Elizabeth Acevedo

Three Poems


Knuckles dug into the back of Janie’s head. Fingernails scoured down her made-up cheek: a brillo pad cleaning pale china—Did she scream?

—I can’t remember, but still feel the rush of our pre-teen bodies rushing down the hill to watch. The thrill of being, for once, on the inside.

Blood from Janie’s bottom lip stained her velour— this was back when the wanna-be-down white girls wore sweatsuits—but none of us stepped in, because even then we knew initiations required witnesses.

And although none of us liked Janie—the blue and blond of her, the Dominican guys she dated as she practiced speaking like us, the slang-faucet mouth she turned off when her mother was around—she probably shouldn’t have been stomped out.

And I can’t remember—really, I can’t— why she was chosen.

If those of us that lived on this side of Amsterdam Ave. sat around the Little Park one day, and some older gang members asked if there was a girl at school that could get dropped and my schoolmates blanked and although I wasn’t a part of this crew, only a neighborhood girl, friendly, wanting to be liked but afraid of bruising my own knuckles, if Janie’s name, that I’d heard uttered since kindergarten, hardened in my mouth: an egg tumbling out firm and fat into the air
a sacrifice, wasn’t it, that fed some unknown god?



Self-Portrait of Eve as a Cardi B.

Yea, I ate it. Cuz, fuck it, I was hungry. & apples are natural appetite suppressants. Can’t be mad at a girl for being worried about her figure, nah mean?

Ah, you still think the snake talked me into it? Please. I lived with Adam. I been knew about snakes in the grass. Didn’t you know he was always dry-snitching on me to Pops? Shit, even blamed the apple on me like I forced him to take a bite—, like a bitch don’t be greedy, why the fuck would I have shared?

Nah, see, I’m a charmer. I asked the snake to find the reddest apple, to rattle his tail like a dinner bell when he did, and damn that shit was juicy sweet. I didn’t even wipe my chin. Why the fuck would an untamed thing ever crave a shepherd, when all she ever needed was the wild of her own wool?


La Negra Stoop Sits With Medusa

Because Medusa got a fat ass
the boys on the block still try to holla
despite the warnings they’ve heard.

Bruh, I don’t know why them soft ass Greeks
were so afraid of being rock solid.
Make me hard however you want, girl.

Medusa shakes her snakes,
holds La Negra’s hand in her lap.
They sit not unlike museum pieces.

The guys chatter, a swarm of mosquito wings.
La Negra tries not to be envious,
Medusa has spent centuries inspiring the chest hairs of boys.

But still, La Negra wishes she was awful enough
to make them shriek at the sun with hunger
or turn completely away, these brothers of hers.

These kinsmen that make her all sorts of terrible:
how she learns to make beacon of her eyelashes,
to brace her teeth hard and sharp with barbed-wire.


Elizabeth Acevedo is the author of With The Fire on High (HarperCollins, 2019), The Poet X (HarperCollins, 2018), and a chapbook, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (Yes Yes Books, 2016). Acevedo is the winner of the 2018 National Book Award for Young People's Literature, the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction, the CLILIP Carnegie Medal, the Boston Globe Hornbook Award, and the 2019 Pure Belpre Author Award for Latinx Culture. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from The George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion as well as a Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and participant of the Callaloo Writer's Workshop.