Words That Sustain Me: The Poet X

The book that we feature for the month of August is, ” The Poet X” by Elisabeth Acevedo. This gem of a book is written in verse making for a quick read, an is my book club collaborator Ali’s pick.

This story is about a first – generation American fifteen year old girl whose family is from the Dominican Republic. Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood — but secretly pours her dreams and frustrations onto the pages of her notebook like prayers.

Xiomara a teenage girl, is taller than her papi, and whose mami has always said had, “a little too much body for such a young girl”. Xiomara says, “I am the baby fat that’s settled into D-cups and swinging hips.” In her words, she is,”unhide-able.” Which has resulted in her developing skin that’s just as thick as she is.

Because Xiomara is unhide-able, her ultra religious Mami watches her with suspicion, waiting for her body to betray her mind and fall prey to sinful lusts.

Xiomara has a twin name Xavier, who is her opposite in just about every way possible. He is a genius who goes to a genius school and is kind gentle and frail. Xiomara has spent her life bloodying her knuckles in defense of him. Her hands becoming fists learning how to bleed when other kids try to make him a wound.

When they were little, Xiomara would come home with battle wounds and her mami would gasp and shake her saying, “girl you’re always fighting! Why can’t you be a lady or like your brother? He never fights.” Xiomara never tells mami that’s because he never has to because she does it for him. Her mami gifts her the name Xiomara (which is not even Dominican,) meaning one who is ready for war, (she Googled it) and now curses how well she lives up to it.

This is another great book that took me back to my childhood being raised by very religious parents. In Xiomara’s case it was her mami. In my case sit was my father. I remember that for most of my teenage years, me and dad essentially spoke different languages. I couldn’t understand him and I didn’t think he could understand me. Like Xiomara, I was born to old parents who no longer drank, smoked, danced or listened to the music of their Tejano culture. Bye the time I come along all that sinning was replaced by church. If the doors were open we were there.

Xiomara’s highschool English teacher, Ms. Galindo’s first assignment is to, “write about the most impactful day of your life.”

Xiomara writes about her twin saving up enough lunch money to buy her a leather covered journal for their birthday. Twin said she didn’t talk enough so he hoped this notebook would give her a place to put her thoughts. Sometimes she dresses her thoughts in the clothing of a poem. Since that day, it seemed like Twin was saying her thoughts were important and from then on she’s written every single day. And this is how the girl whose name means warrior became a writer and a poet. How she joins her school spoken word poetry club, and how she became a slam poetry champ!

Favorite Quote: Page 76.


When the class starts Ms. Galindo projects a video:
a women onstage, her voice quite,
then louder and faster like an express train picking up speed.

The poet talks about being black, about being a women,
about how beauty standards make it seem she isn’t pretty.
I don’t breathe for the entire three minutes

while I watch her hands, and face,
feeling like she’s talking directly to me.
She’s saying the thoughts I didn’t know anyone else had.

We’re different, the poet and I. In looks, in body,
in background. But I don’t feel so different
when I listen to her. I feel heard.

When the video finishes, my classmates,
who are rarely excited by anything, clap softly.
And although the poet isn’t in the room

it feels right to acknowledge her this way,
even if it’s only polite applause
my hands move against each other.

Ms. Galindo asks about the themes and presentation style
but instead of raising my hand I press it to my heart
and will the chills on my arms to smooth out.

It was just a poem, Xiomara, I think.

But it felt more like a gift.

The Poet X is another great book that gives the reader a glimpse of what it’s like to be Latina growing up in the barrio. It’ll make you laugh and make you cry and I’m thankful Ali suggested it for August’s read. It’s another one that’s worthy to be part of the collection of books read by our “Words That Sustain Me” book club!