Elizabeth Acevedo

Four Poems

Nine Women Poets
Volume 16:4, Fall 2015


The Last Cacique

Anacaona traveled music-like.
Leaving goosebump footprints on the spine
of the highest mountain.
She knew she’d have to hide,
when those men began to show
their skins did not clothe gods:

it was in their eyes. Blue and green as
Atabeyra’s waters, but starved, clawing,
first the women, then the children,
the root vegetables from their beds.

They dropped gold
into the mouth of their hands
until her people had nothing more
than fisted wounds
for this never ending hunger.

Anacaona fled into the trees
where the earth thrusts at sky.
She should have fought,
it is easy to say.
But when they came
she merely tried to soothe them
like frothing dogs
that could not be patted to rest.

Who amongst us understands the need
of a white man’s anger?
They burned her people alive.
Gifted her a collar of rope,
cheered as her fingers scraped
at her throat for air.

It was a hot day. It always
is on the Island. Her toes made wind
as she swung, then grooves in the sand
as she was lowered and a world ended
and a new one cracked open:
swallowed us all.


February 10th, 2015

for a man nicknamed Tulile in Santiago, Dominican Republic

it never begins when the body hangs from a silk tree.
it always begins when the body hangs heavy and knotted
to the silk tree, and the tongue slips out of the mouth
–like a swollen maggot?— no, simply like tongue.

this began when the body hung heavy from rope,
knotted to the silk tree and the tongue, swollen with creole,
slipped out of the mouth, a simple tongue.

it didn’t begin with the tongue, swollen with creole,
slipping out between blue lips; hands bound as if praying
couldn’t push the tongue back into the mouth.

did it begin with the tongue, swollen with creole?
the shoeshine polish on the long fingers clutching a winning
lotto ticket, a stolen lamp, the tongue bragging with glee?

it will begin again by forgetting the tongue, the black shoeshine polish
on the long fingers, winning or stealing, the dirt caked on bare feet,
the tree bowing low in the park plaza in this city of caballeros.

begin here: black polish, skin, dirt. a city named after gentlemen.
the shoeshine boy, not yet twenty, known by no real name,
known for no real reason to have been strung up
the way only a black bruised body takes flight.

it never ends here– these bodies hanging from silk trees.


Betsy Stewart, "Microaquea, No. 2," Monoprint with acrylic, ink and mylar on canvas, 2014

Betsy Stewart, “Microaquea, No. 2,” Monoprint with acrylic, ink and mylar on canvas, 2014

Chest Pass

Tyrone and I had a one-on-one basketball challenge.
Our summer tournaments lasting
until our puffed up Northfaces
got in the way of our handle.

Don’t let them fool you
I thought wisdom could be chest passed—
learn to read more than the Braille on this ball,
Its skin is not the only place dreams are allowed to live.

We dribbled beneath the spray-painted
R.I.P portrait of his father.
He swore, Me? I’ma be a baller. Play for Syracuse.
I was always up a game. When did we stop?

Returned from school to find he wouldn’t look me
in the face. He’d organized the junkies.
Trained them to lineup single-filed,
half-glimmer mannequins,

cued to step forward, wait, head nod,
and a dap later the line one less.
When the new boys who didn’t know me
wolf whistled, reached for my wrist, Tyrone was quick

to lay fist on their chest, push them back,
Yo, don’t fuck with her. Go ahead, Liz.
With wind-chilled face I leaned out of my mother’s window,
avoid looking at the stoop when he called up, You still play, Liz?

Neither of us do, Tyrone, we grown now, right
Tyrone? Benched our childhood in the Little Park, Tyrone?
You giftwrapped yourself around the block
and I forgot how to walk this neighborhood without being afraid

of making eye contact. The group we grew up
with looks at me like I own a name they don’t know.
Like my walk don’t belong on this concrete, Tyrone.
But just because they repaved the stoop

doesn’t mean my ass don’t remember it, Tyrone.
Tyrone, how’s your post move? Do you still
have your sweet spot from the corner?


Dominican Superstitions

For sleeping: Don’t fall asleep with your knees up
or you’ll invite a ghost to mount you.

For ghosts: Never ask them what they want. That’s
some American shit.

For ghosts that won’t leave: Use frankincense.
Conduct a rosary circle. Lead them to a tree that guards gold.

For nightmares: Upon waking speak your dreams into the air—
the witnessing daylight will prevent them from coming true.

For nightmares in which teeth shatter like crashing dinner plates:
Someone you love has died. The teeth always know.

For menstrual periods: Don’t touch any child not your own
and don’t wash your hair until you’ve bled for five days.

For the evil eye: Cross yourself and stay away from folks
who would give a compliment but not follow it with a blessing.

For reading or eating: Don’t do both at the same time.

For kitchens: Open an oven or open a refrigerator but heat and cold air
should never mix in the same body.

For men: Feed them well and feed them often, the fatter the man
the more likely he’s too heavy to leave.

For cheating: Watch out if you skip a hoop while fastening your belt—
one time too many means someone else has been minding your man.

For superstitions: Treat them all like salt, scatter them before you leave
let them cling to the soles of your feet.



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.