Poetry

“I Was a Mixed-Race Zombie,” by MK Chavez

 

I Was a Mixed-Race Zombie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wasn’t born a relentless creature of resurrection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I could, I would eat from the top of my head.

I would feed the seventh chakra, that mysterious Lotus. A thousand petals and twenty layers of

fifty more petals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once I was so invisible that I ate my way into existence.

I consumed the bigot cashier from Joann Fabrics, the man at Whole Foods

who wanted to cut me in line, I ate the wolf-whistler and his wife.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I said—I am pure consciousness because my Lotus ate your Lotus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Lotus eats fear. My Lotus lingers at the gateway of history. Loving vs. Virginia

Liminal skin, one drop, or more.

 
My brother named me dark magic. My uncle sang Brown Sugar at me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children of the emerging paradigm, who will pick you for their team?

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Lotus has eaten every inquiry into mixed race.

 

My lotus mestajize. My Lotus in Spanglish. My Lotus in Salvi-Noir. My Lotus in afro-hyphenate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Lotus eating the binary and then belching.

 

 

Lotus of mystery ethnic and not enough boxes. Lotus of the multiracial multiverse.

 

 

The most terrifying part of the movie is never what you think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What if zombies are just misunderstood?

 

 

Reprinted here with permission of the poet.

[Editor’s Note to Readers: the spacing in this poem is unconventional, but it appears here as the author has intended it. ]

 

MK Chavez is a Black Latinx writer and educator. She is the author of Mothermorphosis (Nomadic Press 2016), Dear Animal (Nomadic Press 2016), and several chapbooks including A Brief History of the Selfie. Dear Animal (Nomadic Press 2016), winner of the 2018 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award, is available for order here. Chavez curates the reading series Lyrics & Dirges and is co-director of the Berkeley Poetry Festival. She is poetry editor at Bronzeville Quarterly. She has been a visiting instructor at Stanford University, San Francisco State University, and Mills College. She is a recipient of the Alameda County Arts Leadership Award, the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award, and the 2021 San Francisco Foundation/Nomadic Press Literary Award. She has received fellowships from Hedgebrook, Caldera, CantoMundo, Community of Writers, and VONA. Her most recent work can be found in the Academy of Poets’ Poem-A-Day series and at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco with the Voice of Trees projects. www.mkchavez.org

 

Interview of MK Chavez by Maxine Flasher-Düzgüneş

Did you find poetry or did poetry find you?

I want to say it was symbiotic. I think we found each other. But I think for me, poetry—at least poetry to slash writing—in general happens and has happened as a point of connection. Certainly it was me trying to connect with the world. And I’d like to think it was the world trying to connect with me. I feel like that happens through serendipity. The first creative writing teacher I had as an adult was Lynn Knight, who is an amazing poet. I do remember Lynn talking about being in the zone and about how when you start writing, something magical happens in that you just are transported into a different place, and I think that within that place, you find it. You find yourself in your own writing, and you find other people’s writings. And I think it’s all a little timeless in a way.

 

What is the time and place of your writing practice?

I travel a lot, so place is more ethereal than it is physical. It can be in a number of different places. But there is something, a physicality, to what I create [that I need] in order to sit down to write. For the majority of the pandemic, I decided to start getting up at 5:30 in the morning and writing at 6 a.m. And then there was a group of writers who I started meeting with. It’s not static; it moves, it transforms all the time, and that does sometimes mean actually making. The corner of the Airbnb where I’m staying is kind of magical, and maybe my crystals and my candles go there. It’s kind of carved out in space in real time. But then it gets dismantled in a few days when I leave and then it gets recreated. So, I’m not creating that all the time. And I’m renegotiating the times when I write. And mostly, I write every day because I need it, I guess. It’s kind of like, I was gonna say brushing my teeth, but not quite like that. It’s more like sustenance. I need it like water. I need it like food.

 

How has the pandemic affected your geographical relationship to poetry? When the world moved remote, did you find that place mattered more or mattered less in your creation process?

When the pandemic suddenly was super serious, I expected that it would have this big, huge impact on my writing—that it would show up. Instead I started to notice that my writing really comes from, exists in a place of instability. And so, I was waiting for the big shift for the big, you know, “oh my god, I can’t write” or “oh my god, all I can do is write,” and none of those things happened. It just continued to be its wild self, you know, with some mornings being super generative and some not being so generative—that weird, magical thing that happens when you write something and then you come back to it the next day to edit it, and you’re like, “Wait, did somebody else’s writing get in here?” I always knew it, but you know, it was kind of like, “Oh, well, look at that. You did that?” And in a catastrophic moment, you remain the same.

 

What does curating events and festivals reveal about where the Bay Area poetry scene can grow and recover from this past year of distance?

I continue to organize online with Lyrics & Dirges. I organize it with Sharon Coleman. And we have been in conversation; we’ve adapted our reading series. So, now it’s a reading series and a popup or writing workshop. We are trying to be responsive to what we see the community needs, and we actually just start a conversation about, well, this reintegration of going into a public space. It’s going to be another moment to kind of take a step back and watch for what people need, ask people what they need. And I’m super comfortable with that. I do feel like there are some things that will never “go back to normal.” I don’t really hold that reality in positive or negative terms. I feel like there are some things that people with accessibility issues have for so long been asking of all of us who do not have accessibility issues—to think about them and to make spaces and events and to create more access. It took a pandemic for us to kind of go, “Yeah, let’s do that.” And so, I feel like maybe that needs to change. It’s just the gift of having a little bit more awareness of the possibilities.

 

What inspired the taxonomic organization of your book, Dear Animal?

It was the book born out of being in an academic setting and deciding on a research topic. I kept pivoting. What I was researching, it was almost like having two dials, where you’re trying to have them match up. I feel like I’ll always write about this; it just is central to my writing, and that’s the experience of being a woman. It’s like everything travels through that experience. It’s not always the central experience. I guess what I mean by that is when I’m thinking about the experience of, say, racism, I’m entering that experience through being a Black Latinx woman. And so what is central might be race as opposed to being woman-identified, but at some point, I am there too. That part, it’s inseparable from all of my other identities; it’s the constant.

The taxonomy was something I arrived at after reading a short story about the naming of things in Adam and Eve, in the origin story and how Adam was imbued with that power to name everything. I realized that I was really trying to name my experience; I was really trying to capture all of these uncapturable factors that go into my day, what makes up my daily experience in the world, and how I am judged, how I am held.

 Tell us about the format of your piece “I Was A Mixed Race Zombie”—how is it meant to be read and/or what kind of encounter do you intend for readers to have?

I would like for this piece to be my introduction. “Hi, nice to meet you. I was a mixed-race zombie.” And then, you know, you read this, and then we can have a conversation. So, in some ways, I always want it to be new. “I Was A Mixed Race Zombie” is actually part of a collection. It is a hybrid work. It has poetry, short fiction, memoir, and film reviews, well, be it alternative film reviews. And it is a book I finished in January. I’m looking at race and trying to understand and explore and untangle my personal identity, but also the place and time that we find ourselves in, in this world around race.

I think it’s a really personal book in the sense that I am addressing the personal experience of not fitting neatly into any category. And it’s also a celebration of my love of horror films. One of my earliest strong memories is of how deeply I identified with the Frankenstein monster. This monster is really misunderstood, you know. He was created and then abandoned, and now they’re coming after him with pitchforks and fire. “I Was A Mixed Race Zombie” is trying to compare that experience of being identified as a kid looking at Frankenstein and saying, “Oh my god, I understand.” I feel sorry for this monster. I don’t think people understand. I think “I Was A Mixed Race Zombie” is like the redux version of me as an adult looking at, “How do I feel? How does it feel to be mixed race?”

 

Tell us about your work in the interdisciplinary sphere—specifically with the Voices of Trees project. What is the importance of the senses when experiencing poetry?

Here’s the description from the Voices of Trees website: “Artist Giovanna Iorio has teamed up with the poet Michael Rothenberg to create “poetry + landscape” exhibits utilizing geolocation technology that will automatically play a poem for the user when they have the app open and walk into one of the points on the map.”

It’s a project that I was invited to participate in through a poet who I deeply respect, Youssef Alaoui, who does a lot of work. He both creates it and participates in the creation of work that is hybrid, that is with trees, which is wonderful because I love a tree. I actually married a tree a couple of years ago. My tree lives in Willits. The poem that’s actually up there is called “What Happened,” and it’s technically a film review of The Happening, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, a horror film. Somebody was just telling me that they were in Golden Gate Park and walking around and kind of holding the app open. And then suddenly I came on, and that’s really exciting!

 

What would be your ideal fairy tale, and how would it be written?

I think that my ideal fairy tale is the fairy tale in which we all get to externalize our superpowers. And, of course, that that might be a little bit disturbing if your superpowers are for evil. What can I say? But if your superpowers are for good, and maybe you’ll have wings, or maybe you’ll be able to change the weather, or maybe you’ll be able to make things grow? Or maybe you’ll just simply have antlers. Be magical. I think I’m probably just a lover of hybrids all around. So, I think that the reason that I love hybrid so much is that on some cellular level, I’ve always known that I was not just one thing.

I think all fairy tales are about transformation. There’s a story, beneath the story. I don’t understand fairy tales in the traditional sense of, like, “Little Red Riding Hood,” for example, which is a common fairy tale. I don’t think it’s about what most people think about, which is “don’t stray off the path,” though I think it is about straying off the path. I think it is about confronting fears and unpacking things.

 

 

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.