By the time you receive our message,
you should be turning 15!
If we calculated correctly.
This is rocket science, after all.
You’re a young woman now.
Now. Such a strange concept,
since we’ll all have aged much more than you.
We hope the dress fits.
The one your parents agreed to pack before launch.
The one the color of nebulae viewed through a telescope,
enhancing what human eyes cannot see—
magentas and reds,
the increasing wavelength of light.
We imagine your first dance,
gown swirling around you
as you hurtle between stars.
La familia misses you.
You haven’t had enough time to miss us, but
todo está bien.
It has to be bien.
What other choice have we?
We wish we could wish you
a happy Sweet 16
in one more of your years,
but that will be up to our children and their children
and the backward compatibility
of our technology with yours.
We have faith
that la sangre runs as wide as it does deep,
magentas and reds flowing between stars,
a vibrance waiting to reward the right lenses.
Katherine Quevedo was born and raised just outside of Portland, Oregon, where she lives with her husband and two sons. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Rhysling Award, and her debut mini-chapbook, The Inca Weaver’s Tales, is forthcoming from Sword & Kettle Press in their New Cosmologies series. Find her at www.katherinequevedo.com.
Photo by Corina Rainer on Unsplash
Author of “Backward Compatibility (Quinceañera on a Generation Ship)”
What inspired you to write this story?
Several things converging, as is so often the case. I wrote this poem in the summer of 2020, when I craved being with my extended family members but couldn’t do so because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’d been reading a lot of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetry and was struck by how conversational yet impactful her work is. I saw a submission window for Latinx/e futurism work and realized I hadn’t written much science fiction poetry, much less the kind to center my Ecuadorian roots in an SF setting, and I wanted to correct that. I remembered hearing a panel at Westercon 69 talk about how NASA sometimes has to stockpile older technology to keep compatible throughout a mission because it spans so many years. I recalled seeing gorgeous astronomical images along the wall of a science museum (OMSI? The Lawrence Hall of Science? The Exploratorium? I no longer remember).
But the most meaningful research I did for this poem was talking to my dad. Once I’d decided to make it about a quinceañera, I called him up and asked him what he remembered about attending these parties when he was a teenager in Ecuador. He shared so many stories! Very few of the details made it into the poem, but I got so much out of that conversation. And connection across time and space is what writing is all about, after all.
What do you hope readers take from this story?
I hope they take from this poem whatever they most need and want and can discover in the words. If that’s appreciation for family and traditions, or if that’s delight in the space imagery or the scientific references, or if that’s a new understanding of Hispanic and Latinx/e culture, or something else entirely, I welcome it.
To give other writers hope, would you mind sharing with us how many edits and/or submissions this story has been through?
This poem got rejected from six places over the course of two years; two of those rejections were personalized rather than form rejections. I was thrilled when Apparition Literary Magazine accepted it (for the record, I’d also submitted two other poems that did not make into this issue). During the editing phase, Maria Schrater encouraged me to replace one line that was weaker than the rest and a bit redundant. She was spot-on. Her feedback pushed me to find a more resonant image, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. Thank you again, Maria!