Diego Báez


Diego Báez is a recipient of fellowships from the Surge Institute, the National Book Critics Circle, and CantoMundo. Poems and book reviews have appeared most recently at The Rumpus and The Georgia Review of Books. He lives in Chicago and teaches at Harry S Truman College.



Some immigrants stuff language into duffel bags like contraband.

Other children don’t learn to handle the baggage of their claim.


When I ask my father why he didn't teach us Spanish,

he says he tried, but that my brothers and I always squirmed and whined.


I do remember dreading the military-like insistence my father

placed on our response to his calls: "Si, Papi," he’d have us parrot.


Which I guess is a question? Or maybe an affirmation?

Like maybe finding the breathless body of his infant brother


when he was five fucked him up. So maybe the sound of our voices singing

our inheritance, this tongue of ours, grants a succession of his name, our house.


But I do remember asking my father, on more than one occasion, how to say something

stupid in Spanish, like toaster or roller coaster or whatever.


From the driver's seat of that minivan, I'm sure of it, he answered:

"There’s not a word for that."



Lynch Christmas


My uncle—my white uncle—

built me an Amnesty House.


I lived there, in the gingerbread,

ice white frosting, black licorice


barring white windows,

Life Saver over the entrance.


Come on, of course

you have to laugh, my uncle—


my white uncle—says.

Yuck yuck and hardy har.


It's all fun and games, not directed at me,

because Papi came over the right way:


plane ticket, scholarship, host family.

Passport stamped Asuncion, Miami, Chicago.


My father plucked sesame seeds off his hamburger bun.

He thought they were fungus or bugs.


He never really jibed with my uncle,

—my white uncle—the one who built me


the Amnesty House, where I lived,

downstairs, for a while.


* * *


My uncle gave me a job at his creative agency

selling nothing to no one and he and my aunt,


—my white aunt— allowed me to live

downstairs for a while. Ice white


windows and Illinois cold.

So much sad taxidermy.


I crept down there at Christmas to relive that time,

But it smelled different, remodeled, overrun.


At the time, I drove their daughter around.

She called her father Papi, like I did, to my dad.


I don't know why he chose to teach

his daughter this, this foreign familiar,


this Spanish I never learned

to shake, which she did,


and quickly, adopting first names,

started calling him John.


* * *


So at Christmas that Christmas

when he made a gingerbread cage


built for immigrants, I didn't understand

why she hadn’t joined us. Homework?


The divorce? She was away at school then,

way far away, in the city, farmland


Illinois and Lynch family Christmas

an image, mirage, or mere memory.


And my uncle and aunt—my white aunt—

split up. He kept the Lynch family


mansion, and she bought a loft in the Loop.

She invited me to live there with her daughter.


So my cousin—my white cousin—and I lived together

again and learned to shed "Papi."



© The Acentos Review 2020