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A Poem from “Stepmotherland,” by Darrel Alejandro Holnes

Winner of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, Stepmotherland, Darrel Alejandro Holnes’s first full-length collection, is filled with poems that chronicle and question identity, family, and allegiance. This Central American love song is in constant motion as it takes us on a lyrical and sometimes narrative journey from Panamá to the USA and beyond. Exploring a complex range of emotions, this collection is a celebration of the discovery of America, the discovery of self, and the ways they may be one and the same.

When My Mother Gives Up Her American Dream to Marry My Father

She always knew
it was coming, the harpy on
horseback, deity of her dreams with a

grey and white feathered halo for a crown.
I never understood religious offering,
giving back to creators something

they could so easily take themselves, whether it be
taking her lamming for slaughter or taking her
dreams deferred of becoming a

nurse like Diahann Carroll’s Julia on
US TV stations that my mother watched
as a little Black girl in the Panamá of the 1960s.

Julia’s good looks are an act of
defiance. Black women on
TV were never that beautiful.

My mother takes note and
offers my father her
velvet on their wedding night.

He crushes it to bring the
beauty out of the thing
like all men taught

by their fathers to
press a grape for wine or a
body for blood when it was the only

red the village men said he should take for a
wife, when it was the only kind of
woman the village men said he should take for

love. There’s always a bit of
violence to sacrifice; flesh
crushed under the pressure of

other people’s expectations, giving
life to the machos, the patrones, the pelaos, like me.
The blow of birthing machismo is only softened by

promises of sainthood, promises of
power over man now that her only
son was going to be one.

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