I didn’t recognize my face in the mirror today
I did not know my name
Instead a white woman grafts my tongue onto hers
Caging the meat of me behind her gritted teeth
A white man who takes fistfuls of me when he is too drunk
And no one is looking shoves my eyeballs into his sockets and he cries
The white queer who stands with her and her policies and his borders and their bombings
The white queer who could not stand anywhere near Black mother’s mourning
He takes the time to share in my grief today, rubbing my blood on his skin
A cruel sunblock that never saved me but he is furious because it could have been him.
And somewhere there is an attic filled with portraits of our ugly, crying Brown and Black selves
And somewhere a curator, a white gay man somewhere, points to this exhibit and says
This was a difficult time in his history
And he always thinks the subjects of portraits at museums are dead
What does the title, “Emerging poet,” mean to you?
My mind immediately turns to Paris is Burning and the idea of the “up and coming legendary children” and that’s cute for me. But to be completely honest, I don’t have a relationship with the title because part of me feels a bit apprehensive about calling myself a poet in the first place (even though I submitted to this –lol). When I was a graduate student at 22, I experienced hella imposter syndrome in my program. At 27, when I started performing in theatre, I struggled to feel comfortable calling myself an actor. Now I’m 30 and needing to write to make sense of my world and I’m terrified of calling myself a writer, much less a poet. I look at the work of people my age and younger, people who’ve got whole books and bodies of work and I’m like, “What am I even doing?”
Do you consider yourself an “emerging” poet? Why or why not?
I consider myself an emerging poet in so far as I’m trying to be a poet. A few weeks before I turned 29, sam sax invited me to participate in a reading after seeing me at a storytelling show. I freaked the fuck out because I was like “What the fuck am I gonna do in front of all these poets when all I’ve been doing is telling drunk stories about being a ho?” The day before the reading, I received an e-mail from an immigrant rights organization about what to do when ICE agents come to your door, and I needed to respond to the email, somehow. I wrote a thing. I read it in front of people. I hugged Ariana Brown (whom I’d admired via YouTube for forever) after the reading. From there, I’ve just been trying to figure out how I’m a writer. Maybe I’m emerging in that way, bubbling up to my own surface. Maybe. I’m a pendej@.
What do you think it takes to be “recognized” in the poetry community?
Currently, my brain can’t stop immediately equating recognition with being published. Grad school fucked me up like that, I think. That being said, there’s hella people whom I see as having made it having no books out. People like Loyce Gayo and Ariana Brown are personal heroes for me. They don’t have books out, but I’d put down good fucking money that their work has saved people’s lives and that’s an important kind of recognition for me. I’d be mad excited to be that for somebody.Pero, esta cabron.
How do you think power politics shape the poetry community?
I feel uncomfortable answering this question because I don’t feel like I have any authority to know what “the poetry community” is.But wherever there’s smoke, there’s white people, so. That being said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout out the mentoring and world-building work that queer poets of color like Saeed Jones, Danez Smith, or Franny Choi do for others. That’s the kind of power I care more about; horizontal and dispersed and focused on the survival of others all at once.
What does community mean to you?
Community is a contentious fucking word and I think it’s hella volatile. For me, it’s ultimately about finding your people. Community is the act of building a network of gente that gives a fuck about you breathing and seeing the next day and who will see your work and know you in it and love you for it. I think whoever motivated you to live after 2016 is your community. After the Pulse, after Alton, after Philando, after that fucking election cycle, after that fucking election, after ideation, I housed myself inside of Ariana Brown’s poem, “Curanderismo” for months. It’s how I started and ended my days. She checked in on me and I checked in on her. Then, I went to work, and taught my high school students, mostly Latinx and Black, and shared the poem with them, and we all lived there together for a while, and we were all alive. And we are alive, together. That’s community to me. Organizations and professional worlds and all that shit is cute for what it is, but the people that nourish me is where my community is at. Community is the ladies that work at Panaderia La Mexicana in Austin, Texas and the Black and Brown folks who’ve got nothing but us and each other and love on each other that much harder because of it. That shit is where I live; that’s my community.
JESUS I. VALLES is a queer, Mexican immigrant, educator, storyteller, and performer based in Austin, Texas. Jesus has been yelling about things for over a decade and doesn’t see that ending any time soon. Jesus was a finalist for the Write Bloody 2016 poetry contest and is excited to take the risk of putting work out in the world. As a writer and storyteller, Jesus has presented work at Greetings, From Queer Mountain!, The Megaphone Show, The Encyclopedia Show, and The Austin Storytelling Slam. As an actor, Jesus works with multiple companies including Teatro Vivo, Lucky Chaos Theatre, and Scottish Rite Theater, and The Vortex (where they are a proud company member). Jesus is continuing work on a poetry manuscript tentatively called UnDocuments, which will have its first reading and workshop at The Vortex in September of 2017.