Ode to the Head Nod

the slight angling up of the forehead
neck extension                        quick jut of chin

meeting the strangers’ eyes
a gilded curtsy to the sunfill in another

in yourself      tithe of respect
in an early version the copy editor deleted

the word “head” from the title
the copy editor says              it’s implied

the copy editor means well
the copy editor means

she is only fluent in one language of gestures
i do not explain                     i feel sad for her

limited understanding of greetings              & maybe
this is why my acknowledgements are so long;

didn’t we learn this early?
            to look at white spaces

            & find the color       
            thank god o thank god for

                                                             you               
                                                                                        are here.

More by Elizabeth Acevedo

After He's Decided to Leave

When the bottle of hot sauce shattered in the kitchen
he stood in the doorframe, shook his head at the mess.

Not worried if I was injured,
mostly curious at what else it was I’d broken.

You are so clumsy with the things you hold,
he never said.

The red stain on my chest bloomed pungent,
soaked any apology.

I used his shirt, the one I slept in,
to wipe the counter and pale-colored kitchen floor.

That night and the next for a straight week
as he prepared boxes to leave

I hunched and scrubbed the tiles. Couldn’t rid myself
of the things that I’d sullied, of the look he left behind.

Related Poems

You Are So Articulate With Your Hands

she says & it’s the first time
the word doesn’t hurt. I respond
by citing something age-inappropriate
from Aristotle, drawing mostly
from his idea that hands are what make us
human, every gesture the embodiment
of our desire for invention or care & I’m not
sure about that last part but it seemed
like a polite response at the time
& I’m not accustomed to not needing
to fight. If my hands speak with conviction
then blame my stupid mouth for its lack
of weaponry or sweetness. I clap when I’m angry
because it’s the best way to get the heat out.
Pop says that my words are bigger
than my mouth but these hands
can block a punch, build a bookcase,
feed a child & when’s the last time
you saw a song do that?

Spoiled Child

English is your fourth language

the baby of the family

the one your mouth spoils

favorite by default

who may one day be sold off by its siblings

in hopes to never return

all of your other tongues have grown jealous


your country has over 200 dialects

that’s over 200 ways

to say Love

to say family

to say I am a song

to say I belong to something

that does not want to kill me

& does not want to siphon the gold from my

blood or the stories from my bones

A Perfect Game

To this day I still remember sitting
on my abuelo’s lap watching                 the Yankees hit,
                 then run, a soft wind rounding the bases
every foot tap to the white pad gentle as a       kiss.

How I loved those afternoons languidly
                 eating jamón sandwiches & drinking root beer.

Later, when I knew something about                 the blue collar
man—my father who worked with his hands & tumbled
                 into the house exhausted like heat in a rainstorm—
                                    I became a Mets fan.

Something about                 their unclean                 faces
                                       their mustaches               seemed rough
to the touch. They had names like       Wally & Dyskstra.
I was certain I would                 marry a man just like them

                 that is until                      Sammy Sosa came along

with his smile a reptile that only knew about lying in the sun.
His arms were cannons and his skin burnt cinnamon
                 that glistened in my dreams.

Everyone said he was not       beautiful.

Out on the streets where the men set up shop playing dominoes
I’d hear them say between the yelling of       capicu
                                   “como juega, pero feo como el diablo.”

I knew nothing of my history
                 of the infighting on an island on which one side swore
it was only one thing: pallid, pristine.                        & I didn’t know
                 that Sammy carried this history like a                    tattoo.

That he wished everyday to be                 white.

It is a perfect game this race war, it is everywhere,       living
                                  in the American bayou as much as
                 the Dominican dirt roads.
It makes a man do something to his skin that seems unholy.
It makes that same man change               eye color like a soft
                 summer dress slipped on slowly.
It makes a grandmother ask her granddaughter

                                  if she’s suffering
                 from something feverish
because that could be the only excuse why
                                  her hair has not been straightened
like a ballerina’s back                 dyed the color of wild
                 daffodils growing in an outfield.

Sammy hit 66 home runs one year
                                  & that was still            not                  enough
                 to make him feel handsome

or worthy of that blackness that I believe a gift
even today while black churches burn & black bodies
disappear from one day to the next the same as old
pennies.

I think of him often       barely remember what he looked like

                 but I can recall his       hunched shoulders in the
dugout                 his perfect swing
                 & how maybe he spit out       something black
from his mouth                 after
every                 single                                  strike—