Muse Found in a Colonized Body by Yesenia Montilla
Photo credit: Four Way Books
“...& that might be the
difference between the wolf & the lamb, our
relationship to bounty…”
–Yesenia Montilla, Muse Found in a Colonized Body
In Muse Found in a Colonized Body, Yesenia Montilla attempts to bring equity to the muses discarded by capitalism, namely, Black bodies, through poetry. The result is an exploration of exploitation, animal instincts, the complexities of identities, and self-love.
One of the first things that stood out to me about Muse was the juxtaposition of the animal kingdom against humanity. The excerpt in the epitaph comes from the first poem of the collection, setting the tone with symbols of predator and prey which are used to expound exploitation, both capitalist and colonial, in contemporary American culture. In our conversation, Montilla said humans can and should overcome their animalistic nature: “We all have the capacity to be the wolf…if you recognize that in yourself, then you can stop yourself…that's…how we transform the world.” She connected this to the push and pull felt by descendants of colonialism in lines like “...I don’t know whether / this is my ancestor the slave feeling / so lost & trapped… or / my ancestor who…named [all things] after his own image.”
Another such comparison is to bees, whose vital, uncompensated labor is analogous to that of workers within capitalism. The relationship between laborer and labor is parsed through the lens of a post-pandemic U.S., wherein people value themselves more than the companies who devalue their contributions. “When we realize that we can take some of that power back,” Montilla said, “there is a real shift…capitalism is dying.” This requires large-scale collaboration, but the effects of colonization sow division, especially at the intersection of identities. “I have to reconcile… how Latinidad has tried to mute Blackness,” Montilla told me. She recognized that arguments over labels can sometimes get in the way of doing the real work: “I hope that we're all just fighting for the same type of liberation for one another.”
The prevalence of post-capitalist inclinations is not the only COVID-related idea within Muse, whose poems discuss a byproduct of prolonged isolation: loneliness. “[W]e're so lonely…because we don't know how to be alone with ourselves,” said Montilla. However, to be alone with oneself is easier said than done for members of her community. She described the caste system created by Spanish colonizers which still dominates (Afro-) Latinx social imaginaries: “There's these names and labels and layers of who we are based on our skin tone and who's what mix…[that has] made us not want to embrace our Blackness.” And yet, many poems in Muse deal with forms of self-love, ranging from physical pleasure to embracing one’s identity when members of these very identity groups may refuse to. Why? Montilla shared that Audre Lorde and Adrienne Maree Brown, among others, insist that one cannot be a good activist if “they're not engaged in pleasure and joy equally.”
Although it may seem sappy to some, the solution proposed in Muse is deceivingly straightforward: “love yourself, because that's where it starts,” Montilla said. “[Then] you can love the rest of the world and hopefully that will have an impact."
Brittany Torres Rivera is a bilingual, Puerto Rican writer. She graduated from Florida International University with a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing in the Spring of 2021, becoming the first in her family to attend college. Brittany was awarded prizes in poetry and fiction at the FIU Student Literary Awards in 2020 and 2021. She is a Fulbright Grantee and is currently an English Teaching Assistant in Madrid, Spain.