Monday, September 28, 2009

Study in Sunflowers

Sunflowers in Hudson River Park, NY, NY
Summer 2008

All above photographs
Copyright Xiomara A. Maldonado 2008

Sunday, September 27, 2009


My mother grew up in those projects over there,
my father in a broken family and foster homes.
My grandparents no "spika de Ingles,"
or at least not very well,
and me, I’m an American,
as Puerto Rican as a jar of caviar,
but I won’t let you say it.

I will NOT be ghetto.
YOU'RE the childish one
playing with three cars and two cell phones—
one for business and one for sex, you said.
I say, I will NOT provoke you
the way you insult me...
These STREETS don’t own ME.

To you, what is intelligence
besides the heirloom
of the white child?
You're so stuck on capitalism,
you forced your son
out of high school
and into working
fifteen-hour days
at your shady corner store,
one of thirty-three.
And now that he wants his GED,
you threaten to fire him!
He can't even visualize
having a PhD.

Don't forget his mother,
your wife
all three of your wives,
live years without you.

What is faith to you
But the reservation
of your place
in Virgin Paradise?
You're so...
Busy bribing female
customers, young girls,
with modeling jobs,
then selling them
for sex instead.
You think pimp is a master title,
but I do not consent
to your power.

What is imagination to you
But a quirk of childhood?—
Nothing, like you are
nothing but a shadow
of a serpent,
cheating to conquer
The American Dream.

Copyright Xiomara A. Maldonado 2009

Note: This poem is a spoken word piece that I've performed at various events. I'm working on getting audio for my poetry.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Incarcerated Youth & The Arts

Antonio Ramirez's article, "Minor Offenses: The Tragedy of Youth in Adult Prisons" on Wire Tap Magazine, details a compelling interview with Campaign for Youth Justice's Liz Ryan about racial justice for young people of color in the prison system. In this interview, Ryan says that over 7,000 young people can be found in adult jails and about 2,000 young people can be found in adult prisons every day.

She explains, "The deeper you go into the [prison] system, the more young people of color you find. And you see disparate treatment of young people of color when compared to their white counterparts." (Liz Ryan, Campaign for Youth Justice, Interview with Antonio Ramirez). Unfortunately, negative social and media perceptions of young people in incarceration/juvenile detention convince authorities that it is okay to mistreat and neglect these young people.

The article mentions Dwayne Betts, author of the memoir A Question of Freedom," who came of age in the prison system. As Betts indicates in the video below, youth in solitary confinement have very little access to educational resources, such as libraries. Lucky for him, someone passed him a book of poetry by black authors, and he discovered that he could use his voice as a vehicle for change in his life and in his community.

The work that I do with Voices UnBroken, a nonprofit organization based in the Bronx of New York City, seeks to address these issues and allow more youth to experience the power of creative writing. The core of Voices UnBroken's work is based upon the use of art to reach these young people and help them to develop communication skills that can help them to succeed in life. Voices UnBroken provides high quality creative writing workshops to youth in highly transitional settings, such as incarceration/juvenile detention, drug treatment, and residential and rehabilitative programs.

Voices UnBroken understands that incarceration is a traumatic experience for young people, as they are often exposed to violence and rape, and that this trauma compounds the ill effects of any prior negative life experiences on their emotional, mental and physical health. In workshops, these youth show that they are mislabeled as "disconnected" or "at-risk" youth by the state; in fact, they are very connected to their experiences and want only to be heard. Like Betts, these youth are able to use creative writing to engage in self-reflection and critical thinking about their persons, their lives and their communities. Through creative writing programs like Voices UnBroken's, youth can access the tools they need to heal and to grow. And those who judge them can recognize all of the potential that lingers in confinement.

Prison Poet

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Kisses Like Your Eyes

Your eyes are open windows framing cloudless sky.
Your hair is soft obsidian's dark curling shine.
Your skin is sweet like rosewater, alluring and kind.
Your smile is an anecdote, accented and bright.
Your laugh is gentle spice and intoxicating wine.

You are beautiful.

Your mouth is a carnation, a delicate pink listener.
Your hands are like comforters in the arms of winter.
Your words are like dancing with our hips pressed together.
Your lips are like dreams I want to always remember.
Tus ojos son Bermudian bays, besos mojados, in summer.

Eres bellísim_.

Copyright Xiomara A. Maldonado 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Georgia O’Keeffe: Ram’s Head with Hollyhock, 1930

Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Georgia O’Keeffe: Ram’s Head with Hollyhock, 1930

She strokes the brightness of light

Her first memory, birthed amongst white pillows—

Sensually into hollyhock; a cloud of petals against plush, cumulus sky,

The stemless flower floats, protected by the curve of a weathered horn.

Empowered, the fleshless ram cuts canvas, looming

Above an untouched desert that she can feel in shapes and colors;

(And to paint, she must feel). ‘OK,’ she signs, perhaps smiles.

Copyright Xiomara A. Maldonado 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Hemp around your wrist hemp around my neck
We say we believe in universal connectedness
I rub your back as if I love you
But your green cotton heart fear has wrinkled
If the shutter snaps we may not remember us

Copyright Xiomara A. Maldonado 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009


My former boyfriend held my fighting fingers
as he ran his buzzer through my forest.
The soft hair fell like ash, black wisps floating
from between my thighs and onto dusty steps;

yet, trimming was not enough of a sacrifice
for him, and so I sat in the bathtub, slicing
away the uneven remnants of my Eden,
now a child’s garden, or a scalped peach.

Your coochie’s as smooth as a baby’s bottom,
He said, touching me. I’m going to eat you.

In my womanhood’s white coffin, I sat, crying
over my burning vagina’s new name,
its desert gleaming with water like the tears
that coat my cheeks when night falls,
and I’m twelve again, fearing vampires.

Copyright Xiomara A. Maldonado 2008

Poet Timothy Donnelly's comments on me and "Incubus"
Xiomara Maldonado is an ambitious, forceful, outspoken poet with a fine sense of form, pacing, and dramatic moment. Particularly memorable is the poem "Incubus," which ventures into daring territory but manages to do so with great artistry and insight. Its complex portrait of sexual objectification and infantilization suggests the speaker's own bewildered complicity in the dramatic event at the heart of the poem, while the description of the other in the poem as her former boyfriend (italics mine) suggests that the speaker, strengthened, has found the wisdom to move on. I’m also fond of the poet’s wide-ranging allusiveness - it makes for an interesting counterpoint to her exuberance and street smarts.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Water-Boarding: Museum

Turmoiled white splattered to edges,
Paint a life of layered tension,
Hide it in this poem.

Woman with her throat cut,
Metalled body, knifed body,
Sculpt this poem.

Copyright Xiomara A. Maldonado 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009


squirrel sitting in the shadow of his tail,

begging, with whiskers needling his grey-gold snout,

and eyes, unmoving, like black séance balls.

braking the bike, I surrender to his badge of white

as if to the fatal allure of headlights. fearfully, he looms,

centered between rails, green beams running uphill.

sweating, i shiver.

i imagine the black front wheel

kneading, imprinting its grooves into his lean meat—

do his clenched fists sweat too?

Copyright Xiomara A. Maldonado 2009

Photo Copyright Xiomara A. Maldonado 2008

Write Intent


[...] till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing, Heavenly Muse, [...]

--John Milton, opening of Book 1 of Paradise Lost

Nine Muses dancing with Apollo, by Baldassare Peruzzi
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Write Intent

Paradise Lost, he wrote, calling on his muse and for balance,
like when I pled, “Spirit, move within me!” following church elders.

How to push out poems like Milton’s wet womb
of a world releasing jaguars wholly perfect,
untortured as of yet by man, still unnamed?

I no longer wait for my muse’s voice, waiting to create
justice, but if she comes with comfort, I will kiss her
traveled feet and ask for Milton’s power.

Copyright Xiomara A. Maldonado 2009

Eshet Chayil

“…a poet must write, if [s]he is to be ultimately at peace with [her]self”

-Abraham Maslow-

I do not believe that my parents’ naming of me was accidental, although, at the time, they did not know that Xiomara meant “ready for battle” in Spanish and Andrea meant “(wo)manly,” “courageous,” or “warrior” in Greek. Similarly, the Hebrew phrase eshet chayil biblically represents a woman of valor who is also ready for battle, and I have decided to adopt that name for my future poetry publication. Having been described by Timothy Donnelly, as “an ambitious, forceful, [and] outspoken poet,” my name seems quite appropriate. Armed with words, I expect to fight a life-long battle for social justice,

To me, the written word embodies power: the power to change society through the minds of its members; the power to give lost youth a life’s purpose; the power to return the voices of society’s marginalized members to them; the therapeutic power of releasing concerns and pain to paper (or word documents); and the power to inspire other, perhaps greater, art. Through my writing, I desire to achieve the following: raise awareness of contemporary social issues; reclaim language in order to combat gender inequities, racial and socioeconomic injustice, and the negative propaganda of established institutions; encourage others to empower themselves through art; and represent myself, express who I am. As Jorge Luis Borges identifies himself in his essay, “Borges y Yo,” or "Borges and I," the Borges who experiences life informs Borges the writer, and both are housed within a single flesh. Therefore, in order to define Xiomara the writer, I must identify Xiomara the life-liver; and to define the latter, I must first look to my family’s talents, values, and ethnic, migratory, and economic history, and then I must look to my life as it is experienced by my body and by my mind.

I am the first in my family to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree and the first to do so from an Ivy League university; I am also the first to compile a manuscript of poetry. I owe these accomplishments, not only to my own dedication and hard work, but to God and to those generations who passed their intelligence, creative artistry, desire for justice, and aptness for perseverance on to me. Like me, my mother is an avid reader, and I can often find her indulging in the writings of Esmeralda Santiago, James McBride, or Toni Morrison, in addition to the authors of various books bought on sale from the Strand or the New York Public Library. My father loves to read books on Martial Arts, and he has built a business on his love of fluid movement and his synthesis of several art forms; I have found that this craft is surprisingly similar to that of poetry. In New Jersey, Tío Ralphie houses books of interest, such as the unabridged version of Anne Frank’s Diary and Towards Understanding Islam, as well as beautifully bound tomes of Walt Whitman’s and Edgar Allen Poe’s poetry; and Tío Victor, who has added yearly to his library, once took from it to give me my favorite birthday gift, rich in literal and allegorical details: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Finally, Tío Willie’s acrylic illustrations of Puerto Rico’s houses and landscape represent only some of the vibrant colors swirling in his head, and his instruments—the congas, bongos, and keyboard—have long been a source of loud entertainment at family functions. Now, the talents of these people shine through their children: through my sister, who is a dancer, poet, artist, and musician all at once, through me, the aspiring poet, and through my cousins, all of whom have great potential.

My maternal grandparents, who only completed elementary school because they were unable to afford school lunches, let alone shoes for the long walks to and from school, worked hard from very young ages. In 1955, at the ages of 17 and 25, respectively, my grandfather and grandmother permanently left the mountains of American-colonized Puerto Rico, temporarily leaving their firstborn there, to work in New York City’s toy and textile factories, where low-wages, long-hours, unsafe conditions, and racism was the norm. When my grandmother stopped working to take care of my mother and her three brothers, my grandfather managed to find a job as a taxi dispatcher, opened a record store, and saved enough money to buy his own taxi medallion. Cunningly, my grandfather would replace the z in his last name with an l so when taxi company officials saw Mendel, they would think he was a white Jewish man instead of a “mulatto,” as he is described on his birth certificate; they would then call on him sooner than later. When my grandparents finally moved from their furnished room in Chelsea to the projects of the Lower East Side, the buildings were still surrounded by unpaved streets, and my mother often missed school, although it was right across the street, to translate for her parents.

Similarly, my paternal grandparents arrived in the L.E.S. from Puerto Rico in the 1950s, just before the Korean War and some years after WWII’s end; my grandfather worked in a toy factory and my grandmother lost the tip of her thumb while working in a textile one. Not from lack of love but in order to escape the everyday pressures of immigrant life in America, my grandparents succumbed to alcoholism and left their twelve children to experience life’s ups and downs for themselves. Ironically, my parents met on the L.E.S. when my father hailed my grandfather’s taxicab outside of Gouveneur hospital where my mother worked. With my parents’ marriage, the histories of their two families merged, and now these pasts shape the worldviews, aspirations, and art of their daughters.

My writing reflects what my parents have long taught me: love for God and love of nature; the importance of faith, education, and generous, community-oriented spirits; and the ever-present possibility of transcending socially constructed barriers. My writing reflects, too, what my ethnicity has taught me: the ravishment of land and dark bodies by European men, the painful prongs of prejudice created and used by American institutions, and the strength of Puerto Ricans to overcome these injustices.

The writing you will encounter in this blog is stimulated by daily journeys through my urban home—New York City’s parks, apartments, piers, subways, concrete, stoops, boroughs, rivers, buildings, and corner stores, and my interactions with the people who traverse these spaces. Each social interaction, whether with the man who just smoked crack and insists on repeating that the woman is the holy grail and ought to smile quietly during “man’s talk,” with my Muslima suitemate about her medical ambitions, or with the neighborhood guys about “hot” streets, influences my thought and my life and, thereby, my poetry. Seeking constantly to be at peace with myself, with my history, my present, and my future, I intend to write poems for the rest of my life, poems that are simply the musings of a Puerto Rican church-girl from the Lower East Side.