Home > Poetry > When the Narcos Kidnap JuanFe
Published: Sun Mar 24 2024
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
Online 2024 Family Violence Race
When the Narcos Kidnap JuanFe


You stop driving
your car to school
like JuanFe did.
The school bus has bulletproof windows.
And witnesses.
You go by your mother’s maiden name
so no one hears your father’s
bling-bling when they call for you aloud.
Somehow, this makes you look
more like her
when you cry.
Somehow, a river rises
when you weep.
It floods your neighborhood.
You become good
at keeping secrets.
No one knows
about this river.
When the guardia asks for your address
you send him to the estuary,
where, in the tides,
you found the blanquita who loves
your mystery.
You learn to make love with shadows
She loves it like that,
all that Black.


You keep your nose clean
even when you could use
a little bump, because there are
enough of those already
in the road for morenos
con plata like you,
brown men in the black:
enough money to be visible to thieves,
enough Black to be victims of the police.
And you already struggle to stay
in your lane. So you think:
better to sequester
yourself to the U.S.
than surrender to the narcos’
secuestro express,
their kidnappings at gunpoint
at any stoplight
between San Miguelito and Ancon
for whatever money can be
withdrawn from an ATM.
When the visa comes, you sell
your mirror’s many faces
for the single look in a passport pic.
One discarded face is JuanFe’s
staring back at you
from behind
a bright light.
Another is of a deer
standing in the way
of a school bus,
too scared to move.
Another is of a driver
heading north
despite whatever
stands in his way.
Driver honks.
Driver accelerates.
Driver fails to
pump the brakes,
hoping all roads,
regardless the slaughter,
will at least still

from Infernal Selves
Online 2023 Family Race Violence
Untitled 1975–86
AGNI 98 Sexuality Family Violence
Online 2023 Family Journeys Race

Darrel Alejandro Holnes, an Afro-Panamanian American writer, performer, and educator, is the author of Stepmotherland (Notre Dame Press, 2022) and Migrant Psalms (Northwestern Press, 2021); the coauthor of Prime: Poetry & Conversation (Sibling Rivalry Press, June 2014), an Over the Rainbow List selection of the American Library Association; and the coeditor of Happiness, The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, published in 2017 to commemorate the United Nations International Day of Happiness. His poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Poetry, AGNI, Callaloo, Best American Experimental Writing, and elsewhere. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in poetry, the C. P. Cavafy Poetry Prize from Poetry International, the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize from Letras Latinas, and the Drinking Gourd Poetry Prize from Northwestern University Press, he works as a college professor in New York City. (updated 4/2024)

Back to top