Welcome, Stephanie Sherman!

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 Stephanie Sherman, whose forthcoming book Tectonic Tongues / Lenguas Tectónicas 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

Stephanie Sherman is a Jewish, queer, bilingual, bicultural, interdisciplinary feminist poet, choreographer, dancer, artist and activist who has lived between the Bay Area, Mexico City, Quito, and New York. She has published her poems in various San Francisco anthologies, including The Best of Mission at Tenth: 2009-2019, Mission at Tenth Vol. 7, and Poetry in Flight / Poesía en Vuelo: Anthology in celebration of El Tecolote, and Editorial Carishina published her book Alucinando en Quito in Ecuador in 2007. She has a PhD in Performance Studies from UC Berkeley, an MFA in Dance from NYU, a BA in Hispanic Studies from Vassar College, and has received two Fulbright Awards (Mexico, Postdoctoral, 2018; Ecuador, 2006).




On Writing Tectonic Tongues / Lenguas Tectónicas

I always understood my tongue was a powerful organ, something capable of getting me into trouble. The first time I realized I could really speak Spanish at seventeen, I also understood that my tongue was capable of taking me to faraway places and permanently connecting my heart to entire communities and experiences that would change me forever. 25 years ago, I moved to Chile. Then Ecuador, then Mexico. I became linguistically and culturally fluent. I studied Latin American history. I learned how tongues incite revolutions. I had a long career as a choreographer and dance educator in Latin America involving no English. My bilingual tongue in this book of poems is a testament to how unstable identity is: While I am the daughter of a sweet, creative, social justice-minded agnostic Jewish family from Boston with the privilege that this implies, I am also the product of my lived experiences in Quito, Mexico City, and the Bay Area, my chosen home. These poems grapple with my unstable embodied and linguistic identity, and connect me to my multiple Pan-American communities. 

I wrote these poems over approximately twenty years, often during times of nostalgia for one place while being in another, or during moments of profound love for Quito, Berkeley, San Francisco, or Mexico City. When Trump took power in 2017, my tongue froze. I  moved from Berkeley to Mexico City for three years. Then I ended up in Boston for almost two years during the height of the pandemic. I could not write poetry, save a couple poems, for that whole time. When I moved back to the Bay Area in 2021 and I went to my first Speaking Axolotl Reading at Medicine for Nightmares on 24th Street, my tongue unlocked, and I began writing again, and decided to finally assemble the book that my friends had been telling me for years that I should finally publish. I have been a professional dancer and choreographer for over twenty years, so it is no surprise that most of my poems are body poems, where organs, muscles, and bones speak in unapologetically queer feminist terms, often critical, and always hopeful. Some of my work is erotic, and most of it is intensely intimate. I write as much for my community as for myself, in a constant effort to connect to the people near and far who have transformed me. 



Selections from Tectonic Tongues / Lenguas Tectónicas



I was an exotic fruit
in the land of the guanábana.
Some people thought that my white peel
contained meat of the same color,
as if my roots had only been nourished
on plastic and snow,
as if they had never touched
the sand under the pyramids.
But they were right that the four seasons
had ripened me differently.
I was a pale apple
next to the maracuyá, the naranjilla and the uvilla.
They were common characters with extended families,
and last names that they instructed me
to pronounce fluently and frequently.
They taught me how to eat a granadilla,
parted in half;
to suspect the pitahaya,
sweet like a yellow piranha;
to remedy its effects with the papaya;
to cure colds with pineapple;
to distinguish between verde and maduro,
between oritos y guineos, between all plantains and bananas,
until my palate forgot how to pronounce
the British last names of apples.
And I ripened tasting like mango.
Later, I crossed the continent in a box of green avocados,
crying as the ripe ones died in the course of the crossing.
I guess they missed the warmth of their brothers,
their trees, their roots, their aunts, their cousins.
I arrived at the fruit section of Shaw’s Market
where they sell blackberries for four dollars and fifty cents,
where the oranges taste like plastic and snow,
where the third-world ghosts sleep.
Here, I search for my family with crazy nostalgia,
in the section of exotic fruits.


LAS JACARANDAS ARDEN (Dedicado a la Marcha del 8M, 2020 en CDMX)
Qué flores más extrañas, las mexicanas:
crecidas de semillas de fragmentos de costillas
o uñas rojas arrancadas de dedos,
tulipanes que brotan en el basurero
que huelen a grito de sangre en la boca.
Flores rotas locas, rosas de fosa,
los restos de ropa interior, cabellos,
un rosario, un tatuaje, un botón,
un hígado, un tacón,
lo que queda pulsando de un corazón.
Flores forzadas en camionetas blancas,
en bolsas plásticas sin aire ni sol,
flores de tierra podrida en ardiente
Hieden a grito de guerra,
se desbordan de las aceras,
un clamor de terremoto
sacudiendo revolución.
Qué flores más brillantes, las mexicanas:
estallan por las paredes, explotan en polvo,
salpican las ciudades, despiertan los ángeles de piedra
y los llaman a luchar, en el rosa más mexicano,
en la púrpura más flameante y afeminada
una lluvia de pétalos afilados
que rajan la puerta del palacio presidencial.
Qué chingonas las pinches flores sucias
y mojadas de tanta lágrima, moco, y sal,
que cabronas las olas de hojas verdes sin miedo
un mar de mujeres hasta la madre, un México de colores
de vida y sangre y rosas rojas con espinas en las bocas…
¿No ven que las jacarandas arden?

I dreamt that a great artist invited me to his studio.
I can’t remember if he was a muralist or a poet,
a novelist or a sculptor, a singer, or a painter.
But he was a great, great artist, and great artists must be
men—to be great.
I took out my poems,
but instead he instructed me to take off my clothes.
If I was sixteen, I might comply,
because I had read Nabokov and seen The Lover in high school.
Museums of Fine Art had shaped the sex
and gender of my dreams.
I can’t remember if it was a studio or a study,
a library or a laboratory,
a museum or a mausoleum.
But in it, I saw infinite pieces of immobile women,
parts of us, cataloged
amongst encyclopedias of metaphors
and brightly stained palettes.
In tall jars, there were legs, perfectly separated
by color and size:
Little fat white legs and long brown legs.
There were nipples
pinned behind glass
like butterfly wings: the black ones with big areolas,
and the tiny pink ones, each with a label,
a black word on white paper.
There were boxes full of ribs, neatly stacked,
cleanly gutted of lungs and breath.
There were reams of skin like canvas,
and cups of blue and black and hazel eyes,
glazed in glass, preserved in clear liquid:
eyes unable to blink, or gaze back.
I saw albums full of inert lips frozen in smiles:
red lips and pink lips and coffee-colored lips,
slightly broken at the edges from so many invasions,
from so much sucking and smiling
and swallowing and smiling, and repeating
the sucking, swallowing, and smiling:
lips lined up in punctuated stillness
like a beautiful poem intimating nothing
but violence.
Amongst cobalt paint and envelopes full of eloquent words,
I felt silence and the humid smell of hurricanes approaching.
Silence: dripping over an Odalisque’s supple hips.
Dead quiet: between a Venus’s juicy thighs.
Silence: in the plastic of Lolita’s sunglasses.
Silence: in the skin of Neruda’s muses.
Silence: in the voices of Márquez’s sad whores,
who never really spoke,
but sucked, and swallowed, and smiled.
Silence in the mouths of the whores and the virgins,
the mothers and the maids,
the girls, the young girls,
especially the girls.
I take out my poems, but instead he instructs me to take off my clothes.
He has a paintbrush, a pen, or maybe a knife.
If I am forty two, I do not comply.
I am listening for voices through the cracks,
for the tongues that sneak up like snakes
from the locked cellar below.
Tongues have a way of escaping, I know.
My tongue attaches my body parts when I speak.
The body parts shatter the jars
and find the other parts when they speak.
The bodies become people when they speak.
I dreamt I visited the studio of a great artist.
I took out my poems, and instead, he instructed me to take off my clothes.
I do not comply.
I speak this poem,
and his studio