I’m Trying to Write a Poem about a Virgin and It’s Awful
She was very unhappy and vaguely religious so I put her
at the edge of the lake where the ducks were waddling
along like Victorian children, living out their lives in
blithe, downy softness. She hated her idleness. I loved
her resilience. Her ability to turn her gaze on small
versions of herself seemed important. The lake wasn’t
really a lake. It was a state of mind where words like
ochre, darken, and false were supposed to describe her
at her best and worst, but they were only shadows and
everyone knows the best shadows always look like
the worst kinds of men. She wanted them badly, so I
took her for a swim. In the lake that was not a lake,
her twenty-five-year-old body felt the joy of being bare
and naive among the seaweed and tiny neon fish, but I
didn’t believe her. And I couldn’t think of anything to
say in her defense. Some people said I should take her
out of the poem. Other people said no, take her out of
the lake and put her in a bedroom where one man is
saying, I can’t help you, and another is saying, You waited
too long. The men sounded like cynical seabirds. When
they said Virgin, they meant Version we’ve left behind.
I didn’t trust them. So I took her to the rush of the sea.
She waded in and waved at me. I turned away. It wasn’t
her fault. She wasn’t the shell I was after.
From Virgin by Analicia Sotelo (Minneapolis, Milkweed Editions, 2019). Copyright © 2019 Analicia Sotelo. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions. http://milkweed.org.
Analicia Sotelo is the author of Nonstop Godhead, selected by Rigoberto Gonzalez for a 2016 Poetry Society of America National Chapbook Fellowship. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, Boston Review, Kenyon Review, New England Review, FIELD, and elsewhere. ‘Tm Trying to Write a Poem about a Virgin and It’s Awful” was selected for Best New Poets 2015 by Tracy K. Smith. A graduate of the MFA program at the University of Houston, Sotelo is the recipient of the 2016 Disquiet International Literary Prize in Poetry and scholarships from the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley and the Image Text Ithaca Symposium. She lives in Houston.
Selected by Ross Gay as winner of the inaugural Jake Adam York Prize, Analicia Sotelo’s debut collection of poems is a vivid portrait of the artist as a young woman.
In Virgin, Sotelo walks the line between autobiography and mythmaking, offering up identities like dishes at a feast. These poems devour and complicate tropes of femininity—of naiveté, of careless abandon—before sharply exploring the intelligence and fortitude of women, how “far & wide, / how dark & deep / this frigid female mind can go.” A schoolgirl hopelessly in love. A daughter abandoned by her father. A seeming innocent in a cherry-red cardigan, lurking at the margins of a Texas barbeque. A contemporary Ariadne with her monstrous Theseus. A writer with a penchant for metaphor and a character who thwarts her own best efforts. “A Mexican American fascinator.”
At every step, Sotelo’s poems seduce with history, folklore, and sensory detail—grilled meat, golden habañeros, and burnt sugar— before delivering clear-eyed and eviscerating insights into power, deceit, relationships, and ourselves. Here is what it means to love someone without truly understanding them. Here is what it means to be cruel. And here is what it means to become an artist, of words and of the self.
Blistering and gorgeous, Virgin is an audacious act of imaginative self-mythology from one of our most promising young poets.