Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mayda Del Valle @ the White House

Mayda del Valle is a favorite spoken word poet of mine. Her words are always forceful, as though she's shoving them bit by bit hard into your ears and heart. It's as though she wants them to reverberate in you as much as they do in her. This poem I'm sharing with you today I especially love. She performed it at the White House this past May along some other spoken word artists Jamaica Osorio, Joshua Bennett, and Lin Manuel Miranda.

I first fell for her when she performed "The Gift" on Russell Simmon's Def Jam Poetry. From there I began learning more about her. An earlier piece, "Mama's Making Mambo" is especially nice. I enjoy writers who aren't afraid to bring their culture, history, homelands, and ancestors into their poetry. It makes poetry that more rich, and Del Valle is a poet who sees her culture as a highlighter, something she can use to set herself apart from other writers.

Del Valle attended Williams College where she studied Art. She latered moved to New York where she worked her way up in the spoken word scene, winning the National Poetry Slam in 2001. She made history as the first latina and Nuyorican to win the competition. For more information on Del Valle visit her website at

The format, syntax, punctuation are my take on Del Valle's poem, and so is the title for that matter. I'm not sure what Del Valle may call it (as it's not included in the video) though I'm sure this is the appropriate title. I hope you enjoy the words and video. It's brilliant shit I must admit.


grandmother our common thread began in my mama's womb

spun my fetus like a record in her cipher, sampled your stubborn

and mixed in her father's posture. our connection is full circle.

abuela you bearer of children you seer of spirits

you are truly miraculous.

you are the whispers of litanies and white tableclothes,

your melody is captured in the spilled candle wax of my skin.

my tongue's a broken needle scratching through the grooves

of a lost wisdom trying to find a faith that beats like yours.

what secrets do your bones hold? what pattern does your dust settle

into when i beat these drums inside my ribs?

what color was the soil of your grandmother's garden?

grandma how did you pray?

did you store the memory of your creator in strands of hair tucked

into scented soap boxes or placentas buried under avocado trees?

what reservoir did you pull your faith from?

was it anything like this gumbo, this sancocho, this remix of rituals

and chants sampled from muscle memory and spirits that visit my dreams

that I struggle to stir into discipline to honor the unseen

with these shells, this sage, these rudraksha

and rosary beads, these white candles, crystals,

statues, this sweet water, honey, rum, and sweetgrass.

abuela how did you pray before someone told you who

your god should be? how did you hold the earth

in your hands and thank her for its fecundity? did the sea

wash away your sadness; how did you humble yourself

before your architect? did you lower yourself to your knees

or rock to the rhythm of the ocean waves like i do? grandma

how did you pray?

some say faith is for the weak or small minded but I search

for your faith everywhere, need it to reassemble myself

whole from these shards of Chicago ice and island breezes

so i can rewrite the songs of your silence and pain, your lonely

fists, broken toothed smile and burdens into a medley of

mantras. wish you could have shown me its shape but i know

it's in your sacred breath. in the shadow of trees that you

visit me in. in the flicker of flames i stare into searching for

what's divine and i know my body is the instrument my

maker uses to rearrange the broken chords of your history

into a new symphony for my unborn children's feet to dance to,

and i see you grandmother gathering with your sistren to chant

the names of the living and the dead and remind us all that

whether gathered in marble temples around a midnight fire

or block party speakers we have always raised our hands to the sky

trying to touch the invisible force that holds these cells together

into a fragile mass. children of different nations but the same vibration.

we be sound to beat to bass to bone to flesh.

we be sound to beat to bass to bone to flesh.

we are all truly miraculous.

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