Zoe Dorado

Zoe Dorado, hailing from Castro Valley, CA, is a 16-year-old spoken word poet and musician. Having played the drums for over eight years — exploring jazz, funk, and Afro-Cuban styles — she is interested in how rhythm and meter unfold themselves into poetry and the way storytelling integrates itself into different art forms. She is part of the Bayanihan Youth Group of Filipino Advocates for Justice, SPOKES — the youth advisory board of Youth Speaks, and is the 2021 Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of Alameda County. As a poet, she has collaborated with the SEIU-UHW, creating poetry for healthcare workers; led poetry workshops for youth at the Filipinx Bay Area Cooperative Sama Sama; and has performed in San Francisco’s City Hall to her Lola’s kitchen. Her most recent work can be found in Brenda Art Magazine as well as in the Bigger Picture Project’s “Survival Pending Revolution” campaign — a poetry film collaboration between Youth Speaks and the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations advocating for vaccination in the fight against COVID-19, as well as the structural violence that allows this virus to disproportionately impact Filipino nurses like her mom and the health of our communities. As a Filipina-American, Zoe is excited to learn more about literature and music beyond the canon. 

Poem on Belonging

IN A PARALLEL

After a conversation with Dad
where he tells me why he never learned Tagalog.

Maybe I imagined it before it happened 
Through the car ride back home

Homebody who traces the map back to wherever it came from 
As in I left this place but here I am

In the backseat
On a banka resting in some ocean

On the back of a tongue forgetting itself 
An itch that is given to you

Because how else to teach the kid 
You only have one in your mouth

What we spill is the shadow:
I don’t call him Tatay, just Dad

Remember though — the tension 
What’s needed to make a taut lineage

A rope to weave through a bloodline 
Thick enough to call itself here

Thin enough to apologize and say thank you 
As in I name myself an undoing

A mathematical proof 
Instinctive like

I am getting inside the car to reach something familiar 
The humming of a radio from another country

Remembered only because we keep trying to mimic its movement 
How waves can be more than just water

This string accelerated through the air by a hand 
Not mine

I don’t know which country I am referring to 
We are both becoming the spectacle stared at

A funhouse, really
A mirror doesn’t have to be poetic

I’m only looking out of habit 
Dad in the front seat

I am just the passenger
The third object is not the road

Not thinking about the time it took us to get here 
I am moving through this mythos

The body remembers
Because we’ve driven home before.

Though sometimes, a child pretends to be asleep 
I just want to be held

Though the driver does too, I think 
As in I’m sorry I keep you awake

But how else can I get you to not look away 
You know how this goes

Because we’ve driven home before 
The body remembers

I am moving through this mythos
Not thinking about the time it took us to get here

The third object is not the road 
I am just the passenger

Dad in the front seat
I’m only looking at you out of habit

A mirror doesn’t have to be poetic 
A funhouse

Really, we are both becoming the spectacle stared at 
I don’t know which country I am referring to

Not mine
This string accelerated through the air by a hand

How waves can be more than just water
Remembered only because we keep trying to mimic its movement

The humming of a radio from another country
I am getting inside the car to reach something familiar

Instinctive like
A mathematical proof

As in I name myself an undoing
Thin enough to apologize and say thank you

But thick enough to call itself here 
A rope to weave through a bloodline

What’s needed to make a taut lineage 
Remember though — the tension

I don’t call him Tatay, just Dad 
What we spill is the shadow:

You only have one in your mouth 
Because how else to teach the kid

The itch that is given to you
On the back of a tongue forgetting itself

On a banka resting in some ocean 
In the backseat

As in I left this place but here I am
Homebody who traces the map back to wherever it came from

Through the car ride back home
Maybe you imagined it before it happened

Copyright © 2022 by Zoe Dorado. Used with permission of the author.

Watch Zoe perform her poem, “In a Parallel”.