The Poetic Hill: From A Child of Borrowed Churches


Gabriela Orozco grew up on Capitol Hill, the daughter of a father from Nicaragua and a mother whose family is South African Ashkenazi. In her debut book of poems, “A Child of Borrowed Churches,” she calls upon this diverse heritage to claim her unique poetic identity. She writes from passion and longing, from lethargy and anger. She writes of adolescent angst and universal pain. And she reflects on the limited power of her own voice: “I cannot string enough words together to rub away my / wounds, I nurse the burns on my palms / and so scarred, red and raw I write a new poem that is my / soothing balm.”

Orozco is the recipient of numerous honors, including 2019 DC Youth Poet Laureate, 2020 DC Youth Slam Team Grand Slam Champion and winner of DC Public Library’s 2019 Beyond the Book contest for her “Moby-Dick” inspired poem “Cage of Bones.” The title of her new collection refers to how the Jewish community in Southeast DC rents various church spaces for services as they have no synagogue of their own. She is currently in her first year in the joint program at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary.

The Drooping Branches of a First Generation American’s Family Tree
There is so much of me, an
ocean full of my parents’ memories.

I drown underneath the damnations of my history
The weight of all my legacies,

my countries constrict my chest
And make it hard to breathe.

My roots have been scattered over too large seas ‒
I don’t know where my ancestors were buried

I am a hybrid seed but the wind has swept me
Too far away from my family trees.

I’ve never been to the cemeteries
Where the crucifixes stood watch

I can’t find the land that could
Have been my burial plot

I know where my mother’s tree grew,
She was avocado pits and Rooibos leaves

My father’s tree had bats in it,
But I don’t remember what fruit it grew

so I pretend it sprouted oranges like Gioconda Belli’s.

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