The Operating System

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
meaning sun.
6 green, vertical lines, with color all from
 the top
meaning flowers.

*

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
Estefani’s name:
Loisfoeribari
Estefani Lora

*

Loisfoeribari?

*

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.
Loisfoeribari. LoISFOeribari.
LoiSFOEribari. LoisFOERibARI.

*

What is this word?
I imagine using it in sentences like,
“Man, I have to go back to the house,
I forgot my Loisfoeribari.”
or
“There’s nothing better than rain, hot 
rain,
open windows with music, & a tall glass
of Loisfoeribari.”
or
“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.
Loisfoeribari.
Loisfoeribari.
Loisfoeribari.

*

I try the word in Spanish.
Loisfoeribari
Lo-ees-fo-eh-dee-bah-dee
Lo-ees-fo-eh-dee-bah-dee
& 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 everybody
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
loveisforeverybody

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:

Your Village

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 Bells 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

[Editor’s note: check out the love-and-gratitude network in action! Here we’ve got the terrifically talented Elana Bell, who came to us via Pam Laskin’s suggestion, and of all people she selects Aracelis Girmay, whose Kingdom Animalia has been consistently opening my heart and blowing my mind all month already, since friend/poet Angel Nafis mentioned it could change lives. The fact is — all these poets are changing lives. Poetry changes lives. And so does appreciating each other and promoting the profound vision we are so blessed to find via other poets’ eyes.]

No Comments Yet

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.