A review of Christine Stoddard's Harlem Mestiza
Christine Stoddard’s chapbook has a striking cover, with the title in large block letters that appear to be cut out of fabric, like quilt pieces. The letters are in black and dark grey, against a cream background. A fitting cover for a chapbook whose narrative arc is that of a biracial girl (mestiza). The poems give readers a glimpse into the speaker’s experience of growing up biracial. We get the first intimation of stigma as early as pregnancy, when her mother “prayed/for my beauty to take after/my father’s blond locks.” In “Separate Stars” the speaker and her mother “cut our/silhouettes out/from dusky velvet/because silhouettes/are all the same color." The child’s search for sameness, for belonging, continues as she and her father stand side by side while looking in a mirror:
Instead, I focus on how my yellow skin
contrast to his ivory complexion
(Father-Daughter Mirror Play)
In “Saved,” Stoddard shares how “any biracial child with/a white parent” has to choose “to identify as the oppressed/or the oppressor.” These poems are full of choices; her parents’ decision to marry despite the disapproval of her father’s family, their bouts of homelessness because that family wouldn’t help, the speaker’s choice of church and husband.
The seventeen poems in this tightly-written narrative chapbook are grounded firmly in New York, packed full of imagery of places such as the Rockaways, Harlem, Macy’s on 34th, 11th Street, Morningside Heights, Washington Heights, and “going to the beach/by A train.”
Harlem Mestiza is available from Maverick Duck Press, for 6$, here.
Nina Bennett is the author of Mix Tape, a rock and roll chapbook, available here.