Style

Poem: Diaspora Sonnet Traveling Between Apartment Rentals

Oliver de la Paz’s poem is part of a series of “diaspora sonnets,” in which this one, along with others, create a whole, while each sonnet can still operate on its own. These sonnets don’t have all the elements of typical sonnets, such as rhyme and meter, but they have the usual 14 lines and a volta, or turn, in the penultimate stanza. The poem comes to life in the fourth stanza when it becomes surreal, when the “blight in the siding” speaks. The final volta tightly encapsulates the immigrant experience — that of new grammar and new lands that are both alluring and tenuous. Selected by Victoria Chang

Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman

Diaspora Sonnet Traveling Between Apartment Rentals

By Oliver de la Paz

What made the grammar of our early years,
moving from place to place, house to flimsy

house, was the meaning made between us, here
and there, and wherever or whenever

we moved. The windows chafed. Father pushed boards
with his palm to make the concavity

recede into dust. The blight in the siding
spoke loudly. In its shape, it said “Here is

my body.” It said, “Here the rain moves across
the rippled wood like a horse through the plains.”

My father’s words, shaky foundations:
shelter was a noun in sentences racing

past my ears. The verb was family —
the object, swept and scrubbed, leaving no trace.


Victoria Chang is a poet whose new book of poems is “The Trees Witness Everything” (Copper Canyon Press, 2022). Her fifth book of poems, “Obit” (2020), was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Time Must-Read. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in Antioch University’s M.F.A. program. Oliver de la Paz is the author of six collections of poetry, including “Names Above Houses” (Southern Illinois University Press, 2001), “Requiem for the Orchard” (University of Akron Press, 2010), which won the Akron Poetry Prize, and “The Boy in the Labyrinth” (University of Akron Press, 2019), finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry. He teaches at the College of the Holy Cross and in the Low-Residency M.F.A. program at Pacific Lutheran University. This poem will appear in “The Diaspora Sonnets,” which is forthcoming from Liveright Press in 2023.

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