to see the subtle differences in the shades.
We never had that many shades of white.
Except when we were scared of the Irish,
then everything was a shade of white
except them.
Except when we were scared of Jews,
then everything was white
except them.
Except after some Brown people killed some civilians,
much like our government has done all around the world,
then everyone was white
except them.

Some things do not translate perfectly,
but there is a language to describe the many shades of white,
like colonizer
or supremacy
or violence
or fragile
or deaf
The space of a body.
The man in that space.
The history that tells the man
it is ok for him to own that space.
Where is the translation for that,
so that the weight of the word
is not so easily avoided?

During the translation,
the tongue sleeps with the exposed nerve of a broken tooth,
and pretends the pain is from something other than its own doing.

Language is a strange thing
how it dances,
every step was put there on purpose
until, through translation,
it’s meaning is lost.
And the truth gets erased.