Book of Spells

Faylita Hicks is a mother, a daughter, a queer Afro-Latinx nonbinary pan femme, an activist, a spoken word artist, a poet, and a formerly incarcerated person. She was arrested for a civil misdemeanor while studying for her Masters in Fine Arts at Sierra Nevada University. Hicks realized that, with all her education, she could barely navigate her way through the US penal system. How could a person with a high school education do the same?

In her debut poetry collection HoodWitch, Hicks rages against individual predators, a society gamed to privilege the few, a system that eats black and latinx women alive. Her mission is to write poetry that is accessible to every person. To “translate policy into poetry.”

… we are still wondering how we always manage to end up alone & face down in a pool of gasoline. we have got to love ourselves out here. us restless daughters stone the silence—our black bodies hang from the stars like hot oil under blemished sun, shimmy when everyone else is asleep. dig into ourselves. dig under—blocks & blocks of black bodies—or fresh water. under the side street. groan for our broken pipes. our stolen gardens. look for where it all went wrong. dig the ruined parts out. reach inside ourselves because somebody—somebody—has got to fix the goddamned plumbing here.

Faylita Hicks, from “Li’l Mama Gets High” in HoodWitch (AcreBooks 2019)

The Voice

I’m listening to Hicks talk from the floor of her sister’s kitchen in San Diego. It’s 6am her time but she’s agreed to give a master class for the International Writers’ Collective and Hicks is a woman of her word. Her interviewer is the inimitable poet Laura Wetherington.

Hicks started her poetry life as a spoken word artist. It was a two-way street. Venues like Austin Neo Soul gave Hicks a chance to perform. Hicks gifted them stories about justice and injustice, how to empower the divine feminine. In the process, she learned that repetition builds power and sound feels good in the body. Hicks has been thinking about the way words sound long before she worried about how they landed on the page.

You should, of course, read all poetry out loud. The difference to Hicks is how much an audience can take in through their ears versus the eyes. A spoken word piece has to be accessible in one go. A written poem can be re-read. Whether she is crafting for spoken word or the page, Hicks says, “I write audibly.”

I can hear that when I read her work. I can feel it in my bones when Hicks reads it out loud. Listen.

In spits of feather & bone,
we grew with our chins raised
& our mouths propped open,
waiting for Momma to get off
from work, to make it safely home.
A faucet of wires, She would
sometimes trip
over our daddy’s unfamiliar body–
once buried in the fatigue of war
but now raised & knocking
alwaysalways on our front door

Hicks, from “GrackelBot”

The Witch

HoodWitch consists of three rites: water, flesh, and smoke. Each rite opens with a veve. That’s the portrait of a loa in Haitian Vodou whose attributes are translated into a pictograph.

Hicks sprinkles into her poems the brick dust from protection spells, stirs it with Florida water for cleansing spells, and unleashes hexes on those who have it coming.

Dress the black candle in vinegar, write his name in needle.
Pay Death his fifteen cents & place your hands on the table in prayer.

Hicks, from “Hex for R. Kelly”

If she could have, Hicks would have had veves designed for all of the black and latinx women killed in the years leading up to publication of HoodWitch. Instead, she must content herself with a poem like “The Daughters of Samuel Little,” constructed out of 33 sentences for his 34 confessed murders of black women and girls.

The Activist

Hicks’s past as a formerly incarcerated person and her present as a grassroots activists has led her to certain choices. You can’t be both the person who jumps into the van to bring a battered woman to safety and be the person who records that experience. Hicks has chosen to be the scribe.

“Featuring Tonight at the Street-Hustler’s Circus: The Girls” is a case in point. It takes place in Austin, Texas on a street like any other until you realize what’s going down. Hicks could have inserted herself into this cyclical tale of sex work, projected the lived experience of these women onto herself. Instead, Hicks chooses to capture her own moment of realization.

I had to laugh at the poem entitled “For the White Girl in Poetry Workshop Who Says I Don’t Belong Here.” And choke away a cry at the closing piece. It is an invocation of and a blessing on all the HoodWitches.

may the gawds smile down
& watch over the black naps
& snatched backs of black womxn
dragged into the system. of black
womxn survived despite the system. #asheashe
to my black girls gone missing.
to my sisters gone missing.
to our daughters & granddaughters.
to our mamas & grandmamas.
#asheashe to the crowned & uncrowned

to those
above
&
below
ground.

Hicks, From “Photo of X, 2007: HoodWitches”
22 Apr 2022 | Karen Kao