Our poetry editor, Joe Pan, has selected two poems by Urayoán Noel for his series that brings original poetry to the screens of Hyperallergic readers.

Vincent van Gogh, "The bat" (1886) (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, via Wikimedia Commons)

Vincent van Gogh, “The bat” (1886) (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, via Wikimedia Commons)

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                                                “a shit-ton of bats”
                                                —Javier Zamora (Austin, July 2015)

                                                for my fellow cantomundistas

Our freestyle flows like “a shit-ton of bats”
(to steal a phrase from Javier Zamora).
Taxonomists of capital flora,
we barnstorm the city with verbal gats
and take aim at the hedge-fund plutocrats
trolling us on social-justice fora.
Freedom is a flick of the fedora
(they own our land but not our poets’ hats).
Looking for a city to get lost in,
we were dreaming when we came upon it.
Its border? The bodies that we crossed in,
cursing in street Spanish (not “doggone it!”).
Much like the Chiroptera of Austin
we tag a bridge with our sonar sonnet.

What’s in a shit-ton? (I’ll ask Zamora.)
It’s hard to count amid the faceless frats.
After a few palabras and true dats
we explorer-poets channel Dora.
No map. No app. Surveying ahora.
Where are the bodegas and laundromats
amid the loft-conversion ziggurats?
What gives a place its iconic aura?
(Hint: it’s not about ironic flannel,
artisanal cupcakes or IPAs,
a meme workshop or a hashtag panel
for zombie PhDs and MFAs.)
Our dream streets broadcast on a batchannel
whose batsignal reverberates for days.

Barrio echolocution sounds like bats,
bachata Petrarchs wail for their Laura,
Tejano dive bars bleed raza sonora.
Must mohawk’d jípsters with designer tats
sip ten-buck drinks to wax DJ ersatz?
We want sounds not streaming on Pandora,
beat-spelunkers aiming for aurora,
moonwalking in chancleta hi-heel flats.
In Spanish bat’s murciélago (blind mouse?),
I see us all in the bear-soaked moon though:
we bump and grind and Lupe owns the house
and Sandra swings, that reggaetón tune though…
so much floricanto in our mundo
because there’s no teoría without caos.

El Gúgol says they’re “Mexican free-tailed,”
the bats that “migrate” to that Congress bridge
not called my back but someone’s privilege
(think Congress and the suits they’ve never failed
and the corporate corpses they’ve retailed).
Electorally they’ll speak “our” language:
“Yo jablo un poquitou.” (Not a smidge.)
But who are the deported and surveilled?
Who owns our urban archipelagos?
Words privatized. Once the escuela goes,
nostalgia factories hard-sell agos
like Big Macs at the maquiladora
but no one bats down us murciélagos!
Let’s swarm vanilla streets till glam Gomorrah!


Running out of rhymes ending in -ora
and going batty from a lack of bats,
I map the spirit’s wordless habitats,
free-riffing, like Williams on his kora
(son of a fierce Boricua señora
as am I, one of many Rican brats
all born too late to be bugalú cats,
watch Clemente bat or Julia score a
run-on line.) My broomstick bat will shatter
(that Klemente rode a wooden stallion).
I’ll invoke the island’s antimatter,
the hemisphere’s populist battalion
that claims its peace, beautiful rebellion
of bat-shit particles born to scatter.


                        (SIN SEMBLANZA)

I among many                               in the deafening overpass
it’s demolition time                        the doable, forgoable self

                        Y LOS CALABOZOS

I occupy                                         this ambit, this annex
the amber of sunset                      the clunkier remix

                        DE MIS OJOS BORROSOS

my body as is                                like a bus never full
sad or sidewinding                        a function of exhaust

                        CAVADORA DE FOSOS

through hoists and cranes           and my eyes a semblance
of premoistened ocean                no wells around

                        SOCAVADORA DE GNOSIS

this walled machinery                  of hate to invoice
of sickness to spreadsheet          signal lights into the ozone

                        GRABADORA DE VOCES

no remedies to post                     no theories to posit
houses unnumbered                    the welt of nations

                        EN EL TERRENO SIEMPRE AJENO

parked in alleys                            no thru-route before me
and longtime after                        the swipes of empire

                        DEL YO Y SUS DESGLOSES

I’m too old to be carded               becoming these cordoned-off territories
mine is the skin’s tether               too loose-tongued to linger


in an atmosphere of harrows       my history of landings
on the outs of the moment           missed screenings

                        DE LA CIUDAD Y EL SIGNO

I clamber the ember                     the numbest of numbers
lowballs the remainder                 of touch on the flesh

                        CUANDO APENAS SE EXISTE

no skylights to open                     no searchlights to warn
when the body was born              I for one was burning

                        A FUERZA DE CHISTE

foreclosing the tremors                 no view of the river
I asked to be coursing                   the hemisphere’s causeways

                        AFUERA DE LO VIRAL

instead doubly stranded               as fuselage fragments
I crash the contingent                   as mute and as mutinous

                        DE LA SUCURSAL DE LA IMAGEN

as a castaway blogger                  ghostwriting new entries
on old motifs like                           you know, the lyric self and stuff


it’s hard to buy this lyre                 nobody wants it when it’s free
when it falls it makes a thud          that sound is us

                        Y CANCIONES DESEANTES

confessional/confectional             gimmicks, jimmied locks of text
the self’s presentation                   in congresses and roundtables

                        ABRIENDO EL FRASCO QUE DICE “RENAZCO”

lugging laptops to dive bars          in search of interconnectivity
for where there are widgets          the self is legible

                        Y LANZÁNDOLO HACIA EL MAR

whether the analog folds              or holds all depends
on the digits appended                 to the hands interlocking

                        DESDE EXTRAMUROS SIN CIUDADES

in theaters and beachfronts         where I’ve never been to
and will never go                          because going is finally a no-go

                        CAUTIVO DE LA HUIDA PROMETIDA

meaning’s where I am                   this litter as is
collage of bricks                            ah, the sandlots of this land

                        Y ES QUE CUANDO NACEN LAS NACIONES

it’s hard to play these days            alone, besides I’m running out of days
the fires that transpired                 did not spare these latitudes

                        ES DE CABEZA Y DE TERROR

and somehow the injuries             must become an example
a particle’s teachable moment      as if moments could do more than shimmer

                        COMO UN ACERTIJO ESCRITO EN EL TAJO

can the shimmer be taught,          shared? is there co-presence
in this promisedland of voice        where we read with silencers-in-hand?


must we disband                           the shock troupe that called for
a new sense of urgency                embedded in this loss?


how to wear the despair                like an emblem we’ve made ours
lacking a larger scheme?              all I can do is lobby for your touch


pretending the outside                  hasn’t always looked like this
and serve up this stridency           that flows up the windpipe, this air


my state is uncharted                   and I’m ready to face the dying day
traders unlocking the shudder      becoming the ungovernable shadow


the ether’s theremin                       there, I’m in

* * *

Originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Urayoán Noel is the author of several books of poetry in English and Spanish, the most recent of which is Buzzing Hemisphere/Rumor Hemisférico (University of Arizona Press, 2015). Other works include the critical study In Visible Movement: Nuyorican Poetry from the Sixties to Slam (University of Iowa Press, 2014), winner of the LASA Latina/o Studies Section Book Award, and The Edgemere Letters, a multimedia collaboration with artist Martha Clippinger. Also a translator and performer, and a former CantoMundo and Ford Foundation fellow, Noel lives in the Bronx and teaches at NYU. Learn more at urayoannoel.com and wokitokiteki.com, an improvisational poetry vlog.

Joe Pan grew up along the Space Coast of Florida and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His debut poetry book, Autobiomythography & Gallery, was named “Best First Book of the Year” by Coldfront...

One reply on “Two Poems by Urayoán Noel”

  1. OMG–I Totally LOVE “Batsonnets”!!!! I constantly crave Petrarchan sonnet rhyme schemes–so this work hugely cheers me; so many thanks! Thirty cheers to/for virtuosity!

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