Tomás Q. Morín


I wrote a poem once

that I called “Machete.” It was angry


because I was angry

when I wrote it, angry over


white supremacy

and blah blah blah. It’s okay


if you haven’t read it

because it only had one machete


in it and everyone knows

a poem with multiple machetes


always trumps

a poem with a single one.


Can we reclaim that word yet?

You know the one


I’m talking about.

Don’t make me say it again.


So if you’re one of the few

billion people who hasn’t


read my machete poem,

the recap goes like this:


a single machete,

gold and shiny,


descended from the Aztec

heaven of jaguars


and naked women

on flea market paintings...


That joke was going to be

longer, but I can’t


keep a straight face

for more than six lines,


even when the lines

are as short


as these are.

The truth is


that poem was about

weaponizing my smile


by giving it a sharp blade

to slice all the white



inside that poem,


the ones who

I made dance


like fields of cane.

Notice I implied just then


“my poem did this,

and my poem did that,”


instead of saying

I was responsible


for those choices

that felt right, and still do.


That poem does contain one lie

that I feel bad about,


which is silly,

because what poem doesn’t


contain a lie or two?

Even so, this one bothers me


so here’s my confession:

at the end of that poem


I said that I drink coffee.

I don’t. Never have.


Why don’t you drink coffee?

people always ask.


I don’t like the taste.

is what I say, and that,


well, that’s a truth

you can carve on my headstone


without disturbing my sleep.

What has kept me up


for months now

is the feeling that I forgot


to put something

in that single machete poem.


I’ve sat cold in my burrow,

washing my whiskers,


tuning my ears

to the gentle footfalls


of that feeling

that has been stalking me


for days and days.

I didn’t know


what it was until I heard

Chen Chen read


in snowy Vermont.

His dark jacket and pants


were pinstriped

like a cage for the soft leopard


shirt he wore.

I don’t think


I had seen him

since we had been teammates


for the Poetry World Series

with Erika M.


and even though we won

the game, the real victory


came while we waited,

on the corner of Crosby


and Houston,

for the crosswalk signal,


when he and I decided

we would go west


to Miss Lily’s

and the group


could go where it wanted

because we didn’t want


a sports bar,

because we didn’t want


American food,

because we didn’t want


to take orders

from the white woman


we didn’t know

who put herself in charge


of the group that night.

Now I’m not saying


she was a white supremacist

but she was wielding


something heavy and blunt

and invisible.


And really, shame on her

for forgetting


that just ten minutes before

our team had bested


that all-star lineup

of Melissa S. and Adrian M.


and Erika S.

after nine close innings.


Couldn’t she see

we all had crowns?


Chen, do you remember

how everyone smiled


and said they’d join us

when we said we were going


our own way?

Maybe they tapped


into their inner cats

in that moment


and could smell the jerk chicken

and the fried plantains


already sizzling

a short half mile away.


Do you remember

the size of my eyes


when I whispered

that we had passed


Cuba Gooding, Jr.

on the way to our  booth?


I know, I know,

Show me the money!


is the quote from Jerry Maguire

everyone remembers,


but for me it’s always been

the thing Cuba’s character says


about “kwan,”

how, “It means love,


respect, community, and dollars,

the entire package...”


And I know if we talk

about kwan in the poetry world


then the dollars part

becomes a punchline,


which is okay,

because laughter is what I forgot


to put in that  poem

with the single machete.


You reminded me

anger can also be funny


when I heard you read

that poem about cats,


or was it the one about dogs,

and this was a truth


I had always known,

or at least something I had


known for a very long time

but had forgotten


the day I sat down

to write my smile


into a machete

I could use


against my enemies.

But you and your poems


broke the stillness

of that cold night


in a chapel

I’m not sure


was ever meant

for laughter


and so I stepped

out of my burrow,


smiling, just as I did

this morning


when I woke from a dream

in which I was a housecat.


I was a tortie

and with every step


my legs grew longer

and my shoulders



like the discs of a plow


under my skin

that was now golden


like the color of wet



I stretched taller

and longer


until my teeth

and legs and claws,


even my tail

that was now as long as my body,


all felt lethal

like machetes.


I’d forgive anyone

who seeing me like this


said I was a “beautiful

death machine”


like Karen the cougar

in Talladega Nights,


a role that was played

by two mountain lions


named Dillon and K.C.

who liked to roll around


in the grass

between takes.


I like to think

“I’m a beautiful life machine,”


but I know

that will be a hard sell


for some readers

because this is now


a poem filled with many machetes

and how can a reader


ever tell when I’m

being angry-funny


or funny-angry

if they won’t cast off


their clothes

and embrace that wild



that roams inside


all of us and join me

over a pile of spare ribs,


our lips smacking,

stripes of sauce


on our cheeks,

not unlike how it was


in the beginning

for our species


before we had words

for what a life was


or someone to say

we must change it.


Found In Volume 50, No. 04
Read Issue
  • tomas 005
Tomás Q. Morín
About the Author

Tomás Q. Morín's newest book of poems is Machete (Penguin/Random House, 2021). He is also the author of Patient Zero and A Larger Country (winner of the 2012 APR/Honickman First Book Prize).