Karina Pantoja, from Paw Paw, Michigan, is Latina born and raised. She is currently pursuing a BA in English at Kalamazoo College, with a focus in poetry. Pantoja serves as one of the co-directors of the Kalamazoo Poetry Collective, a student-run organization that hosts open mics for queer students and students of color, and workshops to produce and share poetry; all of the work aims to strengthen the community on campus and within the city of Kalamazoo.

During the summer of 2018, Pantoja interned at Read and Write Kalamazoo (RAWK), a literacy nonprofit that provides free reading and writing programs to youth in the community. RAWK is where she learned more about the relationship between reading, writing, and education, navigating the components of equity and accessibility. After spending a summer witnessing how reading and writing served as catalysts for creative freedom, agency, confidence, reflection, and realization, Karina plans to work with a nonprofit—and specifically native Spanish speakers—after graduation.

Pantoja's poetry has been published in the college's literary magazine, The Cauldron, and her piece "Paw Paw Nocturne" was one of the recipients of the Divine Crow Award. Although poetry is her passion, Pantoja has also become interested in creative nonfiction, using the genre as another platform to navigate identity and spark conversations and reflection within her readers.

As much as Pantoja tries to dive into and conquer the issues that she is passionate about—immigration, mental health, reproductive health, gun control—she does her best to keep self-care at the forefront of her work. She is constantly inspired by the work ethic and resilience of her peers, but encourages them to implement self-care in their activism and work. She believes that when youth love and care for themselves, they create healthy and vital spaces to come together, strengthen one another, advocate for change, and share stories.


Paw Paw Nocturne

by Karina Pantoja

I admit that when slithering pink-honeyed sky

is replaced by breaking charcoal-stained night

I swallow the busiest road in town and throw it

up, its spine tangled among pink hydrangea

petals, garage sale signs, wine bottles, and

crucifixes. I don’t do much but barely exist

here among the moon’s bloodless glow that

speaks its own kind of white language. I listen

to delicate lake water kissing damp land

as you whisper, You’re beautiful. When I was

seven I cried about having dirty skin; brown as

mud, not brown as fruitful soil. Desire burned

in my throat for ocean eyes and thighs that I

could grip with one hand. I tell you that I’m

still learning to hold myself in my own hands,

but maybe that’s a lie. Maybe my hands are

ashy bone held by sadness at the joints and

if I stop clenching my fists for one moment of

serenity they will blow away and I will be left

with fragments of a body that I can only chew

and never bring myself to swallow.