Poetry and Democracy: Part Three

In conjunction with The Poetry Coalition’s March 2019 joint programming exploring the theme “What Is It, Then, Between Us?: Poetry & Democracy,” The Common presents four weekly features this month, each addressing and extending this national—and international—conversation.

In this, our third installment, we offer Peggy Robles-Alvarado’s “To the Women Who Feel It in Their Bones” and an excerpt from When Rap Spoke Straight to God by Erica Dawson.



To the Women Who Feel It in Their Bones

Excerpt from a speech given by Don Pedro Albizu Campos, Ponce, Puerto Rico, October 12, 1933:

A people’s sense of unity has to come from women … the woman nurtures the unity of a race, the unity of a civilization, the unity of a people … Puerto Rico will be free, Puerto Rico will be sovereign and independent when the Puerto Rican woman feels free, sovereign and independent. And for the Puerto Rican woman to achieve this unity, she has to feel it in her bones…


Don Albizu dijo que Puerto Rico will rise in the hands of women
Bemba colora, bomba straddling drum, call and response women
Después de llorar, hay que cantar women
Orando en voz alta, healing circle cypher leading women
“We all know God is a woman” type women
“Yo uso falda pero tengo los pantalones bien puestos” women
Black and white Puerto Rican flag-waving women
Nasty T-shirt wearing, cagandose en la madre del presidente women
Maestras teaching by candlelight women iluminando el pensamiento women
greeting students with a smile despite a missing paycheck women

Suicide prevention hotline women, pulling her people off the edge,
off the bottle, off the noose, off the delusion of flying off that building,
holding them all in the arms of her voice, those women
Soup kitchen stove sweating women
“Que Dios bendiga a Puerto Rico” prayed over pots of rice,
conjuring cocinera women
First responder, temporary housing, blue-tarp-tying,
cagandose en la madre de FEMA, rooftop women

Insurgent pajonúa women, brillantes pensadoras moderna women
Independentistas, blogueras, Afro-caribeñas who spell Negra with a capital N
and reserve their two middle fingers for Rosselló type women
Side hustle, side eye, sidewalk, en la esquina, la bandolera del barrio fino women
“Vendo comida, tengo salón en mi sala y te hago las uñas” women
Bodeguera chanting “Yo levanto a Puerto Rico vendiendo vaso en colores”
that type of woman

Midwives, dueñas del empuja y respira que ahí viene nueva vida—that woman
Positioning bodies into portals to the hum of hurricanes,
soul-catching in dark bedrooms, threshold crossing over liminal type women
Care-taking home attendant, hospice, end of life,
Oya’s daughters kind of women,
“We know the real death toll” women, witnessing last rites, last breaths,
working to the last hour, don’t have time for self-care women
“No hay tiempo que perder we must save ourselves” women
Reverse migration Nuyorican del Bronx a San Juan wise women
Packing suitcases full of seeds to replant the island women

Las manos en la masa y en el lodo women
The “Vamos pal’ monte porque esto aquí se llama Borinquen” women
Free Oscar López Rivera women, care-package volunteer women
The “We sending more than just crackers and a juice box” women
“Ahora es tiempo de renacer” women
“Somos la verdadera luz del mundo” women

Somos mothers, madrinas, sisters y abuela women
doctors, lawyers, amas de casa, curandera women
We are poetas, expertas in dying, resurrecting, rebuilding
and la cosecha women

Call us Preciosas, Call us Las Perlas del Caribe
Call us the “We know Puerto Rico se levanta” women
’cause we feel it in our bones




from When Rap Spoke Straight to God

Kool G. Rap said, Cover your head
’cause it’s a dead zone in the red
zone. Rap said, God, now this is ire.

This ain’t no motherland, though fecund
as fuck. Florida’s the only time
and place I’ve said, it’s a black thing,
you wouldn’t understand, like I
will never understand the love
bugs fucking ass to ass, or man
standing his ground, shotgun in hand,
shooting at cans like they’re an unkindness
of ravens.

Seven years I have
mothered this nature into a woman.
The moon, her crevices, a tree
the sharpness of her tough skin split,
the river’s green—refluxing bile.

Eve said, I didn’t need a man to be
my mother. Didn’t need his rib/God’s hand,
to be made. I was already every sea,
the month of Sundays. Tide. The singeing brand
scarring the sky. Woman. The W.

I preceded you,
Adam. You didn’t have to fracture you,
break frame to find me.

While I let you do
the work, putting in work, like you own this land,

I am the ground and its fertility.

You can grab onto this: you’ve been unmanned.

Call this In the Beginning’s constancy
where there ain’t nothing but the cold and hollow
space in your chest.

I’m tidal. Taste me. Swallow.


I, myself, put a rock between my legs
as if I’d birthed it or fucked it dry.


Lord, now I’m going to let my nuts hang.

This is my body others well
received. Between my legs, the eve
of a day’s coming darkness, when a word
sounds something like a destination—

When did we get to nigger? Just
how far is it to nigger?


I tell Lil’ Kim that nothing makes
this woman feel better than telling God,
See my slow goddess and my two
fists, same size as my beating heart.
Same fists, the size of my stomach.

At dawn I fly with Lilith, succuba,
(the winged Night Hag with all her prophesies
inside her pussy) straight to Nineveh
the female place nation debaucheries.

We tear shit up.

There, Jezebel can swear
by some new Baal. And sick and tired Eve
says, damn,
I could have been the rightful heir
to fuck forgiveness, snake like a sleeve
or tourniquet.

It won’t ever get old,
Lilith says, being the moody sex. They don’t
want us hysterical or loud or bold
but like the way they reek of us and won’t
wash off our sour. It will only take
a spark to help us taint the night awake.


When Lauryn Hill found
her manifest destiny
in Gore-Tex and sweats,

I told God that’s all
the heat we need. August haze.
A huge graffiti

Jesus prays on brick.
There’s Domino, nigga. There’s
Rose for the lady.

I breathe Hallelujah’s feminine endings.

Tonight’s not offering its arm
but a place for me inside its hoodie.

I will not wear Americoon,
the blacks, the go-to Halloween
costume for Ivy Leaguers, beleaguered
Bluegum. 5-0,
we see you. White
House, we see you.

That place will turn
to just a storefront, GOLD n GUNS.

A perfect certainty—a storm won’t clean
my sweating skin and all the rain can’t muffle
the What motherfucker What That’s what
I thought Goddamn.

I can do all things
through Christ which strengthenth me.

John saw
the dead
God’s throne.

I see the exodus of light.


Peggy Robles-Alvarado is a tenured New York City educator with graduate degrees in elementary and bilingual education. In 2018 she received an MFA in performance and performance studies from Pratt Institute. She is a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee; a CantoMundo, Academy for Teachers, and Home School Fellow; a two-time International Latino Book Award winner; and author of Conversations with My Skin and Homage to the Warrior Women. Through RoblesWrites Productions, she edited the following anthologies: The Abuela Stories Project in 2016 and Mujeres, The Magic, The Movement and The Muse in 2017. For more information, visit RoblesWrites.com.

Erica Dawson is the author of three books of poetry: When Rap Spoke Straight to God (Tin House, 2018), The Small Blades Hurt (Measure Press, 2014), and Big-Eyed Afraid (WaywiserPress, 2007). Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, The Believer, Virginia Quarterly Review, and other journals and anthologies.  She directs the MFA program at the University of Tampa.

Poetry and Democracy: Part Three

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