Welcome, Noelia Cerna!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired over the past twelve months. Some of them, like the one we’re pleased to present today, came to us by way of Nomadic Press. Read more about our plans to welcome Nomadic Press titles to Black Lawrence Press here. Today we bring you Noelia Cerna, whose forthcoming book Las Piedrecitas will be published next summer. 

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our June Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies), anthology proposals, and translations from German. 



The Author

Noelia Cerna is a Latina poet based in Springdale, AR. She was born in Costa Rica and immigrated to the United States at the age of 7 where she received a Bachelor’s degree in English from Westminster College in Missouri. Her poems have been published in audio form in Terse. Journal and in print in the The Revolution [Relaunch], the Girl Gang blog, the Plants and Poetry Journal and The North Meridian Review. Noelia is a book editor for The North Meridian Review and an award winning writing mentor for Pen America’s Prison Writing Mentorship program.




On Writing Las Piedrecitas

This book began as my senior thesis in college. At the time it mostly consisted of the first half of the collection. In the decade since then the final half of the collection has been added. I started writing this collection as an ongoing conversation with my father. It is a collection that closely examines my experience as an immigrant that ends up in Northwest Arkansas in 1994 and walks the reader through what it can cost someone to fully assimilate. It is a book that explores the ways in which we are forced to become cultural orphans and ends with a full circle return to my culture by finding ways to repair my relationship with my father and with my identity as a Latina woman.

It touches on love and loss and racism and the things that make us human and flawed and real. I hope that in these poems my readers find pieces of themselves and that other brown girls like me can find the bravery to become in whatever way is best for them. There is no right way to be Latina. The only right way is to be fully yourself. May we become bravely and may we become gently.



Selections from Las Piedrecitas


Love Letter To The Immigrant

Yes, you.

The one holding fragments of an evaporating language beneath your tongue, crossing oceans so your children could break barriers instead of soil

To the mother tucking pieces of her native tongue into her children’s backpacks
To the father trading Master’s Degrees for chicken plants
To the children entering classrooms in a country that does not like natural hair, curls or color

They will call you ugly, try to wrap your identity within a slur, build cages around you, call you illegal, make fun of your accent and skin color

Remember when they try to break you
how your ancestors carried the same skin tone
how you are still beautiful
Do not let them steal the language from your throat
They will try to convince you that tongues can not carry two languages,
But remember your accents are landmarks,
reminders of the homes left behind,
Remember every piece of identity you keep is a connection to home and to those that came before.
Remember that seeds do not concern themselves
with how deeply they’ve been planted
they just take root
and bloom.


The Text From My Mother Is About Her Upcoming Appointment

contains the words “heart cath”
the rest of the words
a blur
of the non threatening
I remember the last heart cath
despite her saying not to worry
the way the doctors mouth
formed around the word lucky
rarely do we know
how close we come
to losing the ones we love
But I know.
Three minutes.
I still remember the way
her heart chose revolution
because all of us
be Latina
even our hearts rebellious
My mother
three minutes away from death
how the best cardiologists
were all there that same day
for unrelated reasons
the way that “miracle” sounds different
when you realize
Jesus made water out of wine
only once





The women in my family are all creatives,
my father as well-
but his mind works well with numbers.
Must be why he knows I am only ten percent like him,
bearing hands identical to his,
hands that play guitar like him.
But my hands no longer fold in prayer,
can’t seem to leash my identity like he’d like me to.
I am ninety percent of my mother’s kindness
this the only part of her that survived him
A man of god of course desires to tame the earth
and all that is upon it
that is to say my father burned down the wilderness
of my mother’s willpower long ago.
I spent my childhood watching her shrink
into the doormat shaped role we Latinas are raised to fill for our men
as only their mothers can be brave or magic
but only enough to raise the men that will then break their daughters
and so on…
I have long ago stopped paying mind to his ravings
hands and kindness foundations but not the whole of this temple.
Fire be as holy a god…just ask Moses-
fire, what sent him to Egypt
delivered his people from chains
Fire can be the greatest Genesis
my mother is quiet these days
her warrior song faded into the night of my father’s expectations
but even broken warriors still keep their flame
still flicker even when hidden away
and my mother has clung to enough of her heat
to whisper it to me when he leaves the room
calls me her hawk       calls me her un-cageable thing                       calls me wild
the doctors say they are concerned about her heart
unsure of how many more beats it holds
fear is strong enough to freeze even the most powerful of flames
and her days appear to be numbered
I am unwilling to consider if my fire is strong enough
to survive without her tinder
I watch her grow more tired
notice the ways she leans against me when we are together
as if trying to gift me her remaining spark
how she cups my face in her hands
tells me I am a wonder,
tells me to run from any one that does not call me miracle,
tells me I am brave
this her way of saying I cannot buckle
this her way of saying I must hold on
this her way of saying I have a three-year-old niece, a brown girl we love
speaks with an urgency although we do not say the reason why out loud
she calls to tell me about her latest doctors visit
speaks about their concerns as if she is reciting a recipe
pauses and then whispers that I make her brave
the women in my family are all creatives but I am the only one that has ever defied my father, the only one that has ever survived his gspel
my mother is just strong enough to turn herself into burning bush
turn my niece and her future children into Egypt
turn me into liberator
commands me to break the cycle
commands me to heal the generational wounds that she was not able to mend
we rarely talk about fire’s ability to heal
how soil requires flames for what’s new
how it can be healthy and my mother knows she is old growth
wants her granddaughter to sit beneath the shade of healthier trees
even though she might not live long enough to see it
tells me not to be afraid
makes me promise I will not run from my power
makes me promise I will do what she couldn’t
“everything must come to an end” she says
“and I have gifted the world a phoenix”
tells me I was built to survive this heat
that sometimes to heal we must first burn
tells me my niece is lucky to have me
tells me to teach her to be strong
the “when I’m gone” implied
hovering like the flicker of a flame right before it turns into smoke