A Modified Villanelle for My Childhood
with some help from Ahmad
I wanna write lyrical, but all I got is magical.
My book needs a poem talkin bout I remember when
Something more autobiographical
Mi familia wanted to assimilate, nothing radical,
Each month was a struggle to pay our rent
With food stamps, so dust collects on the magical.
Each month it got a little less civil
Isolation is a learned defense
When all you wanna do is write lyrical.
None of us escaped being a criminal
Of the state, institutionalized when
They found out all we had was magical.
White room is white room, it’s all statistical—
Our calendars were divided by Sundays spent
In visiting hours. Cold metal chairs deny the lyrical.
I keep my genes in the sharp light of the celestial.
My history writes itself in sheets across my veins.
My parents believed in prayer, I believed in magical
Well, at least I believed in curses, biblical
Or not, I believed in sharp fists,
Beat myself into lyrical.
But we were each born into this, anger so cosmical
Or so I thought, I wore ten chokers and a chain
Couldn’t see any significance, anger is magical.
Fists to scissors to drugs to pills to fists again
Did you know a poem can be both mythical and archeological?
I ignore the cataphysical, and I anoint my own clavicle.
Copyright © 2021 by Suzi F. Garcia. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 28, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
“This poem was stuck in drafts for a long time when my partner—in a completely separate context—played Ahmad’s ‘Back in the Day’ one Saturday morning. Not only did the song resonate with me, but the way the refrain came in at the beginning, as well as a chorus, motivated the form of the poem. I struggle writing about family or childhood because they can be such large and looming themes. But the structure of the villanelle (and the permission to break it for my own needs) allowed me to focus them into something I could speak about specifically but also in a way that acknowledged the patterns that emerged.”
—Suzi F. Garcia