Thoughts on “Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths” by Elizabeth Acevedo

This 32-page edition from YesYes Books‘ Vinyl 45 Series is a quick read but demands an almost-immediate re-read, with many lingering tales of superstitions and personal anecdotes. I was left hungering for a thicker collection to sink my teeth into. I drowned in some of the poems here: “La Santa Maria”, which explored the terrible history of conquest and peoples born out of the remains of “an ocean of ghosts / … hundreds of thousands.”

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Many pieces paint a beautiful homage to Acevedo’s Dominican ancestry and cultural traditions, with a little imagination sprinkled in. Poems that explore Trujillo, La Ciguapa, and brujeria mingle with pieces that take on a more personal note, from her family’s immigration to her own body.

Acevedo has been vocal about body positivity and love of self for years, and her poem “Pressing” continues this platform:

“I close my eyes & hold a couch cushion on top of my lap / press thumb to self fervently, moan… / press & pray…”

The honesty, too, in Acevedo’s poetry is necessary. She writes, in “Liminalities”, about a childhood betrayal when she might have given over the “hardened…egg” of another girl’s name to “some older gang members” who proceeded to attack her. She writes also of a time, fictional or not, when she witnessed a young teenage girl being fondled by a European tourist and, after continuing to sip her Presidente, called for help. Justice is twisted up in personal fears, desires, and uncertainties in this chapbook.

One of my favorite themes of Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths was that of her family, who appear in political poems, mythological poems, and personal musings. Her mother, especially, shows up numerous times, whether to tell a bedtime story or show the poet how handwashing one’s delicates results in a superior cleaning.

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My favorite poem is “It Almost Curdles my Womb Dry.” This piece is a promise from Acevedo to her daughter that she will “not smile polite as men make war on her” but that she will be strong enough to resist shame, sexism, violence, and silencing. If we can’t all have Acevedo for a mother, perhaps we can be satisfied with her as a role model and teacher instead.

Photo credit (black and white image): Bethany Thomas

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