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Speaking in Tongues
Notes from the Writer's Notebook
by Lisa Alvarado

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'The major drug companies are currently developing a card which will carry the encoded genetic history of the bearer.'

From a recently televised news story:


Identity card riddled with the mottled

code of my double helix.

The last secrets I have will be trapped

there, too. Not just how years of tequila

branded me, scored my liver, dissolved

gray matter.

Much more than eye color,

sex, ( relatively speaking )

where they can find the scars.

They will know the things

that have merged flesh

with memory,

memory with desire

and I am afraid.

I hold these things in the body,

and soon they will know,

and there will be nowhere to hide.

Things like

a woman's wet and ruthless mouth

on my nipple,

her tongue like acid.

How I straddled

my married man lover on a desk,

a scorching, thick pierce.

Shameless and proud

in the midst of betrayal.

I was fearless then.

Not like now.

Not after they know.

It will all be on a card soon.

They just want to check,

just want to make sure I'm fit.

I have never been fit

for anything

but fucking, and longing,

and merging and disappearing.

And keeping secrets.

But there will be no secrets soon,

and I wonder if I will be able to learn

how to bury desire

before I learn

work makes freedom.


Reaching my mid-forties, combined with ten years of creative work has strengthened my belief in myself, and the idiosyncratic way I do what I do. I'm able to trust my body and its answers, finally able to write poetry and performance that comes from intuitive knowledge, stillness and meditation. I can say without hesitation, that I have the ability to both celebrate and redefine any experience; including the painful, the ecstatic, the glorious, the oppressive. I believe it is a political act to make art.

Private/public, boundaries/violation. These are the themes I want to address in a personal and creative way. I'm completing a trilogy of performances that is a different kind of memoir. It will use spoken word, poetry and dance to tell the story of recovery from childhood abuse. The last decade of my life has led the way to this project, through the process of looking at those issues, and the experience of physicality as a kind of language and syntax.

What else can I say about how I work, the process of getting words on the page? I realize there is a cyclical, almost 'seasonal' nature to it all. The process of creation for me is one of incubation, sometimes slow and almost imperceptible, sometimes intense, vivid. It is not something I control, but something I have to allow to happen. It means being a container for what needs to be sent through me. This means making time for meditation, prayer, and long stretches of time spent in nature. When I do those things, ideas come to me fairly regularly. When I don't, I feel dry, unable to create. During the time an idea is gestating, I feel a building sense of discomfort that leaves when the idea is formed, when the action is taken. It's made me have a new respect for a part of myself I had termed 'neurotic' and 'difficult'.

There was one book in particular, that became my foundation for understanding who I am, what I need, how it all works for me. Divine Daughters is an autobiography, written by Rachel Bagby, African American woman who survived emotional and physical abuse. She studied law, hoping to transcend poverty, that violent legacy, becoming the 'good' girl her parents wanted. She broke under the weight of those expectations, that false life, after what some might call 'nervous breakdown.' It was a spiritual crisis, forcing her to make a radical change. Bagby chose to follow an inner voice: a voice that propelled her to dance, to live life as an artist, dedicating herself to the creation of work which addresses identity, ancestry, and femaleness.

We have a similar family legacy, and I spent many years trying to be 'good enough,' trying to please everyone else. I also had a similar 'break,' which taught me I could no longer resist my true identity: artist and writer. It was a spiritual challenge to face myself as I really was, requiring me to move my life in an unknown direction. It was ultimately accepting the truth, no longer stealing time and energy from what really needed to be done, and refusing to live up to someone's else expectations for my life. Rachel's creative use of genre is similar to my own, combining spoken work, poetry and dance. I claim her as mentor, placing her in the company of women like Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Marge Piercy, Ana Castillo, women whose work has shaped my life, how and what I write.


I dream. I remember. I fall in love. I fall out of love. I string together words. It's an act of resistance, a necessity—it's sex, it's prayer. I have mentors and co-conspirators, but so far, I've never looked to some outside source to sanction what I write or perform. Inspiration comes to me from many sources, and that is a singular blessing.

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