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Bag groceries at the market down the road. Because your mom

says you need the money. Because you need the money. Paper

or plastic? Don’t mess this up. You know how Cheryl gets. Eggs

and bread on top, meat on its own. Carry them out. Hold them

from the bottom, thank them for shopping, wish them well on

their way. Ask for time off. Let your boss yell. Miss your

brother’s state championship. He doesn’t win, anyway.

Work as a groundskeeper. Wake up at eight o’clock, wipe sweat

from your eyes for forty hours a week when they told you

twelve. Drink your jug of water, feel the warm liquid coat your

tongue, drown each defiant word. Not too long, now. You don’t

get paid to stand around. Tomorrow, pray for rain. Give a silent

devotion as the trees cower beneath the white noise thundering

down. Swear when the sun miraculously rips through.

Wash dishes at your local movie theater. You want to work in

film, so it’s almost the same thing. Just try not to cry while

you’re here. You only started this week and you need them to

like you. Yes, you’re limping, and yes, there’s blood, but no one

needs to know. When the cook asks if you’re okay, tell her

you’re a bit sick, that’s all. Then smile. Like you’re happy to be

here. Because you are. You really are.

After your shoes have drowned with your dreams in the mop

water, your palms pruned flesh, go home. Watch the town roll

by in bright swirls. When you stop at the light by the gas station,

don’t imagine your future: the words you will not write, the

places you will not go. Ignore the ache that sits under your skin.

The relentless coming and going these nights will bring. Don’t

cry. Please, don’t cry. All right, you can cry. Just remember to

go on green.

Lay awake that night. The night after that, too. Head into work

with your eyes on the ground. When they ask how you’re doing,

say, Fine. It’s better that way. Hobble through the kitchen and

hope the crashing dishes and sizzling stoves will be louder than

the pain. At the end of the night, head out the back door, tell your

boss you missed a phone call from your mom. Call your mom.

Wait by the dumpsters as it rings. Hello? Feel your ribs break.

Tell her you can’t do this. Tell her you thought you could. Tell

her it’s your body, the hours, the people, you don’t know.

Breathe. Wait for her to get your dad on the line. Wipe your eyes.

Breathe. Listen to his voice crack through the speaker. Let the

breeze billow through your clothes. Apologize, to both of them.

For not sticking with it. For not staying quiet. For refusing to

stand here, still in this life.

Why My Brother Refuses to Speak Spanish When My Mom Says Te Amo

Because I don’t want to,

cold and hard like water from the spigot

in our abuela’s bathroom

every morning.

If you want it warm,

you’ll have to heat it on the stove.

I stare at his eyes that remind me

of la cancha when it rains,

our cleats biting into mud

with every dash, our whoops and hollers

swallowed by the thunder above.

Heaven’s a lively bunch.

I dig through the brown,

hoping to pick a truth from beneath

my nails, one that doesn’t crumble

in the heat of the afternoon

or dry with the ring of salt around my neck.

I wonder if, Because I don’t want to, translates

to another language, if it sounds more true.

I wonder if it means

Because I don’t want to be Latino

or because I don’t want to be afraid

or because I don’t want to feel shame

for failing my mother’s tongue, its sharp consonants

pricking my own, the blood spilling with every vowel

until my ancestors surround me, ponder

my face and ripple into silence when they fail

to see their own.

What if I am to be my mother’s son by birth alone.

If, soy un catracho will be a phrase that always struggles

to leave this mouth. ¿Who will water la tierra

con su sangre, alimentar a los niños her bones,

if not me? Because I want to

say, I love you, in more than one way.

In the end, my brother leaves before we can conclude,

and I am stranded in this room with these words, struggling

to swallow every curve and edge. My mother calls out

to me, asks what’s wrong, her voice so foreign and sweet—

like our time in Yoro, when she sliced mangos onto a plate

and handed them to me without my asking

amidst the burgeoning bodies of family bursting through the door,

as if to ask that I end this war, let its remains drip down my chin.

Mi nene, the ants will devour what’s left.

I chew the memory between my lips and meet her concern

with silence. I want to tell her

everything, but I don’t know how to say it.

A few good words with Daren

PDS: As a writer and editor, I think a lot about language—what languages are “mine” in the racist, colonialist project of America? What languages have I lost access to? I mourn the languages that my multilingual immigrant mother didn’t teach me because it was too hard to do it in a country that demands English from everyone. I was drawn to that same sense of loss and longing in your poem, “Why My Brother Refuses to Speak Spanish When My Mom Says Te Amo.” Tell us a little bit about your relationship to language and how it speaks to your identity and your writing.

DC: I feel like language is a fundamental part of my being. I’m sure it’s similar for everyone, what with it being a major component of how we communicate, but I’m fascinated by the sounds, the rhythm, the silence of it all. I’m not the most talkative person, but I find I have the most to say on the page. I guess it’s easier to cut through the bullshit that way.

As far as my identity, language plays a huge role. Like you, my mother chose not to teach my brothers and I Spanish growing up. Partly because we didn’t have the will to pay attention, but also what that could mean as a child growing up in the Midwest, where you’re most likely the only person of color in the entire class. Looking back, I was always angry. Not at her, but at how she was made to feel that it was necessary—that it was the best way to protect her kids. Angry that I feel like I’ve lost a part of myself in the process. I’m angry that we live in a country that boasts of culture and its wonders, until we’re faced with one different than our own.

I feel like that’s what I’m trying to do—reclaim that part I’ve let fall away. My mother is Honduran and my father is African American, so I’ve often found myself questioning whether each half of me was enough, while also navigating a predominantly white space. I’m sure you can imagine the identity crisis that followed as a result. I felt like an impostor claiming my latinidad, that I’d be exposed in front of my mother and her family, that in that moment, she’d realize her culture would die with her. At times, I still do. I think that’s why language is so prominent in my writing—it gives me the chance to hold on to her. Because she is mine, and her culture is mine, too.

PDS: Both of these poems explore a grinding away of self, or at least a obfuscation—what practices do you take in your writing life to care for yourself while processing and writing through loss and pain?

DC: I’m not great at it, but I’m getting better at taking breaks. I feel like I get sucked into hustle culture and often forget myself in the process, which can really wear away at my well-being—especially considering how demanding processing loss and pain can be. I’ll also read/listen to artist interviews or podcasts that explore an artist’s process because I love seeing how they approach their art form. I think it’s important to remind ourselves of not only the work that goes into the finished product, but also how there are so many different ways to arrive at the same place.

Speaking of interviews, one I find myself going back to is an interview Frank Ocean did with the New York Times a few years ago. When asked about the time it took to make Endless and Blonde he said, “‘I know that once it’s out, it’s out forever, so I’m not really tripping on how long it’s taking.’” I feel like that’s helped a lot in accepting that these poems will come out when they’re supposed to, even if it takes longer than I’d like.

The last thing I do is listen to sad music. Artists like Frank and Jessie Reyez come to mind because they both possess an authenticity that spills out of their work. I really admire their vulnerability, and it’s something I strive to do in my own art. There’s a certain comfort that comes with sharing your grief.

PDS: Whose work feels like a deep nap after a long day? What books or poems are energizing you these days?

Musically, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is always an album I can put on and let wash over me. It’s such a spiritual experience. Well, that and Frank Ocean’s Blonde. I’m a sucker for nostalgia. By the way, have I mentioned how much I love Frank Ocean?

I’ll confess that I haven’t read as much I would like, but Sandra Cisneros’ work—especially her fiction—always reminds me of moments I’ve shared with my family or issues I’ve experienced myself. As far as poems go, one I read recently that hit me in the gut was Mariposa’s “Ode to the Diasporican.” The poem deals with the plight of being Latino/a, but growing up away from the motherland. The speaker’s confidence in their right to claim their latinidad is reassuring and what I hope to have one day, and I’d recommend that anyone struggling with their identity read it. Immediately.

Daren Colbert is a writer and filmmaker living in Missouri. He received his BA in English from Missouri State University, and currently works as a Wellness Coach at his local YMCA. When he’s not writing or making films, he’s usually pacing around his house, trying to remember that one idea he said he wouldn’t forget. He swears it’s the greatest thing ever. His work can be found in Crown Anthology, CONKER Magazine, and Unvael Journal.

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