Published on Academy of American Poets (

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

                                                                                        are here.


Copyright © 2020 by Elizabeth Acevedo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 22, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I am working on a series of odes based on small gestures: how Dominicans point with our mouths, how children learn intimacy through childhood games, how Black folks say hello with a head nod. This poem is very much based in the literal situation: can a piece of text hold the friction of a writer writing specifically about such in-group gestures being edited by a well-meaning outsider who ‘corrects’ the language? I wanted to sit with what it means to not only have language lost in translation, but being told even our embraces, our greetings, often color outside the lines of the literary stylebook.”
Elizabeth Acevedo


Elizabeth Acevedo

Elizabeth Acevedo is author of Beastgirl and Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016), as well as the novels Clap When You Land (Quill Tree Books, 2020); With the Fire on High (Quill Tree Books, 2019); and THE POET X (HarperTeen, 2018), which won the 2018 National Book Award in Young People’s Literature. She holds a BA from George Washington University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland. Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion and lives in Washington, D.C.

Date Published: 2020-06-22

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