Darrel Alejandro Holnes
Marvelous Sugar Baby

A black woman sings azúcar!

over polyrhythmic African drums

on the Latino radio stations

blazing from my smart phone

on the above-ground subway line

in Houston. La negra tiene

tumbao, sings queen Celia Cruz bluntly

about a señorita who doesn’t sweat

the small stuff and is therefore


as she commands us all to dance

to the ton-ton of a conga drum.

But sugar is so soluble and

precious that all it takes is a drizzle

to end the night early

and send the band home.

You’d think stronger stuff

would come from sugarcanes

so hard to chop down that white men

once thought only the Negros

could do it. Perhaps

that’s the thing about making,

the strongest structure is that which

is inevitably torn down,

temperance making

beauty making la vida un carnaval.

This is where we find joy: a rumba despite

the high chances of rain at the Taco Milagro salsa night,

a sing-along about the sweetness of life despite

salty sweat drowning our faces

as the drum rhythm picks up

and our bodies move faster together

toward their own inevitable ends apart—

A black woman, demanding our attention

despite how we stare her down,

struts the street earthily shaking from

side to side. Gracias a Dios,

la negra nos tiene tumbao.

Gracias a Dios, camina

de lao pa lao pa lao. 



                   After Kara Walker


Found In Volume 45, No. 04
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  • holnes by andrew kluger
Darrel Alejandro Holnes
About the Author

Darrel Alejandro Holnes is a researcher, playwright, and a poet from Panama City and the former Canal Zone of Panamá. As a researcher, Holnes conducted ethnographic interviews for the Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston (SKRH) project directed by Dr. Carl Lindahl and Pat Jasper, PhD, in partnership with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and the University of Houston. He’s currently a Faculty Advisor and member of the Arts Faculty at New York University's (NYU) Gallatin School of Individualized Study where he teaches dramatic writing and ethnographic playwriting courses and mentors playwrights in the Gallatin Summer Theater Lab and Gallatin Theater Troupe. He also teaches creative writing and screenwriting at Rutgers University - New Brunswick.