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For Syra, Who Asked Me to Sing and Taught Me to Love My Voice; Or Girl Torpedo’s Origin Story

July 2014, Guasacate, Nicaragua

If you have ever stood on the side of the Pan-American Highway at midday in mid-July with a Gringa infant, one with skin so fair some of her veins look drawn on the outside, you will understand the limitations of your own shadow. And if you are standing on the side of the road because someone slit your tire at a roundabout a few kilometers back, you will question the kindness of strangers. And when two good Samaritans go bad, swiping the turquoise L.L. Bean backpack you’ve owned a decade and taken to four continents, the backpack with all of your clothes for this trip, your favorite silver and turquoise earrings, your laptop, your writing notebooks, and almost thirty Cliff bars, at first you will be grateful they didn’t take the diaper bag, but hours later, when you realize you’ve lost every handwritten draft and note you’ve made the past two years, you will stand over your daughter’s pack-n-play and break into “You Are My Sunshine,” meaning the lyrics more than you could have ever imagined. And if at the end of the song she says More–for the first time unconnected to food, having recognized the word might or will deliver more of whatever she requests–you will sing the song again, a little louder, with more confidence this time. And when she says More again, you will laugh, and you will sing with joy this time.

In July 2014, my first book The Things a Body Might Become was still touring the first-book contest and open reading period circuit, accumulating a few semi-finalist and finalist mentions, and I was debating whether I was going to reopen the collection to revise it again. I was unable to truly focus on whatever my next writing project was because I wanted to see this one to completion, and I thought a book contract would signal it being done.

After the robbery, I couldn’t reopen the manuscript. I couldn’t work on anything I had brought on this month-long trip. I had to start over. I had to ask myself what was next and walk down the long, dark hallway of my own vulnerability and fears–how could I protect my own (girl) child in a world that had wounded me, a world that wounds everyone?

So Girl Torpedo began in the leather-bound journal that AJ bought me for our third anniversary, where I first wrote about the robbery itself (which later became “Who Hasn’t Hoarded One Milky Stone in a Deep Pocket?”) and later in the year state-side, I would find myself writing almost daily about police brutality and gun violence (and one of those drafts later became “Punch Line”).

I could not have written these poems without the security and support of my partner and husband AJ, who, despite all of his ovary-busting each time I’ve gone away for a writing residency or conference, truly loves me and supports my writing. And I could not have written these poems without the incredible wisdom and joy and love Syra, my daughter, offers me daily. I have encouraged hundreds of students, of all ages, to give voice to their story; I am grateful that my smallest teacher, my child, reminded me to sing.

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