Naomi Ayala

Naomi Ayala: Tenth Anniversary Issue

Tenth Anniversary Issue: A Tribute to Guest Editors
Volume 11:1, Winter 2010

Guest Editor, “Expanding Latino Identity,” Spring 2005


Naomi writes:
“As a writer, Beltway’s presence in DC for me is ‘home,’ a place where voices of the past and present meet and are honored together. Beltway has made the soil of our literary community more rich and fertile.

As a guest editor, I had the opportunity to collaborate with local Latino writers and visual artists on an issue highlighting their work and celebrate, along with readers, the cultural wealth that is available to us in the District. Closest to my heart, perhaps, was an opportunity to write about Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the first poet I read in the English language upon my arrival in the United States as a young girl. This was an opportunity that no other journal had afforded me.

‘ For wherever the truth of vision comes upon the world,’ Black Elk said, ‘it is like a rain.’ Beltway is the rain that brings with it renewal, innovation, the honoring of our elders, and border crossing where there should be. It is a place where I go to meet the multitudes I contain.”

From the Editor:
Naomi Ayala has appeared in Beltway Poetry four times, as well as guest editing the Spring 2005 issue. In that issue, Expaning Latino Identity, she brought to the journal five poets, a dynamic mix of new and established voices, as well as three Latino guest visual artists. Naomi was also a featured writer in Summer 2002, wrote an essay for the Memorial Issue (the first in our ongoing series on DC’s literary history) in Fall 2003, and contributed poems to the DC Places Issue (Summer 2006), and Split This Rock Festival Issue (Winter 2008). Naomi’s poetry and community work is always infused with a passion for social justice. The poems below come from her newest book, This Side of Early, published by Curbstone Press in 2009.




Two drunks stumble in their best jeans in the valley of delight,
call out the koans of salvation.
Rutty color of oak bark along the dogwood street.
Brilliantined hair and front-stoop stubble.
Today Jesus walks among them, long locks
kissing the ground like points in a hem.
He lays in the street, calls from the doorways of winter.
Steam from the grillwork beside him, mere steam.
And he turns, turns in the republic of full-swing hips,
where two drunks in their best jeans
lift their hats and wave of the rain.



Kathy Keler, "Ladder II," 2009, acrylic and alkyd on wood, 19" x 9"

Kathy Keler, “Ladder II,” 2009, acrylic and alkyd on wood, 19″ x 9″


Near the register he looks and digs
in secret pocket,
pulls at yellowed bills
drenched with sweat,

pays in full as the muttering
line eyes the hold up.

Above the Leukemia jug
his hands flutter to the mad
order of the unkempt,

stop to feel for another bill—
folded into tiny parts, like a poem
or despair—and

muttering something about hope,
he slips it in. The eyes of the children,
he turns and says to us, so close,
like ghosts of the night street.



And now, where the moon
rose behind here,
three stories loom –
inexplicable to the eye.
Floodlights lift
the puddles in the alley
to sad perfection.
No other brightness
to make beautiful
the edges of the dark.
Progress comes—
mocking visitor, a snoop—
to awed spaces
where we hold up
our pots and pans,
brush sweat
from our brows, wipe hands
on threadbare dishrags,
scold and kiss our children.
We should be glad—
some people tell us—
life is precious, move on.
Others say poverty
is redemption: leave.
And waiting to wake
we stir all night. We pray.
Our father, god
of the cupboard and the ladle,
redeem us.



I put out my hands.

I go to my drum.
My drum go to me.
To me my drum go.
Go drum to me.
Go drum.


When I’m scraping the pots,
I sing my own dance.
And when singing comes to me,

I lay my world with color—
round on my fingers,
a river, and let go.


I make love in my sleep.
Coyotes howl, put out all sound.
They get in my love.
They love in my sleep.

I love it like this.
Love breathes in my dreams.
In my love I sleep and in my love
no sleep sounds.

Where is my name,
this name, when I wake?
It burrows in the sheets,
all skin—
inside the morning,


You are in my morning too.
Your breath hard,
then folding slowly
over the world.


This you in me wakes
and is always waking.
In the shape of a snowflake,
inside the mating of birds,
it falls into song.
In song we are made real,
we breathe.

Know singing before words.
Know goatskin.
Know the drum of the tree.


Into skin we are made,
all of my people.
Light of the moon on our backs.



I have hallowed my sleep
like a gourd—this poor
instrument—with a
me in the me of an I.

Sad branches on the tree
outside the window,
bones catching snow.

I live in a branch of the tree,
in the cold I want to be safe from.
And in the cold, I love.


So much simpler my I
rooted like a tree—
half earth, half sky.


Of two worlds,
coming and going—
but I no full crow-woman yet.
Yet no full
crow-woman, crow.


I go to my drum.
My drum go to me.
To me my drum go.

Go drum to me.
Go drum.

Dawn here.



Naomi Ayala's book, Wild Animals on the Moon (Curbstone Press, 1997) was selected by the New York City Public Library as a Best Book for the Teen Age. Her newest book of poems, This Side of Early, was released by Curbstone in March 2009. She is included in several anthologies, including Seeds of Fire: Contemporary Poems from the Other USA (Smokestack Books/U.K., 2008), The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry (University of Arizona Press, 2007), and Boriquén to Diasporican: Puerto Rican Poetry from Aboriginal Times to the New Millennium (University of Massachusetts Press, 2007). A Native of Puerto Rico, Ayala resides in Washington, DC, where she serves as the Executive Director of the Capitol Letters Writing Center, and teaches at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD. Her third book of poems is scheduled for release by Bilingual Review Press in 2010. To read more by this author: Naomi Ayala: Summer 2002 Naomi Ayala on Paul Lawrence Dunbar: Memorial Issue Naomi Ayala's Introduction to Expanding Latino Identity Issue, Spring 2005 Naomi Ayala: DC Places Issue Naomi Ayala: Split This Rock Issue