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Holnes, Darrel Alejandro

Holnes, Darrel Alejandro


Darrel Alejandro Holnes’ poetry has been published in or is forthcoming in Poetry Magazine, Best American Experimental Writing, American Poetry Review, Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine ArtsCallaloo, The Caribbean Writer, Day One, The Puritan Magazine, and elsewhere in print and online. He is the co-author of PRIME: Poetry & Conversations, a Rainbow List Selection by the America Library Association, and On Poetics, Identity & Latinidad: CantoMundo Poets Speak Out. He is the co-editor of Happiness, The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry. He teaches creative writing at NYU. Holnes has received scholarships, fellowships, or residencies at Canto Mundo, Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers Conference, Summer Literary Seminars: Kenya, Saltonstall Arts Colony, the Rose O’Neill Literary House, and elsewhere. He is from Panama.

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 Panama 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.



Published in Day One by Amazon

I Always Promised I’d Never Do Drag


You liked me as straight as a man

in love with another could ever be,

and I did too. But you also loved

women, how their backs widen

where hips appear, how their necks

swerve like swans swallowing water

when they call your name,

their long hair stroking your face

as they wake from nestling

your chest the morning after.

So here I am wearing the wig I made

in the image of the blondes you preferred

but said you could never love, applying eyeliner

but not for it to run. I will never

love him again, I fearlessly announce to the mirror

as I beat my face with powder base into submission,

as if one could ever fall out of the hero’s arms

and not back into peril. Tonight,

for the first time, I dance to save myself

from distress, becoming the one woman

you’ll never have instead. Tonight, at the Esta Noche bar

in the Mission District, I’m distance. The closest I ever came

to doing drag before was when I was crowned prom king

but chose instead the queen’s tiara;

cubic zirconia somehow closer

to real than the king’s cardboard cut-out crown.

Tonight I’m Diamante, extravaganza eleganza,

a gurl singing shine to the Yoncé record,

declaring myself the Queen B of the Night, singing

take all, of me, I just want to be the girl you like, the kind of girl you like

sashay-shantae-strut-shimmy shining on stage,

dunking it like an Oreo, making the masses

shake they asses at the command

of the scepter firmly in my hand. A king,

I queen so hard my earth-quaking rule

breaks the laws of nature; flesh-colored spanx

and control-top leggings tuck it away

where the sun don’t shine;

a black lace-up corset covers the missing rib

but lets the rest of me hang out enough to werk

and soak up applause from an audience

who loves this boy dressed as girl,

boy dressed as girly man, boy dressed as man

enough to drag, man dragging on,

man moving on, man gone.


PRIME: Poetry & Conversation (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014)

  • Best New Play for The Burning Room from Wichita State University
  • The Farrar Prize in Playwriting for The Burning Room from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
  • 2016 Split This Rock! National Poetry Contest (finalist)
  • 2015 Boston Review/”Discovery” Poetry Prize (semifinalist)
  • The Pablo Neruda Prize in Poetry (finalist)
  • The Rumi Prize in Poetry from Arts & Letters (finalist)
  • Hopwood Award in Poetry (finalist)
  • Theodore Roethke Prize in Poetry (two-time finalist)