Audio accompaniment and editing by Damon Pham
Dispatches from a Country Without Name
I’m not going to make you
leave the poem.
Selfishly, I must admit, part of me clings
to the remains of objectivity,
or at least the subjectivity of a guy with a name
like Walt or William or one of those names
that is all first names. But here you are
in the poem, though I have redacted
your name for privacy.
Redacted, Redacted, Redacted — now I can say it all I want.
If you’d listened you’d know
I only ever promised
difficulty. Haven’t you seen
how hard I fight for each poem?
Nothing can be expected from Paris.
All they have given us rots.
You told me once you often think unsummarizable things,
and I didn’t know what you meant,
and I loved you for it.
You, my algo diferente.
Once, I dreamed
of a common language.
Somehow, we were most honest
when language split open.
The closest I can offer you
to sense is couplets.
Can’t you hear the cicadas
pleading? They too
have loved this mutilated world. All I want
is to see you again tomorrow.
Freehanding Maps of Minnesota
I have called you feather down
in my sleep, christened you
the verge of memory,
painted your rivers in the rain.
I have written the scene
before I even arrive;
The breeze floats just enough
to rustle the edges of the paper,
lines only tenuously
Do your lakes ever run
dry? Does the smoke stay
in your clothes like it stays
I have loved you, Minnesota, and
I have never seen your face.
monolith of midwest and west
and tell me west,
do you ever get lonely?
Have you ever been afraid
to hold on? I can see you
through the snow drifts,
from the parched hills
of my heart.
I reside in the ache of sleep
and stone, I walk
to follow you, Northern Star. I wish
it were as easy
as buying a ticket to see the lights,
but the paper stayed
in my pocket, through the laundry,
Would you chase me
through the woods, Minnesota?
northbound, run your hand through my hair
and call me holy? Would you welcome me now,
after the way the summer sunset
left us sprawling?
Would you love me, Minnesota, even when I go back home?
Another Diaspora Poem
Diaspora Poem speaks of beaches
I have never
set a single foot on, says sprinkle
in some words in Spanish so they know
you have something to remember,
Diaspora Poem says watch
me, says you must be proof
the sub-altern can speak,
says always yell, says stay
yelling, Diaspora Poem says
wandering is better than any home
you could settle into, says you were denied
the past so keep pushing
toward the future, says yearn,
says drink up though you will never
be filled, Diaspora Poem says lie down
for me, cuts out my tongue
so I know
what it means to lack, says isn’t it glamorous?
Isn’t the loneliness worth it?
Says let them see you cry in public
so they know you’re a poet, says
anyone who calls you cliche is an anti-
immigrant bigot, Diaspora Poem calls me baby,
sings me to sleep
at night since no one else will,
Ella canta la mañanitas
que cantaba El Rey David,
Diaspora Poem never says
calls me bitch and queen
out the same mouth,
says I am your home now, says this
is your home now, says die
a martyr like Selena, says
you were born for this,
but all I can muster is
is forever, I can only stand
where my feet are, even when I’m dying
of thirst, even when there are too many
maps to make sense of,
and I’m too turned around to find
the place I’ve never had the words
to call home,
so I call collect,
ask my Abuelita to keep pushing pesos
into the booth,
ask her to stay on the line until
I can form sentences in my mother tongue,
tanto, te extraño,
vamos a ir a México pa’ mis vacaciones
but all I can manage is I’m sorry,
and not even in Spanish either,
so I pray to nuestra virgen that I’ll
survive another winter,
in the meantime,
I dream of the last time
I felt fluent
in any language,
of the last year I didn’t need a passport
to cross the border,
of all the nights
walking home from the circus
when I’d make it to the front gate,
right where the buganvilla
bloomed and she’d call me
hijita de mi vida,
and I wake up gasping,
wondering if I will pass on
all this longing to my daughter’s
daughter too, if she will remember the the taste
of limonada in the summertime,
or if she too will be trapped
in this world without end,
because I can’t help myself,
my body was born
for warmer climates, but I didn’t know that
until I move up North,
until my chapped lips
burn when the cold
no matter how much coconut oil
I rub on,
so when it keeps snowing
I get on my knees at Easter
service sobbing I will pay
any price to evoke
and all the voices
in my head
speak of beaches, speak of deserts, speak
of homelands, then at once,
or maybe speak
all as one, saying
we knew it,
we were right
The Black Shoals
Swallow me whole,
oh beast of the Southern radar,
patron of the disaster zone, of the unsurvivable
storm surge, oh surveiller of our anxieties,
of a drowning foretold.
Here we are
in another August of hot darkness,
another storm ravaging
the Black shoals,
and I am told the map isn’t even accurate anymore,
the coastline has eroded so much
that Louisiana is no longer
a boot shape, our shores more saltwater
than homestead, and I doom scroll through Twitter
like it’s all new.
Perhaps it is.
My lungs were declared a disaster
zone long ago. My people have wandered,
and were lost, refugees
in their own dique country,
their homes named uninhabitable
long before the storm even hit.
I have lived 15 years flinching
at the slightest crack of thunder,
but it is August.
Three months into a national uprising,
400-plus years into a people’s apocalypse,
20 days after a Black man was shot in the back
seven times in Wisconsin, and I am tired
of telling people these are “natural” disasters.
3 years ago, when the last storm hit
I might have told you
that every 500 years someone must bear
the sins of a people
but in the years since my hands first began to shake,
I have learned who and what and where is responsible
and as the storm spins in the radar,
I watch colonization unfold in real time:
Man-made climate change
spins whiteness into stacks of white cumulonimbus.
as the eye of the storm intensifies
with each degree stacked in the gulf,
each tick moves upward on the stock exchange.
Tell me someone didn’t dream up this deluge,
this clearing of land, uninhabitable,
tell me who has the right to remain,
Tell me, without flinching,
that Black life matters.
Truth be told,
the storm isn’t even the half of it:
ain’t nothing new
‘bout our lands declared,
cleared for industrial use
for flume and flare,
for fire and brimstone,
this place, the only one where we were allowed
Refineries, petrochemical infestations
have taken hold in our homelands,
and in the days before natural disaster
they unleash one that is manmade all on their own,
here, our bodies,
marked in yellow tape,
flooding the lungs of our communities
with the smoke from their stacks.
Oh, our lady of perpetual fever dreams,
Our asphalt sovereign,
Mother of ozone action days and
Asthmatic breath —
behold how the men have partitioned our
city, sliced and diced
until all that is left
is to worry and wait.
We were never meant to survive
the belly of the beast.
& ain’t that some shit.
ain’t that something holy
in all this mudbound.
ain’t that some Black life. For still,
i sit here loving you,
blessed city of perpetual moisture.
We who have kept on,
pressing towards the mark
oh my beloved kin-dom.
We, brought here to these Black shoals,
long before the storms came.
We, who will keep the land,
long after our captors are gone.
*Title from Tiffany Lethabo King’s book of the same name, The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies.
Irene Vázquez is a Black Mexican-American poet, editor, and journalist from Houston, Texas. She’s a senior at Yale where she writes with WORD: Performance Poetry. Broadly, she writes towards Black liberation, and her current intellectual home is in Caribbean Studies. Mostly she likes drinking coffee, watching Queen Sugar, and using the word “capacious.” Her work can be found at irenevazquez.com. Irene’s favorite body of water is the Gulf of Mexico.