by Julian Randall
Grace. Were it appropriate dear reader, I would spend this whole editor’s note writing that word and perhaps only that word and we would both understand the other. We would perhaps both understand each other because we would be inside of a language with the dexterity to hold us, not to bring us into beauty but to acknowledge that it was a territory upon which and against which we were born. Ariana Brown’s work deals in such grace, and I would give you that word at this space where memory and history fail again to see us though we see them with greatest clarity. But alas, Brown’s speaker, like so many of my fellow Black Latinx folks are marooned too often “in Spanish O language, / in which there is no word / to describe me with grace.” And what exactly is it besides memory to find “three pencils & a set / of hands in my hair.” besides the isolation of finding oneself at the receiving end of history?
And yet Brown does not stay there, instead she pivots from memory into invention. “Alternate Names for Pelo Malo” finds us at its title ending in the pervasive anti-Blackness of Spanish; this often blunt language too many of our ancestors learned at the hands of men riding horses, men riding in the name of empire. From this language which renders briefly graceless and terrorizes the speaker in the first poem Brown is inventing a new language. I love that this poem is exclusively in Spanish and making a new Spanish as it goes “pelo vivo”, “vencedora del peine”, “bailarina del mar” These are names I can translate but won’t, the poem demands they take the language attempting to throttle the poet, her speaker, and bend them into triumph, into an utter grace that ultimately leads us to an ending where at the end of a personal history the name we are left with is that that of the self. If the task of the poet is to make of language the music it always was meant to be, then like Brown’s contemporary and sisterfriend Sasha Banks, Brown has crafted a world in which a graceless language is hers to command. It is a promise fulfilled, to witness this poet at the height of her powers.
Brown pivots once more, seemingly effortlessly into landscape of a different kind. From the landscape of the immediate self into “Mustang.” In this poem the history and legacy of the mustang itself is born out, we find the main speaker of this poem in high school and it’s a nice arc from finding the speaker of “How Many Güeros Does It Take to Kill Me” on the first day of First grade. While these are not necessarily the same speaker I appreciate that these ongoing questions of conquest follow not only the arc of language but of a school as a space undivorceable from the theft it is built atop. The move is subtle, and it delivers. The history of the mustang is, in fact, as old as the story of conquest as old as hands that lost a horse and so a new history was made until one history was bred nearly out of existence into this “blue collection of ache” that Brown locates us in. But where we are located is also not necessarily where we are left. Brown’s speaker imagines “having a body that outlasts / this moment” And this poem, in the spirit of making a new history opens a little window into a brief and better world before the poem closes. I’m grateful Ariana let me live inside it for a while, I will be returning to her grace and her worlds eagerly for as long as I can read in any language.