Under the Jacaranda

Marissa Bell Toffoli
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Poet Marissa Bell Toffoli believes that “even the wave / of my hand is a gesture: / everything or nothing.” Her journey in words to Angola, a country still in recovery from roughly 27 years of civil war, is part travelogue, part exploration of the limits and leaps of her own humanity. As a Western traveler in Africa, Toffoli alternately admires and recoils, wonders at the abundance of mangoes, papayas, Nerf footballs, and cell phones in the marketplace, is led by locals onto the dance floor, and is stopped in her tracks in a stairwell when armed soldiers pursue their prey. Toffoli’s chapbook is a gesture in itself as the poems shake hands with the unfamiliar and gaze anew on the known. Most of all she records, in lyric and deceptively ordinary language, the roiling, sensuous life of a land she cannot fully understand, but which seems, nevertheless, to greet her with a warm embrace. Toffoli lives in Berkeley, California where she works as an editor and poetry teacher, and is ever eager for an excuse to pack her suitcase for a travel adventure. A graduate of the MFA in Writing program at California College of the Arts, her poems have appeared in journals including The Allegheny Review, Beeswax Magazine, Exterminating Angel Press, Gone Lawn, Idiolexicon, Monday Night and the new anthology Conversations at the Wartime Cafe: A Decade of War 2001-2011. Her poem “Lacework” won a Founder’s Prize from RHINO magazine in 2009, and “Wormwood” was finalist for Flatmancrooked's Slim Volume of Contemporary Poetics First Annual Poetry Prize in 2010. To sate her literary cravings, she publishes interviews with writers at

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