The Poet X

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Part I

In the Beginning

Was the Word

Friday, August 24


The summer is made for stoop-sitting

and since it’s the last week before school starts, Harlem is opening its eyes to September.

I scope out this block I’ve always called home.

Watch the old church ladies, chancletas flapping against the pavement, their mouths letting loose a train of island Spanish as they spread he said, she said.

Peep Papote from down the block as he opens the fire hydrant

so the little kids have a sprinkler to run through.

Listen to honking cabs with bachata blaring from their open windows

compete with basketballs echoing from the Little Park.

Laugh at the viejos—my father not included— finishing their dominoes tournament with hard slaps and yells of “Capicu!”

Shake my head as even the drug dealers posted up near the building smile more in the summer, their hard scowls softening into glue-eyed stares in the direction of the girls in summer dresses and short shorts: “Ayo, Xiomara, you need to start wearing dresses like that!”

“Shit, you’d be wifed up before going back to school.”

“Especially knowing you church girls are all freaks.”

But I ignore their taunts, enjoy this last bit of freedom, and wait for the long shadows to tell me when Mami is almost home from work,

when it’s time to sneak upstairs.


I am unhide-able.

Taller than even my father, with what Mami has always said was “a little too much body for such a young girl.”

I am the baby fat that settled into D-cups and swinging hips so that the boys who called me a whale in middle school now ask me to send them pictures of myself in a thong.

The other girls call me conceited. Ho. Thot. Fast.

When your body takes up more room than your voice you are always the target of well-aimed rumors, which is why I let my knuckles talk for me.

Which is why I learned to shrug when my name was replaced by insults.

I’ve forced my skin just as thick as I am.

Mira, Muchacha

Is Mami’s favorite way to start a sentence

and I know I’ve already done something wrong

when she hits me with: “Look, girl. . . .”

This time it’s “Mira, muchacha, Marina from across the street told me you were on the stoop again talking to los vendedores.”

Like usual, I bite my tongue and don’t correct her,

because I hadn’t been talking to the drug dealers;

they’d been talking to me. But she says she doesn’t want any conversation between me and those boys, or any boys at all, and she better not hear about me hanging out like a wet shirt on a clothesline just waiting to be worn or she would go ahead and be the one to wring my neck.

“Oíste?” she asks, but walks away before I can answer.

Sometimes I want to tell her, the only person in this house who isn’t heardis me.


I’m the only one in the family without a biblical name.

Shit, Xiomara isn’t even Dominican.

I know, because I Googled it.

It means: One who is ready for war.

And truth be told, that description is about right because I even tried to come into the world in a fighting stance: feet first.

Had to be cut out of Mami

after she’d given birth

to my twin brother, Xavier, just fine.

And my name labors out of some people’s mouths in that same awkward and painful way.

Until I have to slowly say:


I’ve learned not to flinch the first day of school as teachers get stuck stupid trying to figure it out.

Mami says she thought it was a saint’s name.

Gave me this gift of battle and now curses how well I live up to it.

My parents probably wanted a girl who would sit in the pews wearing pretty florals and a soft smile.

They got combat boots and a mouth silent until it’s sharp as an island machete.

The First Words

Pero, tú no eres fácil

is a phrase I’ve heard my whole life.

When I come home with my knuckles scraped up: Pero, tú no eres fácil.

When I don’t wash the dishes quickly enough, or when I forget to scrub the tub: Pero, tú no eres fácil.

Sometimes it’s a good thing, when I do well on an exam or the rare time I get an award: Pero, tú no eres fácil.

When my mother’s pregnancy was difficult, and it was all because of me, because I was turned around and they thought that I would die or worse,

that I would kill her,

so they held a prayer circle at church and even Father Sean showed up at the emergency room, Father Sean, who held my mother’s hand as she labored me into the world, and Papi paced behind the doctor, who said this was the most difficult birth she’d been a part of but instead of dying I came out wailing, waving my tiny fists,

and the first thing Papi said, the first words I ever heard, “Pero, tú no eres fácil.”

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