Poetry has an almost magical ability to make what once seemed like isolating truths about oneself into shared realities among groups of people. In her first published book, Afro-Dominican Aruban poet Yakari Gabriel accomplishes this mystically, writing in a way that is relatable and invites the reader to review their world by offering intimate insights into her own.
“Cold Coffee Vol 1” reads like one of those late-night talks you and a good friend have. The ones where time is forgotten, life is just this room and the person you’re sitting with, and your heart is more open than you ever experienced before in your life. That’s because Gabriel infuses her personal experiences with universal episodes, such as love, pain, loss and learning, to create art that is relatable to many.
At the age of four, Gabriel’s family emigrated from the Dominican Republic to Aruba – an immigration experience that differs from most Dominicans, who often migrate to the United States or Spain. In her TEDxOranjestadWomen talk, Gabriel touches on the discrimination she experienced while in Aruba, disclosing that it has impacted the way she exists in the world.
“I think my immigration experience shows up when there’s something I really want to do or say, and I get insecure about my voice. Like I know I need to say something — I used to work for the newspaper for quite a bit and did the opinion page — but then there is always a voice in the back of my head that knows it won’t matter solely because it comes from me,” she told FIERCE.
These moments, coupled with the slow-growing public discourse about Dominican women artists, sometimes leave her feeling almost invisible.
(Courtesy of Yakari Gabriel)
“I’m like, ‘hey, dominicana en Aruba, estudiando en Holanda, speaking four languages, and they look at me like I’m an alien. Dominicanas have so little visibility already, to ask to be seen outside the popular conversation — conversations that usually center major U.S. cities — sometimes feel like asking for too much,” she continued.
The truth of the matter is there is enough space for all of our expressions, and through “Cold Coffee Vol 1,” Gabriel is inserting hers into the canon.
After two years of going back and forth on the idea, Gabriel published her book in November 2017 — but only after securing that she’d have the full rights over it.
“The book was published in a way that everything belongs to me,” she said. “If I had to give up my rights to such intimate parts of me, I would have never ever done it.”
By retaining the rights to her work, Gabriel was able to open up as much, and as little, as she liked, with the confidence that others, who may not have had her best interest, wouldn’t be able to control her tone or manipulate her experiences.
“Cold Coffee Vol 1,” just 85 pages long, includes 41 of Gabriel’s poems. Most of the pieces and thoughts are short and easy to read, but what they may not have in length they carry in impact. Topics like love, lust, pain and intergenerational trauma are presented in a way that leave readers pensive and reflective.
(Courtesy of Yakari Gabriel)
In “Forgiveness,” Gabriel speaks honestly about the physical harm her mother put her through when expecting nothing short of greatness. “When I was smaller, my mother’s palms always knew how to find my face,” the poem starts, indicating immediately that her relationship with her mom was one riddled with physical and verbal harm — a dynamic we don’t often read about among immigrant mothers and their children despite its present reality.
“We need a broader discussion in the world about the dynamics of the relationship between mother’s and daughters. We heard a lot about women and their daddy issues but never about the mother wound, which, in my opinion, hits even harder than daddy issues,” she told us.
In “Courage,” the writer touches on generational trauma, the passing down of painful experiences and jarring lived realities from earlier generations to those that come after them. “My whole life I’ve been questioning why my mother was so cruel to me,” Gabriel writes, offering possible answers to her query by documenting some of the most traumatic experiences of her mother’s life, like experiencing parental abuse, witnessing the death of her siblings and hearing her own mother’s dying words, “valor Rubia, valor.”
Part of Gabriel’s mother’s valor was immigrating to Aruba — a move that also brought the budding writer new possibilities of her own.
“If my mother had stayed in the Dominican Republic, I’m sure there would still have been love between us. But it’s her courage to leave, that saved us and now we have a better life, filled with better opportunities,” she writes in the closing line of the poem.
For Gabriel, one of those prospects was publishing her poetry book.
(Courtesy of Yakari Gabriel)
“[It’s] amazing, but it was also scary. People can literally take a tangible piece of me home now. It’s wild,” she said of being a published author.
Through the book, young Afro-Latinas are able to relate to Gabriel’s experiences, thoughts and poems and also learn that standing and living firmly in one’s truth and convictions is one of the most authentic ways to pursue your goals and achieve your dreams.
And when they complete the brisk addictive read, their thirst for more can be quenched by the news that Gabriel is already working on “Cold Coffee Volume 2.”
“Volume 2 is more unapologetic than Volume 1. It also shares much longer thoughts and insights than Volume 1, where most of the poems were short. Volume 2 is really a punch in the face, even to myself,” she said.
While Gabriel’s experiences may not be applicable to everyone, she hopes that her work can be relatable and that it encourages readers to be more truthful about their own lives.
“If we were all less ashamed to share our struggles, we would realize how un-unique we are,” she said.