Analicia Sotelo on "My English Victorian Dating Troubles"
My English Victorian Dating Troubles
I am bad with men
because I am deeply holy: they see
right through me, they know
I wish to please.
They say I have a petticoat of needs.
Let's rustle up some pillow feathers.
Let's see what they look like
laid out on the beach like
of my native tongue.
Out here, where the sand is so white,
so Westernized, how could I not
sink into it
& burn with questions
like what am I doing here
I am in the wrong book
I am in the wrong era
I am not Dorothea
I am Analicia
Why does the twenty-first century feel like this?
Like men are talking into
their favorite phonograph
& the phonograph is me
receiving their baritone: You're so exotic
Watch out, men, says my violin
I am a Royal Bengal man-eating tiger
I will devour your pith helmets
as well as these enchiladas
piled high with American mozzarella any time of day
See, there is a white man
in every single one of us.
Yes, everyone is wearing casual yacht wear now
& mispronouncing their specialty condiments
I am the angel/whore of kale chips
I like to purchase as I please
I am completely in character
So I will accept your pearls
though I may cut them off with my teeth
& watch them slip down to the sea
into the kind woman
for your own troubled purposes.
On "My English Victorian Dating Troubles"
As I was writing the collection that became Virgin, I became obsessed with how female identity is represented in Victorian England. Particularly, how female "innocence" is seen through the eyes of male figures—and how that has or has not changed in the last few centuries. Even Dorothea from Eliot's Middlemarch entered the poem, bringing her moralistic intelligence and misguided taste in men. In these lines, the male gaze is an orbiting problem—it keeps returning. At the same time, I was thinking about what it means to be a Latinx woman with an English Literature degree – about the volume and weight of the Western canon. In the poem, I conflate timelines and histories, wondering if the power dynamics of gender and culture are all-consuming energies that influence us even in the smallest of moments.
Even as I write this, English rhetoric is present in these sentences. It reminds me of how high school and undergraduate students who do not identify as English often use the word "therefore" to transition the paragraphs of their essays. As a Mexican-American student, it never felt natural to use the word "therefore," but I'm sure I used it in those first essays, hoping it would bolster the arguments I didn't yet know how to make. How do we succeed in the language of a conqueror? How do we make the best and finest of arguments? And how do we find our voice in that conflict? Therefore, this poem. A poem for any person who doesn't identify as this or that, but exists in the in-between, and must be heard.
Poem reprinted from Virgin by Analicia Sotelo (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Analicia Sotelo. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions, milkweed.org.