Migrant Psalms: Poems
Author: Darrel Alejandro Holnes
Publisher: Northwestern University Press (2020)
Migrant Psalms prays for a way to make sense of immigration to the United States—now that we realize the American Dream was always an impossible one. Both reverent and daring, this verse interrogates religion, race, class, family, and sexuality. Written as a call to action, the collection pulls together prayer, popular culture, and technology to tell a twenty-first-century migrant story.
Migrant Psalms gives us a rare look inside a Panamanian experience of migration, describing the harsh realities of mothers, children, and teens who entered the United States—or tried to do so. Holnes’s poems find the universal through specificity; their exploration of expatriation, assimilation, and naturalization transcends the author’s personal experience to speak to what it means to be “other” anywhere.
The collection begins with “Kyrie,” a coming-to-America chronicle that spans three years in Texas, modeled after the liturgical Christian prayer Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy). Other poems experiment with macaronic language and form to parallel shifts in the speaker’s status from immigrant to citizen, ending with “The 21st Century Poem,” which probes what’s “real” in today’s New York City. Through the speaker’s quest to become an American, this collection asks: Who are we becoming as individuals, as a society, as a nation, as a world? And is faith enough to enact change? Or is it just the first step?