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TOA by Stephen Garcia

Your grandmother told you

That during times of war your people of Samoa would sing songs to their warriors before entering battle

Tala anga o toa

Mua ia ina mua

You are thousands of miles from Samoa

A G-d’s arm stretch from Denver

Centuries after war and your grandmother’s hymns have not expired

6 brothers - 6 sisters

With the world’s doubt

Gashed across our backs

Your mother sings a different tone for each of us

All born west of the train tracks

A place not many would see as beautiful

Allies like mouths ready to swallow children

Cracked roads

You call it home

The dark side of the classroom

A back seat of the bus

The Tallahatchie River after dark

A place in Denver they thought would never be lovable

Good enough to keep us concentrated

Interment neighborhoods

They call it ghetto for a reason

Hood for a reason

They keep us here for a reason


Not worth a red river bullet hole

A crushed skull kissing dirt

Teeth caved by pavement

Gathered in prisons

Taupou and Matai

Drinking kava from the cup of Death

Courtrooms now fale

For high chiefs

You are their grandchildren

Brown skin targets

Beaten like drums at traditional funerals carrying

Syringe mark war scars

A war for our kanaka

Lost the day you find your older sister in the belly of the beast

Graffitied with blood

A way of showing us this is where we belong

Cries like chants

Spilling from slit throats

Your little sister

Dressed in poverty like you're supposed to be proud of it

Handcuffed boys as common as speech

As common as death

Death is tradition here

To grow with boys who won't make it as far as arms length

A land run by men who want to steal your strength

Kill you unarmed

Crush the little home you have left

Jailhouse you brothers

Return them in caskets

Return them in ashes

Warriors without name

Born on the wrong side of Denver, Brooklyn, Detroit, Los Angeles, (give own line)

Sanford Florida

Brown means blood

Means poor

Means survive if you can

Once royal

Once sacred

Once deeper than the graves you were been born to fit in

You inherit the bloodline

Stand in bodies

Fall when it's time

Rotting is culture

Rotting is tradition

That may live

Through the flesh

Of children


Child you are toa

Child you are warrior

Tala anga o toa

This is the story of warriors

Mua ia ina mua

Go to war and win

Until your skin is royal again

Until your home is yours to stay

Until there is no more war for them to give


What does the title, “Emerging poet,” mean to you?

To me it means that my work is worth taking a second look at. It means that I am still unfolding and learning myself. For the longest time I felt like my poetry was wavering and sort of standing still, but I guess most artists are hard on their own creations. As an art maker I am always drilling my poetry and finding ways to improve my craft, especially behind closed doors. Being an Emerging Poet is a reminder that I am growing and stretching into my poetic skin still. It means that there is still so much to work toward and unravel in life.

Do you consider yourself an “emerging” poet? Why or why not?

I do and I don’t. Emerging isn’t only for the outside world looking in at the artist - it’s also a mirror. I feel as an artist we are constantly emerging and discovering new things about ourselves. As poets, dancers, filmmakers, musicians, etc. we are and should always be grasping for a sense of perfection and refinement in our creativity. I have been a poet for a very long time and have partaken in a ton of competitions at a very young age. When I was on the Minor Disturbance youth slam team (no bed time) I helped win national titles and performed alongside and against some of my poetic inspirations and idols growing up, but that never takes away from the feeling that I am a work in progress and I am “emerging” every day. As a young arrogant poet it took some time to learn, but with the help of some killer mentors I was able to come to terms with who I am as a student of life. I think even the best of us are still emerging. As a gay, Mexican, Samoan poet I have only scratched the surface of my potential.

What do you think it takes to be “recognized” in the poetry community?

I think there are multiple gears that come into play when talking recognition in the community. Consistency, to me, is one of the biggest components. If you really want to be noticed in this sometimes hyper competitive field you have to be the engine that never stops. Showing face, bringing your A-game, and displaying a true and genuine passion for what you do can go a long way in poetry. Sometimes it feels like the collective audience can read through your work and see you for who you are regardless of what you’re saying in your poetry. If you never stop writing and refuse to let the pains of regular day to day life influence your creative channels you’ll do great. I think it also takes a certain amount of openness to learning and taking criticism. Exploring your limits and weaknesses in writing only makes you grow stronger as an individual. It really helps to network your happy little ass off as well. Friends, family and loved ones are huge in this small community of ours and we tend to take care of each other in the right circles. Never being afraid to throw yourself out there and standing up for your art is also a game changer. Be consistent, be brave and run for your goals like your life depends on it.

How do you think power politics shape the poetry community?

The word politics is so cringe worthy to me these days. Even saying it out loud feels like biting into a chunk of rotten fruit. I know I’m not the only one that feels that way. Power politics seems to make it sound even worse. It directly shapes the community by stirring what direction it walks in. Everything we do as poets is either an act of or defiance of power politics. Every entity has an ego and beating heart. Depending on who you’re talking to will tell you which one of those things overpowers the other. No shade. In Denver I am very fortunate to have and be surrounded by a really humbled bunch of people. They’re constantly teaching me what it looks like to be a functioning community with love and support regardless of power politics. Having to prove yourself on a regular basis is a harsh reality, but that can be a good or bad thing. Everyone reacts to each situation differently so it really depends on you. What do you personally think about power politics and our poet community? You want to let it lead you in a negative direction be my guest. I’ll be over here chilling with my loved ones.

What does community mean to you?

The community means everything to me. There are times when I go missing and plunge myself into a separate reality from the real world, but when I come back the community is always welcoming with open arms and kind hearts. The people in my community have taught me so much about myself and what it means to have my own identity and then how to translate that into my work. My mentors and slammates have saved my life and without them I would definitely not be here. I owe the community everything in my creative cells. It has its ups and downs for damn sure, but in the end it’s family. One that will go through the fire and back with you.


STEPHEN GARCIA is a poet, artist, social activist and former member of the Denver Minor Disturbance Youth Slam Team. For three years in a row he has ranked among the top four slam teams in the Brave New Voices International Slam competition. Two of those years as a grand slam champion. Born and raised in Denver, CO Stephen incorporates all aspects of life into his work focusing on his Samoan and Mexican culture, his identity as a queer brown male and much more. His work has been taught to youth all over the country and has been featured in places such as New Zealand.


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