‘I Am Capable of So Much Love’: An Interview with Ariana Brown

Ariana Brown is an Black Mexican American poet from San Antonio, TX.    She is the recipient of two Academy of American poets Prizes and a 2014 collegiate national poetry slam  champion. Her work has been featured in PBS, Huffington Post, Blavity, For Harriet, and Remezcla. Her poetry explores the intricacies of mental health, identity, and love. You can purchase her chapbook Messy Girl on arianabrown.com.

Claudia D. Cardona: Messy Girl is divided into two sections, “Fail” and “Work”. What was the process like organizing the chapbook and creating these two sections?

Ariana Brown: I took a minute to read through the poems I’d accumulated from that year and tried to see if I could arrange them in a way that read true to my experience of depression, the breakup, dropping out of school. The order of the poems is not exactly chronological—I experienced that year in cycles—but I definitely remember deciding to allow myself to nurture my own sadness; and, much later, I remember deciding to work through it, so I could get to the other side of it. The first section, “Fail,” is comprised of mourning poems. “Work” also holds mourning, but it also holds the possibility of something more. When I was writing “Work,” I couldn’t name what was on the other side of sadness, but I knew I wanted to reach it, and if I was going to get there, I would have to do it consciously. I would have to put in work.

CDC: In the first section, “Fail”, there are several poems that are numbered and bulleted, such as “reasons you are motown”, “a small act”, and may eleventh”. These bullets and lists reminded me of how I often have to break down my tasks and thoughts into lists when I’m feeling hopeless and overwhelmed. Was this similar to your experience writing these poems?

AB: The only poem out of those three that had bullets/lists at the time of writing was “a small act.” The others were edited around the time I decided to put the chapbook together. I usually prefer to write in long, unlineated chunks of text, because it helps me keep track of pacing. I come from a slam background, which in my case, really just means I value how poems sound when read aloud. I find line breaks and other formatting choices to be distracting as I’m writing, so I usually go back and add that stuff later. In the moment of writing, however, I want to pay attention to how the poem flows, how each thought leads into the next. Both “reasons you are motown” and “may eleventh” feel emotionally dense, which is why they got formatted as a numbered list and a bulleted list, respectively, during editing.

CDC: From the first poem of your chapbook, “reasons you are motown” to your penultimate poem, “mercy”, music plays an important part of your healing process. How has music influenced your poetry?

AB: I’m always trying to find a way to describe Motown, the feeling it evokes in me. I think music, especially Motown and soul music, shows up in my life often, so it feels natural to write about. I couldn’t have survived the year of “messy girl” without Otis Redding.

CDC: Messy Girl not only explores your own mental health but also what is passed down to you through generational memory. This is apparent in “alternate memory, or love dances barefoot after the men have disappeared” with the line, “I do not own painless stories of my parents”. Could you talk about this a little bit? 

AB: So, my parents have this amazing love story that ends tragically. My parents met in Air Force basic training, became best friends, then fell in love, and my mom got pregnant. They were thrilled and happy to make plans for the future. Then, a few months before I was born, my father died in a plane crash that made national news in 1992. The entire crew aboard the aircraft died and a mass military funeral was held. It was a big deal.

From all the stories I inherited about my father, he sounds almost prophet-like. The way people describe him—my mom, his best friend from the Air Force (my “Uncle” Carl), his brothers, my great granny, my mom’s mom—he was a man of high morals, easygoing, loved deeply, and was my mom’s perfect match, the person created specifically to love her. And for no apparent reason, she lost him. And her world turned upside down. And seven months later, she had me.

I never met my father, but I imagine he is also my perfect match, in temperament and spirit. I think he would have balanced my mother and I. So when I say I do not own painless stories of my parents, I mean, the life my parents planned together and the short time they had together was the stuff of miracles. It was perfect, in the holy sense. But to remember the miraculous time is painful, because it ended, and can’t ever come back.

CDC: What or who inspired you while writing Messy Girl?

AB: Maybe it sounds silly, but love. Love made me write the poems, revisit what I, while writing, mourned. Love made me believe it was worthwhile to experience heartbreak and depression because even in the midst of all that messiness, love was still present. Still possible. Just like me. I realized while writing Messy Girl that I am capable of so much love, which makes me stubborn, which makes it impossible to stay stuck. After writing Messy Girl I learned to apply that love to myself. And now, I know better than ever, how to work in service of myself and my love. Putting Messy Girl out into the world is a promise to myself to never forget that lesson.

Sin Nombre

By Alyssa Carabez

Veinticuatro
y tengo dos cavidades
y me siento como me estoy
deteriorando.
No soy una persona,
solo una sombra.
No hay permanecía,
tu belleza,
tu juventud,
tu amor.
Todos que conozco es
me gusta cuando estoy durmiendo
en una cama que huele conao tú.
Tus pelos dejados atrás,
cuando sueño sobe estar en tus brazos,
tu voz susurro mi nombre.
Conozco también,
un hoyuelo es solamente una
deformidad del piel.
Un beso es solo un beso.
No hay eternidad,
pero ahora, no me siento sola.
Nosotros somos nosotros.
Eso signifca de todo.
No me siento el peso de mi mente
para un momento.
Quiero que creer puedo ser más.
Quiero explorer contigo.
Lo intentaré.

Hombres Tercos Como Las Mulas

By Guadalupe Cisneros

Tu,
hombre poderoso frente a la sociedad,
quieres pensar que eres dueño de mi cuerpo
solo porque tu eres macho y yo soy el producto
de la costilla de Adán.

No importa si tu comentario es ofensivo,
es la atención la que deseas
donde según tu solo bromeas
y que al final gritarte se convierte en mi mayor motivo.

Que mi lenguaje corporal transmita miedo
que tu hombre poderoso puedes oler,
como perro perdido
en la calle buscando alguien para morder.

Más si una mujer se atreve a defenderse
de tus palabras corrientes;
¡Pecado! Es bruja, loca y además puta.
Al fin y al cabo que ni querías.

Aunque no se si soy yo o es usted.
Obviamente no es ciego, sordo o mudo
pero, ¿Enserio no sabe acerca del consentimiento?

Perdone usted,
que confundí yo la palabra.

Pero no lo niegue.

Tiene miedo al rechazo y
que no signifique nada para las mujeres.
Excusa tras excusa,
sigue usted culpando a la que ni de su posesión es.

Movimiento

By Noemi Iniguez

Before the gold and manifesto destiny, before the West was romanticized, Mexicanos used to live where I live today, and before that Native Americans.

When my dad and then my mother came to California, they were greeted by friends and family. My dad was able to become a citizen in no time, while my mom became citizen of the United States in 2011.

To me, a border, is a sign of movement, movimiento.

A border is supposed to regulate entrances and exits between both lands I am a part of.

I have family on both sides and carry both cultures in my blood.

When I am asked who I am, I say I am a Chicana

Mexican – American

To me, adding a wall to one side, takes away a part of who I am.

Mexican—American.

American.

I am expected to be okay with a wall to part my family, to cut me into two halves, to leave behind where I come from.

On the other hand, I face the wall, but on the otherhand, I face the loss of my family.

I face racism and discrimination of my family who has been here all their life but are expected to move because they don’t have papers.

I face anger as the man who called my family criminals, drug dealers, and rapists is about to be the President of the United States.

Donald Trump is President of the United States.

Mexicanos have been moving back and forth throughout their existence.

From America to Mexico

From being deported and separated from their family

To staying here and facing racism, but working

Trabajando para vivir, para existir.

Para lograr sus suenos.

Whatever they may be.

Moviendo y moviendo

Bailando, corriendo, caminando.

Pero no nos muevas de aqui.

No more.

Estamos aqui para quedarnos.

We’re here to stay, and we’ll still be here, fighting against Donald Trump and his motherfucking wall.

La Libertad

By Rosura Estrada

La Libertad es como el viento, que se viene y se va.
Si no la cuidas, se irá con El Tiempo,
Que no se detiene y nunca regresará.

La Libertad es un grito, es un llanto, que no puedes controlar.
Es el abrir y cerrar de ojos,
Son estos pies que se mueven sin para.

La Libertad es la vida misma,
Es respirar sin tener que sufrir.
Son los ojos que me miran,
Y me dan esas ganas para poder vivir.

Human Disaster

By Kai Parker

Your eyes are flooding
Salty streams of powerful emotions swirl together as you try to blink the damage away
Pain, anger, frustration, sorrow, and defeat
You open your mouth only to have your lips welcome in the warm, salty reminders of the hurt
Your hands go from tightly enclosed fists to open with shaking fingers
Subconsciously swaying side to side as if your soul is trying to escape
The sky reflects the sadness within the depths of your heart
As it begins to beat faster, the sky erupts with monstrous booms of thunder
Raindrops fall heavily to the earth, assaulting the soft terrain beneath them
The lightning flashing through the clouds is almost blinding
Enticing
Even in your most vulnerable, destructive state I am still mesmerized by you
It’s not just your beauty or your mind that has me in awe
Your entire being is powerful
Does that make me selfish?

He Used To Say

By Mirasol Cisneros

What is freedom to you?
I never understood what he meant
He would speak and his words were bent-
Freedom was him leaving at age nine
To a country whose soil he never felt before
Freedom was him learning to ask for
The language of the unknown
But what was freedom to me?
Freedom was a choice given
To me to speak and not be hidden
Freedom was a choice given
To me because he was forbidden
But at the end of the day,
He used to say
Freedom was a choice given.

In The Cave of Me

By Leticia Urieta

In the cave of me, an enclosed chamber which is dank and musty since the passage tumbled closed, I am running my fingernails along the cracks, the crevices crusted over with sediment that has calcified and closed me off from the light that used to filter in and let things grow in the dark. Each pass of my finger, each scrape peels back more and more pieces of glassy sand and dark rock that makes a hole to the outside.

If I let in the light, wind might blow the passage closed again, might sweep away my work and set the cave to howling. I keep scraping, little by little, because rain follows wind, sunlight follows rain and both are needed to grow.

When the time comes, I will raise a glass and drink the cool rain water, holding the cup with blistered, bleeding fingers in a toast to the organisms that sprout in the thin beam of light. With more excavation it will get wider, wide enough to climb through. The cave will always be there long after I won’t need the sanctuary, as ancient as the spinal cord of the mountain or the base that is the feet, a safe haven in the storm for creatures to go in for the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Como Un Grano De Maíz

By Sam Coronado

maiz-SamuelCoronado (1).JPG

Como un grano de maíz,
nixtamalized,
stripped of its hull,
soy yo.

I am inside of the inside,
a tejanx within a xicanx,
a field of sky
beneath the stars.

All at once,
I belong everywhere &
to no one.

Pero con mi subcultura,
como el grano beneath the hull,
the root of the huisache,
mesquite, y nopal
planted firmly in this
sacred, radioactive earth,
soy yo.