Noel Quiñones

This is Not a Metaphor: A Review of El Poemario del Colibrí / The Hummingbird Poems by Edyka Chilomé


Edyka Chilomé is a queer indigenous mestiza cultural worker. She has been asked to share her poetry and speak on multiple media platforms and in spaces around the country and Latin America including TEDx, The Tucson Poetry Festival, The American Family Therapy Academy, Cafe Paradiso in Tegucigalpa Honduras, and The Lincoln Center in New York.  Edyka is a 2018 Macondista and a 2018 - 2019 Intercultural Leadership Institute Fellow. She is currently imagining new futures as a 2020 inaugural fellow in The Black, Indigenous, People of Color Sci Fi Screenwriting Lab created by LA based organization Justice For My Sister. Follow her on social media at @edykachilome or learn more about her work at

You can buy her most recent book El Poemario Del Colbrií / The Hummingbird Poems at

Noel Quiñones is a Puerto Rican writer, performer, and community organizer from the Bronx. As a writer, he’s received fellowships from Poets House, the Poetry Foundation, CantoMundo, Candor Arts, and SAFTA (Sundress Academy for the Arts). His work has been published in POETRY, the Latin American Review, Rattle, Kweli Journal, and elsewhere. He is the founder and former director of Project X, a Bronx-based arts organization, and a current M.F.A. candidate in poetry at the University of Mississippi. 

Follow him at or online @noelpquinones.


As unlikely as the hummingbird’s ability to fly and as sprawling as it’s continental migration, Edyka Chilomé’s 2nd book defiantly breaks poetic convention. Equal parts historical text, personal memoir, and poetry collection, El Poemario del Colibrí / The Hummingbird Poems (Deep Vellum Publishing, 2019) engages in the hardest work of all: unearthing an indigeneity that most have dismissed and/or forgotten. As the philosopher and revolutionary Frantz Fanon reminds us, “the native intellectual who takes up arms to defend [her people’s] legitimacy [ ], who is willing to strip [herself] naked to study the history of [her] body, is obliged to dissect the heart of [her] people.” Chilomé proves herself uniquely capable of this task as she recounts the generational trauma of being an Indigenous, Queer Latinx Womxn seeking to close the gap between poetry, metaphor, and spirituality.

El Poemario del Colibrí / The Hummingbird Poems is a deeply visceral, immersive, and honest book that tells the story of Chilomé’s transformation into a hummingbird. She does not mean this metaphorically. Chilomé leaves no room for our belief or disbelief, only the fact that poetry saved her life. A literary activist and cultural worker, Chilomé sought “to translate something that might remind us all of the magic that continues to be lost in the sterility of the colonial mind.” With El Poemario del Colibrí / The Hummingbird Poems Chilomé takes “an intimate look at joy and healing as political resistance” in order to pay homage to three generations of wounded womxn before her. 

Throughout its 43 pages, spilt into both English and Spanish translation, Chilomé does not concern herself with capital (P)oetry but rather poetry’s potential to be a lifesaving force, a metaphor returned to its root meaning: to transfer. Poetry becomes synonymous with healing, with resistance, with truth as we are made to see the transference of poetry onto Chilomé’s body. Through a multi-form approach, utilizing not only poetry and memoir but also supplemental additions titled “A Note on Language,” “A Note on Translation,” “Prologue,” “Epilogue,” and an interactive “Questions for the Reader” section, Chilomé invites the reader to take an active role in this work. A welcome shock to the system of standard poetry book curation, the poems begin on page 16, yet what comes before is essential to understand what Chilomé seeks to accomplish.

Before the book even begins, it begins. Chilomé sets the stage in “A Note on Language” by stating she will be “intentionally using lower case when referring to all illegal nation-states and names of settler-colonial cities, i.e. dallas or united states.” Going further she chooses to call these lands by their indigenous names. As mentioned above, the entire book is in both English and Spanish, put side by side, yet she goes further again by choosing to use feminine descriptors or the degendered “x” as the default in her Spanish instead of the masculine “o.” All of these choices foreground a work that demands an immediate shift in our reading, a re-centering of those often left at the margins of society.

Chilomé introduces us to her central story through a Prologue that acts as memoir, a deeply personal letter written to Chilomé’s godfather. The letter shares the details of what she describes as “a call to healing so radical it almost took [her] life.” Chilomé recounts her experience at a temazcal, “a traditional sweat lodge that is used by indigenous people all over the continent to pray and to heal.” Mere moments after entering the temazcal Chilomé falls numb and enters into a full paralysis “after which [her] limbs and torso violently contorted and [she] proceeded to feel the most excruciating pain [she] ever felt in [her] life.” She writes, “it was in that moment I literally, not metaphorically, experienced my spirit begin to tear from my body.” Dealing with a pain that “was utterly indescribable,” Chilomé acted:

I realized instinctually it was the drum that would keep me in this body, that would keep me alive. Because I could not move my mouth to speak and because the witnesses were in such shock and terror, the only thing I could do was to ride the rhythm of my own muffled words, the poetry that lived in the memory of my body, the rhythms of my own truth. Poetry saved me that night, and admittedly saves me still.

A student of the Spoken Word tradition, Chilomé is no stranger to the powerful effects of memorized lyric. The art of memorized recitation has a long history amongst indigenous peoples, something Chilomé understands and builds on. Knowing that science is often catching up to the truths indigenous peoples have always known, she states: “I have found that the spirit world allows us so many privileges that the confines of the intellect do not.”

This sentiment aided Chilomé in understanding what had happened in the temazcal, as an elder identified this excruciating experience as a call from her past generations of grandmothers “to feel, to remember, to heal.” Two weeks later, terrified and traumatized but aware of what she needed to do, Chilomé re-entered the temazcal. Instantly the space went silent and dark; this is when Chilomé “turned into a hummingbird. [ ] Generations of violence and shame shed in a great release. Finally, [she] had permission to exist totally and completely in joy.” For the rest of that summer hummingbirds followed her everywhere; a transference had occurred. Joy became the metaphor with which to address and give language to grief, pain, and trauma. With this understanding, the work of the poems could begin.

Consisting of only twenty poems in total, all untitled and sharing only four punctuation marks between them, El Poemario del Colibrí / The Hummingbird Poems work both as separate poems and as one epic creation story. As she documents her birth to her rebirth as a hummingbird, readers engage with the story told in the Prologue through a new medium. Chilomé begins:

                I was born of a collapsing mother
                a haunting shadow of a father
                a chronic war on the soul
                Exiled into disassociation
                Restless for tenderness
                Ashamed of the absence
                Subdued by the silence
                I ache for the morning light. 

She introduces an immediate sense of dread and darkness, light only appearing at the end yet shadowed by the dual sounds of morning and mourning. As she fights to “find the sun” in the proceeding poems we see a move toward light, growth, and flight with lines such as “the magic tender sprout,” “roots as wild as a singing sky,” and “seduced by ritual / enchanted by flight / adorned in color.”

Chilomé skillfully uses not only syntax but also form to add to her narrative. Each of the twenty poems here exist in their own nest, the English version placed on the page at the top corner, left aligned and the Spanish translation placed at the bottom, right aligned. Powerfully the white space between these two versions allows for an interplay between the languages. On page 21 there is an abrupt shift as the English poem and the Spanish translation switch positions on the page. This coincides with a jump in the age of the speaker as she “bloom[s] beautiful here in front of you.” She begins to undress, each line giving individual attention to the clothing she is shedding: “my skirt a bleeding mountain,” “my earrings made of borderlands,” and “a shirt embroidered with grains of the rose.” This works on multiple levels as the shift in language placement implies that with age she is also shedding English and its colonizing effects. She begins again, “naked my body a continent of rivers.” Her body becomes the land, the water that was her ancestors’.

As we continue through this creation story, water becomes a significant location of transference. On page 23 she writes:

                In defense of memory
                I pray to the headwaters
                violent encounters
                [ ]
                desperate for the depth
                of a living promise
                as expansive as the sea. 

Water becomes both the location at which to pray for memory’s return and the description of that memory’s promised size. Later she writes “with an offering of tears / I drown my collapsing body.” It is through water, both as a joyous and a violent experience, that truth can be attained. Finally, she comes to see that “home is a living / river of memory.” The line “In the defense of memory” returns as well, now a place where she does not need to demand but can let water pass through her as she “tenderly call[s] forth rivers with giving hands.” It is only through the acceptance of water’s turbulent nature, through both the trauma and transformation at the temazcal, that Chilomé can use joy as resistance.

Naturally this collection of poems culminates in the same hummingbird transformation, a poetic retelling of the Prologue’s story. The question then becomes why reread what had already been said, in an arguably more straightforward manner. We can look at page 24’s poem for the answer:

                and remember to see
                I am poem
                fragmentation singing
                spirit speaking in tongues
                tender and delicious
                polyrhythmic and unending.

Poetry takes on its most central function here; it becomes more than just the vehicle through which we receive this narrative retelling, but the body of the speaker herself. Poetry allows for the transformation of Chilomé from person to hummingbird, not in the literary sense, but in the literal sense as a transfer of essence. It is metaphor taken to its most radical conclusion. 

Unquestionably Chilomé asks a lot of us as readers, to set aside our traditional beliefs of a poetry book’s layout, to reject a simplistic reading of her poems, and, hardest of all, to believe that her story is not metaphorical in the way that we have been taught to view it. Yet this direct challenge to our preconceived notions of poetry, this disruption of our stable viewpoint on the world is exactly where Chilomé wants us to be. Seeking to respond to a rapidly modernizing, emotionally disconnected, and dangerously anger-addicted decade through a deeply personal and inevitably joyous meditation on reconnecting with herself, her past, and her community, Chilomé invites clarity after instability. In accomplishing this for herself, she repositions poetry as the path toward true change at every level, from individual to societal.

As Chilomé states in her Epilogue: “As poets, many of us understand that human feeling is much deeper than simply an observation, a descriptive word, or deductive reasoning. Human feeling is the complexity and magic of a metaphor and then some.” Chilomé lives within this complexity, bringing our lost connections, our lost magic to the light. She provides a blueprint for the role of poetry and the poet in 2019, challenging and expanding our traditional understanding of what a poetry book can and should do. Chilomé wrote El Poemario del Colibrí / The Hummingbird Poems to document her healing, but she published it for us to begin our own.

© The Acentos Review 2020