Poem of the Week | April 19, 2021

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Not an Ode to April 22nd, 2019” by Gisselle Yepes.

Gisselle Yepes is a Puerto Rican and Colombian poet from the Bronx. They hold a BA in American Studies from Wesleyan University with a concentration in Caribbean Studies. Their focus in Caribbean Studies often frames the islands of and in their poems while holding the oceans that pass through their archives, their body, intuition, memory, and ancestry. Their writing was highly commended with Wesleyan’s Winchester Fellowship and the Sophie and Anne Read Prize. They were, with four students, the CT Poetry Laureate of 2019-2020 within The CT Poetry Circuit. Their work is forthcoming in The Missouri Review and Gulf Coast and has appeared in iō Literary Journal, Voicemail Poems, Wesleyan’s Publication–The Ankh, and Harvard’s Latinx Publication–PALABRITAS. Currently, they are a poetry reader and creative nonfiction reader for The Indiana Review, after reading for The Adroit Journal. Gisselle is also the founder and editor of the virtual editing platform, Gisselle Edits. They currently live in Bloomington, where they are a MFA candidate in poetry at Indiana University.


Not an Ode to April 22nd, 2019

          for Steven

Here are two hands,
they crush birthday cake weed
and none of this is a celebration.
Here is mi tía, she rolls
her hands into her son’s death,
exhales the news out of her lungs.
Here, we are at the dining table
and it is death like it is this cyph
that returns our family home. Here,
a couple hundred cars follow
each other towards the caged doves.
Here, a 12-year-old son frees
the birds and we call them
his father. Here, we cast roses
towards the casket louder
than the bullets. Here, we lie
to mi tía about the shots
that killed her son until she reads
the autopsy. Here, one shot
becomes nine. Here, another odd
number becomes death sentence.
Here, she digs into the casket,
looking for the shot on his neck.
Here, he is infant and peach
without bruising yet. Here,
she faints while a cop kills her son
over the phone. Here, bullets ring
and when we hear them, we count:
How many mississipi’s did you hear
take your son?
Here, we scroll
into another hashtag.
Did you know his name
would become this?

Here, we tell Wela
we’re okay. Here, we do not
answer the phone. Here, we lie
until the funeral ends.
Here, we avoid
another death.
Here, we waltz
into Wela’s apartment holding
each other. Here we are.
A daughter and her mother pour
into each other, shattering
for the son they poured
their wombs into. Here, we pour
shots into the mourning.
Here, alcohol runs in our blood line
so, we drink our wounds
outside the funeral. Here,
we honor how he died.
Here, we outside the club
and none of us
pull out a gun.


Author’s Note

“Not an Ode to April 22nd, 2019” is written with and for my cousin, Steven, after he died in Cleveland, Ohio, after my family and I traveled to Ohio to celebrate his life as in to grieve and mourn him juntos. This poem is one, too, that thinks with the anaphora, the litany in Aracelis Girmay’s poem, “Here,” as it thinks with and revels in rupture, in grief, in noticing how we, Afro-diasporic people(s), more specifically Puerto Ricans, grieve, smoke, love, yell, wail, weep, and silence. The anaphora, the litany in this poem is almost ironic as grief is not constant, here; grief moves, grief breaks, grief creates, grief guns, grief fucks with everything, and still.