x/she: stardraped from 1913 Press
Winner, First Book Prize by John Keene, Nominee for Pushcart Prize
Excerpt & Praise for the Book
I am becoming star draped. My circumference rotates around victim blood that circles interiors.
Xquic finds the head of a friend hanging from the calabash tree.
She climbs up to set it loose, scrambles onto a thick torso of a limb.
Bough between legs, and hands ruined with splinters, she rocks
the head back and forth until she sets it free.
It falls to the ground, rolls around the trunk and stops below her,
eyes facing up.
The city sacrifices me, I make pity a sacrifice, it echoes down alleys, against dumpsters and crumpled bodies of trash/flesh. They breathe or they snore or they take a last breath of this plague. The city is too fast for me, I move faster to fool it. Fool, me. Plunge fists into unseeing. Here the air and water are the same: to touch immersing, questions swallowed—any possible understanding distorted by water and as wet as dust. A mother would know the blur como hijo, hija.
Six laughs once happy now force-fed. The gods see me [us] as flowers.
He hands me his hands, I map out the cracks, the city in the lines, emanating from the palm outward, like downtown to its satellites. Hands warm, moist, they’ve been digging in sand/something he lost. They direct me toward ghosts that watch waters, just residual yearning, leaning over the pier, they drop and drop and drop: death in a moment, but first weightless. We understand nothing of this pull to the edge, head towards it anyway. We gallop, we squeal we succumb. We laugh with tears and tear at air. We whisper to ourselves we seek reckless we shape oxygen balloons with our breath, rushed and panting, we head toward the breaking waves.
Xquic looks happy—just a gesture of recognition, bemusement.
She transfers the friend's head to a small embroidered bag,
she carries across her back.
It bobs against her shoulder blade as she steps,
like a solemn lashing.
The night is
seeping. There’s blood to fill in the gaps.
Praise for x/she: stardraped
Laura Vena’s x/she: stardraped consists of a series of overlapping journeys—spiritual, cultural, linguistic, cartographic, geographical, psychic—mapping onto what was and has become the landscapes we know as Los Angeles and Southern California. Her long poem calls upon the ancestors, upon myth, upon the natural world itself, as its lyric speakers convey the depth and richness of their exploration and the immensities of the worlds they move through, stating towards the collection’s end that “I have learned the language of the winds and to hear what’s whispered below / Learned the light offered me / To this vastness I submit.” Vena’s poetry in x/she: stardraped represents an impressive new contribution to the ever-expanding body of contemporary American poetry and ecopoetics.
—John Keene, Counternarratives and SEISMOSIS
One of the poem’s jobs is to activate history, to make the stories that lie beneath our feet live to us again, to situate us in relation to each other, and to the trees and animals we live among. In Laura Vena’s x/she: stardraped, we move in a landscape whose depths are constantly sounded, so that we may scrape beneath the asphalt to the source. Thus, we locate ourselves in the eternal drought, drink, and by drinking in the testifying poem, are led to witness.
—Eleni Sikelianos, Life of Jon and The California Poem
Beginning with a lament (and the found head of a friend), x/she: stardraped traces the archeology of the Los Angeles River in a mythic journey of witness, of song. This is a book chanted in the thick concrete night, a reckoning and reclamation, a narrative and lyric time-transport. Like the Justice card in the tarot deck, x /she: stardraped understands how the present tense—translate, witness, sing, release—is also an invocation of what will be. Laura Vena’s shimmering novel-in-verse dares to “rewrite the city,” to “remake the world with their dance.”
—Teresa Carmody, Maison Femme: a fiction and Requiem
The poetic novel x/she: stardraped is set in rich layers of Los Angeles history, and Laura Vena skillfully liberates language into water, into a kind of automatic musical flow, as the story bears witness through the eyes of a goddess, the liberation and reclamation of a once-contained urban river.
—Lisa Teasley, Dive and Glow in the Dark
El libro x/she: stardraped condensa un vasto y complejo viaje poético retrospectivo. Movimientos que acuden desde un presente, acudiendo a tecnologías de la visualidad, a excavar las ruinas y las catástrofes humanas en el interior de un mapa territorial preciso que mutó debido a la violencia y a la voracidad. Con una sorprendente velocidad estética se reponen paisajes, cuerpos ancestrales, detalles de una naturaleza elocuente que vuelve a resonar entre los resquicios más líquidos de la escritura poética: su particular cascada de palabras.
Hubo un pasado. Como si estuviésemos ante una pantalla que no cesa de emitir imágenes, se despliega, a la manera de un caleidoscopio, un proceso arduo de restitución de los cuerpos perdidos y oprimidos por el silencio de la historia. Expulsados por la codicia. Laura Vena construye una épica solidaria que busca unir tiempos, rescatar cuerpos y restituir la belleza inefable del agua en sus palabras.
—Diamela Eltit, Lumpérica and E. Luminata
Like Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee, Laura Vena’s debut x/she: stardraped locates and constellates the cultures and people that form SoCal’s bifurcated history. The Old confronts the New and remembering gives way to transformation. The body bears history’s scars and Vena’s sublime book is a transcription, on oration, an archive of living in/among borders, of being emancipated into a cross-current of procedure and the lyric. x/she: stardraped is a beautiful offering to goddesses,
lovers, and poets.
—Carmen Giménez Smith, Milk and Filth
Twilit and sun-soaked, double-crossed by both rivers and drought, simultaneously edge and center: Southern California truly is that dreamland
where the imagination goes to die. Except that, in Laura Vena’s x/she: stardraped, this infernal paradise is transformed into the only terrain from which we might unearth and disentangle the reasons why our culture so longs to hasten the end of history. “What atrocities people this body.” For the consciousnesses populating x/she: stardraped, this is neither a question nor a proposition. It is the precise, present condition of all American being. Catastrophe our nature may be, yet Vena and her peregrinas wisely recognize that there’s real risk in straying too far from the paths ancestry has put down. A relationship with others beyond even empathy’s conception still necessitates a self — one whose articulation can be
found in the shattered lyricism that makes this text (part codex, part confessional poem, part pulp prophecy) so extraordinary.
—Joe Milazzo, Crepuscule W/ Nellie and The Habiliments