Maria Luisa Arroyo’s “Unmasked”


by Maria Luisa Arroyo

for Lucie Brock-Broido (1956-2018) | Stonecoast Writers’ Conference, 1993

LB squared, you flipped up my mask, asked
me to write beyond my eyes, the Hagia Sophia,
Agha-jan’s stern face, Mamani’s tear-soaked chador,
their son, my husband then, a fist of impotent rage
ready to pummel his father for not sending his brothers
into exile during the Iran-Iraq war, slapping me in public
for asking, for not understanding the torrent of Farsi
between father and son, his mother’s silence. Let’s pose.
The Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar, sail up the throat
of Bosporus, eat kebabs, sip chai, sugar cubes gritted
between our teeth, pray to my God, their Allah for mercy.

First published in the Tesserae Poetry Feature: Part One in The Common: A Modern Sense of Place (April 13, 2018)

Writing Prompt: 

Contemplate art to transport ourselves–at least with our eyes–beyond the confines of our sequestered spaces. Browse through any online art gallery such as Mass MOCA or National Museum of Women in the Arts. Stop at the work of art that evokes a memory or provokes a response. Write a “soc” or stream-of-consciousness. Then shape it, play with it seriously until you find its most fitting form. 

María Luisa Arroyo

The poems in María Luisa Arroyo’s latest chapbook, Destierro Means More than Exile (2018), pay tribute to 32 women poets who inspire her. Born in Manatí, Puerto Rico and raised in Springfield, MA, she was educated at Colby (BA), Tufts (MA) and Harvard (ABD), her third language. A 2004 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellow in poetry, Arroyo has had poems published in literary journals, including Calyx, The Common, One, and Multiplicity and in national anthologies such as Boricua en la Luna: Puerto Rican Voices and Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence. Arroyo’s commitment to community poetry workshops and readings, many in collaboration with the Springfield Library, has earned her regional recognition such as being named the inaugural Poet Laureate (2014-2016) of Springfield, 2016 NEPR Arts & Humanities Award recipient, and 2019 Inaugural Desert Nights Teaching Fellow for the annual Desert Nights, Rising Stars Conference. Arroyo’s English translation of “Ziehende Landschaft”, a German poem by Hilde Domin was awarded the Der Hovanessian Translation Prize (2019). Currently, Arroyo is Assistant Professor of Writing & First-Year Studies at Bay Path University.