In Virgin, Sotelo walks the line between autobiography and mythmaking, offering up identities like dishes at a feast. These poems devour and complicate tropes of femininity—of naiveté, of careless abandon—before sharply exploring the intelligence and fortitude of women, how “far&wide, / how dark&deep / this frigid female mind can go.” A schoolgirl hopelessly in love. A daughter abandoned by her father. A seeming innocent in a cherry-red cardigan, lurking at the margins of a Texas barbeque. A contemporary Ariadne with her monstrous Theseus. A writer with a penchant for metaphor and a character who thwarts her own best efforts. “A Mexican American fascinator.”
At every step, Sotelo’s poems seduce with history, folklore, and sensory detail—grilled meat, golden habañeros, and burnt sugar—before delivering clear-eyed and eviscerating insights into power, deceit, relationships, and ourselves. Here is what it means to love someone without truly understanding them. Here is what it means to be cruel. And here is what it means to become an artist, of words and of the self.
Blistering and gorgeous, Virgin is an audacious act of imaginative self-mythology from one of our most promising young poets.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
SUMMER BARBECUE WITH TWO MEN
Tonight, the moon looks like Billie Holiday, trembling
because there are problems other people have
& now I have them, too.
I’m wearing a cherry-colored cardigan over
a navy print dress, on purpose.
People think I’m sweet.
I try the Ancho chile pork ribs, in case
the man I once wanted might still
rub off on me.
I wonder if I’ll ever know about flavors, what
tastes right. In the overheated kitchen,
I chat briefly with a series of
30-something-year old men--all slender, all
bearded, lustful to the point of sullen.
their pretty, female partners as a way of saying,
I am beautiful in my harmlessness!
A circle of party chairs. I don’t care much
for a stranger’s guacamole. The man
I once wanted is grilling
these beautiful peaches. He offers some--
I’m embarrassed. I try not
to touch his hand.
I try to touch his hand. On the porch,
another man I know is kissing
the shoulder of a woman
whose fiancée is here somewhere. Guess what,
he says. You’re the only one who cares.
I wouldn’t have guessed:
Judgment is a golden habañero margarita
with wings, wet&cold
on his chest. So
many people are tender from the right angle.
I’m hungry&confused. I love
a good barbecue. Save me.
* * *
In this minor emergency of the self,
we drink to become confused,
to swim in the dark like idiot fish.
This is a lake at night in a forest.
This is where we look up at the stains
in the sky and someone says, It’s purpling out here,
and someone else says, Someone write that down.
We’re all performing our bruises.
Chloe smiles like a specialty knife,
Bea tells stories like a bubbly divorcée,
Clara smokes like a sage in her coiffed towel,
expertly naked, third eye shining.
I hang back on the shore with Kyle.
We talk about his man in New York
while our skinny-dipping sirens
sing show tunes in the violet dark.
Later, we’re all in a clinic at 3 am
handling Kyle’s broken ankle.
It’s so embarrassing, he keeps saying.
And it is: earlier, doing the sprinkler
in a dorm room to Please Don’t Stop the Music,
he kept yelling, Stop the Music! Stop the Music!
until we understood: he wasn’t actually joking.
And sometimes the poems were like that.
When we wrote knife, bubbly, naked,
we were really getting down,
dancing hard on the injury.
* * *
I’m Trying to Write a Poem about a Virgin and It’s Awful
She was very unhappy and vaguely religious
so I put her at the edge of the lake where the
ducks were waddling along like Victorian
children, living out their lives in blithe, downy
softness. She hated her idleness. I loved her
resilience. Her ability to turn her gaze on
small versions of herself seemed important.
The lake wasn’t really a lake. It was a state of
mind where words like ochre, darken and false
were supposed to describe her at her best and
worst, but they were only shadows and
everyone knows the best shadows always look
like the worst kinds of men. She wanted them
badly, so I took her for a swim. In the lake
that was not a lake, her twenty-five year old
body felt the joy of being bare and naïve among
the seaweed and tiny neon fish, but I didn’t
believe her. And I couldn’t think of anything
to say in her defense. Some people said I
should take her out of the poem. Other people
said No, take her out of the lake and put her
in a bedroom where one man is saying, I can’t
help you, and another is saying, You waited too
long. The men sounded like cynical seabirds.
When they said, Virgin, they meant, Version
we’ve left behind. I didn’t trust them. So I took
her to the rush of the sea. She waded in and
waved at me. I turned away. It wasn’t her
fault. She wasn’t the shell I was after.
* * *
Trauma with a Second Chance at Humiliation
You remind me of a man I knew at sixteen.
I climbed the stairs to see him,
my copy of The Sound and the Fury clutched to my chest,
my hands fluttering with nerves.
When he said, She was his whole world,
about Caddy’s kindness to Benji,
I thought How Beautiful,
the clocks stilling and the field widening--
his oblong figure behind the tree.
I drew eyes in my notebooks that year,
wet lashes, dense pupils.
Also his figure--slender, awkward, geometric.
liked teasing me
and also a few others. But only I
read his copy of The Dialogues.
As I read, I felt him look.
At night, I traced his scribbled notes with my finger.
Eight years later,
I find a man who resembles him.
It’s your encyclopedic mind.
It’s the strangeness of your features.
It’s the way you hold the burnt sugar to my mouth
to taste, then pull it away, eager for
my caramelized reaction.
Isn’t it delicious?
There’s always going to be someone
willing to give a spoonful
of their attention. The trick
is to recognize the conversation
will run out, right into
I’m sure we’ll run into each other sometime.
~ That was in the bookstore,
the last time I saw him.
Now you are a page I read
while holding my breath. I’ll turn you
into something else, a footnote
of a person. Like I was
sitting next to you
on our friend’s couch,
your hand on my thigh for several seconds.
You said it--Do you want me to cook for you?
as if you could promise that and more.
To admit I love you would be to admit
I love ideas more than men,
myself even less than ideas.
The thin line of your mouth,
I could have held it down, erased the
I didn’t mean to make you think so.
What you don’t say is an iris
locked in a container.
What I don’t say is an iris
burning wildly over a pool of water.
I want you take yours out.
Show it to me, please.
See how an object can change
when a new person wants it.
To divulge is dangerous, but it’s also chimerical.
One side of me says, Destroy.
The other, Be Gentle.
Now this pool of water is a platonic eye
that avoids attachment
by rippling away.
These ashen petals: the expectation
that you’ll understand intuitively
what has taken me years to describe.
I’m open to ridicule.
I can let this go.
But just so you know,
after school, it was like this:
I sat on the desk,
we talked and talked.
You could say it was nothing,
the windows fogged with winter,
the trees outside
like the shadows of a bad idea
It does matter.
I don’t have to tell you why.
Table of ContentsCONTENTS
Do You Speak Virgin?
Summer Barbecue with Two Men
A Little Charm
You Really Killed That ‘80s Love Song
Party of One (For We Are All One)
Apologia Over Marinated Lamb
Purgatory Tastes Like Eggs
South Texas Persephone
Revelation at the All-Girls School
I’m Trying to Write a Poem about Virgin and It’s Awful
Trauma with Damp Stairwell
Trauma with Haberdashery
Trauma with White Agnostic Male
Trauma with Second Chance at Humiliation
My Father and Dalí Do Not Agree
My Father and Di Chirico Asleep on Chairs of Burnt Umber
Picnic Pastoral (with Dark-Skinned Father)
My Father Lost in a Game of Chess
My Father’s Lover Lodged in Glass
Ariadne Discusses Theseus in Relation to the Minotaur
Ariadne’s Guide to Getting a Man
Theseus at the Naxos Apartment Complex, 6 AM
Ariadne at the Naxos Apartment Complex, 10 AM
Theseus Returns from the Athens Treatment Center
Ariadne Plays the Physician
My Mother As the Voice of Kahlo
The Minotaur Invents the Circumstances of His Birth
My Mother As the Face of God
The Minotaur’s Letter to Ariadne
My Mother&the Parable of the Lemons
The Single Girl’s Rest Cure
My English Victorian Dating Troubles
The Ariadne Year