Afro Latinx Poetry Issue – Darrel Alejandro Holnes

Darrel Alejandro Holnes


Ladies Sing The Blues

There is no word for a parent who loses a child,
Only a sound, a howling after which nothing-same remains.

Sweet music of mothers singing the baquiné on their knees
In front of mass graves swells outside Tocumen Airport in the early 90s.

Recently discovered bodies are the subjects of their songs
As many lost their children during the US Invasion of Panamá. Their voices

Melt like a mercy war casualties never receive
Into an almost harmony, into an almost single sonic tone.

Underneath their apotropaic canto
A priest gives last rites a second time for the deceased

In a pentameter matching the cadence of the women’s sung prayers.
This wake is a second chance to wake old-world religion, this

Velorio is a second chance for Old Testament grace. Ladies sing of blood
Earth scorched by bombs, molten men in tenement courtyards, and blood on the leaves.

Ladies sing of blood in the high-pitched wind whistling through mango trees, and of blood
Gathering at the root of truth building Panamá’s pursuits of American Dreams

& America’s pursuits of paradise. See the alligator from the everglades run through
the rainforest with a silver bullet for an eye? See the djembe drum’s rubber-tire hide?

What is idyllic about a home like mine where so many mothers are forced to
Grieve their young? What is beautiful about the ghost of maternal love

Haunting the blues baquiné? Perhaps such ghosts are proof that
Home is the rare place where love once existed, and the

Sad music of loss is evidence that those
Mourned once did something right.

Hear what the good-dead leave behind: sage-incensed incantation in the vibrating
Timbres of each voice on high as smoke rises with planes taking flight.


The Art of Diplomacy

The diplomat kids at the international school were all from
Somewhere else, and those of us who weren’t, needed to be

So I pulled a Sean John shirt over my head as if
The logo were an American flag, although not the same one

President Bush saluted since nobody at school supported
American wars or military operations like the one that destroyed

El Chorrillo, the bombed ghetto behind my house where
I could still hear ghosts at night crying

Socorro! as if even in death they never escaped
The flames. At school I wore a bandana like Tupac Shakur

And other rappers our Panamanian raperos and reggaetoneros
Imitated in their music videos about

Wanting to escape gun violence in el ghetto
But being unable to leave good hood pussy behind.

There was always something more credible about
Our moreno stories when they were

Told to the beat of an African drum
Played with an American gun

As if doing so made us black cowboys or
The next closest thing: West Coast gangster rap gods

Who rich kids worldwide, like the ones at my school,
Could pretend to be whenever they wanted.

To be a diplomat like our fathers is to serve
The public what they need to eat

Like when Alessa speaks with little sympathy to me about her
Moreno chauffer’s drug-addicted and jailhouse past

And I serve her Tupac lyrics: First ship ’em dope and let ’em deal the brothers.
Give ’em guns, step back, and watch ’em kill each other.

To be a diplomat like our mothers is to understand others whether or not
You’re understood. Not black like you, Alessa, says,

Black as in poor. They fill their lives with drugs because
They can’t afford much else, she attempts sympathy

While speaking to a teenage me rocking Timberland boots and
The most expensive urban wear my parents’ money could buy

Wondering what Panamanian void I was filling with these
American things. Perhaps there was a star-shaped black hole

The size of the Panamá Canal in the Tommy Hilfiger flag draped
Over my chest as if my chest were a casket, as if the government could fold

My body and hand it with condolences to my next of kin
As they failed to do for the families of West Indian men

Killed in service of an imported American dream
During the canal’s construction.

Maybe in this black hole my negrura is finally its own country
And I’m finally at home in my own skin.

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