Machete Moon, Arielle Cottingham

Restrained and quiet while simultaneously vibrant and uncompromising, the poems in Arielle Cottingham’s Machete Moon chronicle the work and the joy of (re)claiming one’s culture and forging an identity of one’s own.


On each page, the tension is felt between the speaker and the world through which they move, as they must negotiate the rigid social expectations which dictate ways of being (“you look so pretty when you’re straight”) and the consequences for existing (“your blood is already out the back door”). However, joy and liberation are found in moments when the speaker connects with themselves and their community—“the bigger the hoops, the looser the shackle.” Through breaking away from patriarchal prescriptions, the speaker can begin to create a life defined by creativity, equity, joy, and tenderness. Reinvention is in the bones of these poems, as Cottingham plays with form, transforming the written word into roads, train tracks, and cyclones. Although, to move into the future, the speaker must reckon with a complicated past and conflicted family dynamics: “Perhaps I show gratitude best when I am far from everything I once was, the ungrateful immigrant that I am and continue to be.” In one way, the speaker isn’t attempting to compose a new anthem but find their own way to dance to music that sounds like home.


“Both a hurricane tracker and an evacuation route, Machete Moon warns of something big and violent and shows us not how to destroy it but to outlive it. Arielle Cottingham’s poems don’t promise an easy journey but point to a new home on higher ground. Cottingham wades through a flood of historical, cultural, national, familial, and environmental trauma, finding a path toward a new, safer home built with dance, hair, coffee, friendships, myth and storytelling, relationships, hoop earrings, and self-adornment. In this house, there is room for touch, gender, and sexuality in all their forms, and most importantly, the speaker themself in all their forms and non-forms. Readers who find their way into its walls will leave more alive than when they entered.”

—Bill Moran, author of Oh God Get Out Get Out


“Both alliterative and lyrical, Machete Moon is a brief but poignant collection of poems that sings and haunts us with its searing imagery and creative wordplay. Using scripture, prayer and narrative, Cottingham meditates on everything from hurricanes to hair, from sexuality to the South. In doing so, they take an intimate journey into what it means to live in the South as a Black Dominican ‘daughter’ of immigrants. Here, the poet is not afraid to ask difficult questions such as how do we become who we are meant to be when faced with a world that does not accept us as we are? This book is a testament to the varied experiences and challenges faced by Black Latine across the diaspora and these words an important reminder that as a society, we still have so much more work left to do.”

—Jasminne Mendez, author of Night-Blooming Jasmin(n)e: Personal Essays and Poetry