She’s a self-proclaimed bruja, possibly a real actual pirate, a bookseller, and a nationally recognized spoken word poet who’s part of the 2015 National Poetry Slam championship winning team. Melissa Lozada-Oliva embodies all of these titles and can be found juggling them masterfully in Boston. She’s previously been published in Electric Cereal, Sidelines, Microchondria, and Jaded Ibis Productions. But if you want to hold her writing in your hands, head over to Pizza Pi Press and get yourself a physical copy of her recent book of poems, Plastic Pájaros.
In Plastic Pájaros, Melissa meditates on the plight of the 20-something, future things, pained communication, life as a first-generation kid, and the strength of the women in her family. She weaves in and out of each poem, seemingly switching topics, but maintaining the same reflective and revelatory mood throughout.
Her poem, “you are at a job interview being shown around the office and your black thong underwear is on the floor,” captures, without missing a beat, the dread of being a first-gen creative who really needs a job. It’s an uncomfortable feeling; one that calls for the grueling re-working of your resume and cover letter for Craigslist ad after Craigslist ad. The interview you don’t want but are thankful for and force yourself not to flub because you want this job that you don’t want. In a particularly poignant section, she writes:
what is it called when you want everything
to go well because if it doesn’t then essentially
your parents’ citizenship doesn’t matter?
how do you not
feel an old pair of underwear nestled in your
fucking pant leg I mean shit
they offer you the job
but you still cry on the train ride home
because even though it is the eleventh
and most successful interview
you do not want it
Any first-gen kid who chose to pursue the arts can tell you about how they relate to this. The weight of your parents’ sacrifices forever sits heavy on your chest, and in taking your breath, reminds you not to fuck it all up. Not to fuck up this chance your parents worked so hard to make available to you. No pressure, right? Melissa proves otherwise.
Both the opening and closing poems of this collection are odes to the strength of women. Specifically, the strong women in Melissa’s family. In the first poem, “How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse as an 82-Year-Old Guatemalan Grandmother,” we learn that no matter the venue–whether it’s a post-apocalyptic world or the present one–Melissa’s abuelita don’t play. Of course, naturally, there’s some pretty hilarious imagery here as an arthritic, diabetic grandmother brandishes her $2.99 knife for “LA BATALLA!!!!” but there are more serious moments too. In a more sobering instance, Melissa writes:
You are your mother’s disappointed face.
You are the night you gathered your three children and ran from a husband who
Stopped reaching for your hips and started reaching for his beer, his belt.
The whispers of puta and bruja in the wind.
You are no school, no speak English, no husband, no read words, no spell words,
Signature only, mas sugar, all puta and bruja all ready to survive with just head, just
mouth, just hands, just sweat, just prayers just eso eso eso.
Grandmothers can be tough in the ready-to-fight-zombies-to-save-my-grandchildren sort of way, but also in the simple way of letting their family know that they’ll do everything in their power to assure that home-cooked meals, love, and protection will always be a constant.
Enter the final poem in Plastic Pájaros, “the women in my family are bitches.” Melissa ends the collection with a celebration of the women in her life and their many personalities. The good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful. All of it. She writes:
sing to the scabs on her knees when she falls down! bitches
give abuelita bendiciones! bitches
it’s okay not to be liked! bitches
on our own til infinity! bitches
the vengeful violent
pissed prissed and polished
lipstick stained on an envelope
I’ll be damned if i’m compliant! bitches
It’s hard to think of a more tender, touching, fiery way to bring this book of poems to a close. It carries an energy that promises there’s more spunky, smart, and powerful work to come from Melissa Lozada-Oliva.
(PIZZA PI PRESS, POETRY, PAPERBACK, 2015)
NEYAT YOHANNES is an Eritrean-American writer who’s from LA, but just moved to the Bay. By day, she doles out ice packs to kids who don’t need it as an elementary school office lady turned unofficial nurse. She spends the rest of her waking hours writing, attempting to be more formidable like Whitley Gilbert, and trying to keep Drake lyrics from constantly spilling out of her mouth. You can read some of her published work here. She tweets as @rhymeswithcat and occasionally blogs here.