“Harlem is opening its eyes to September,” observes Xiormara Batista, the heroine in The Poet X. It’s not quite September when she sits on her stoop on a late afternoon and takes in her world before her mom comes home from work.
Xiormara’s mom wants to protect her daughter from the world. Her mother’s experience has taught her that the world is a stifling, unfair, and dangerous place (especially for a woman), so Xiormara must be kept safe from it. No stoop sitting allowed.
Because the world is the apple — crispy, tangy, tart, and ready to taste — that Xiormara is not allowed to eat in Elizabeth Acevedo’s YA novel, which is told entirely in poetry.
We might think that Xiormara is disobeying her mom by sitting on the her stoop, watching Harlem open its eyes for autumn. After all, in the last line of this first poem, Xiormara tells us she must “sneak upstairs” so her mom doesn’t know she’s been outside listening to “the old church ladies” gossiping in Spanish, or watching Peep Papote opening the fire hydrant for the kids to run through, or hearing the thunk of basketballs or the click of the viejos playing dominoes, or noticing the smiles of the drug dealers as the girls pass by in summer dresses. She’s not supposed to be out here.
Xiormara watches for the “long shadows” to let her know it’s time to sneak inside so her mom doesn’t know what she’s done. This is the beginning of her story, the first poem in the book. And in the beginning, Xiromara calls this place home. How can she begin if she doesn’t know where she is? How can any of us?
These days the world is opening its eyes. Since March it seems something great and important has emerged that desperately needs everything we have. Whether Xiromara’s mom is right or wrong (or a bit of both), I think it behooves us all to do some stoop sitting, to observe our world and claim it as our home so that we can begin.
On a late afternoon’s summer day, perhaps when you are supposed to be doing something else, step outside and do some stoop sitting of your own. Give yourself five to ten minutes. What do you notice? What do you wonder? Write a poem about your observations.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s one from Richard Maxson we enjoyed: