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Erika L. Sánchez



In One Hundred Years of Solitude,

Márquez wrote that we are birthed

by our mothers only once, but life obligates

us to give birth

to ourselves over and over.                


I’m sorry, Amá.

I know you think only white people leave

their families.

I undid my braids too early, I know.

It started when the blood

began to flow,

as if something inside me

kept unraveling.


I packed my bags one night

and left without a word.

Left like a gypsy, you said.


On my way to Tehuantepec,

I think about my own birth—

my head peeking out

from my own vagina.


In my hand I hold a bird

of paradise

that I bought from a boy

at a crossing.


Amá, I think of you

as I watch mountains,

women who carry

baskets on their heads,

dresses stitched

with jungle patterns.


Amá, I leave because

I feel like an unfinished

poem, because I’m always trying

to bridge the difference.


Amá, I wanted to tell you

about the parade in Oaxaca

that saved me.


About how I looked for your God

then mine in the desert,

about the pomegranate I shared

with a woman on the street

whose face was brown and creased

like yours.




After the salt feast, I watched a bird peck at another bird who was already dead.


What I know best is the color of sun through my own eyelids.


And like those jubilant saplings, I am always so breathless and ignorant.


I once fucked a man who was unspeakably ugly, and it wasn't even winter.


What I mean is that I bludgeoned the palm fronds to keep from sobbing.


What I mean is that I lit a kite on fire and didn't say I was sorry.


The gaze of the deer was nothing if not victorious. 


I once loved a man who was married to a martyr.


No, he was married to a goat. No, he was married to a ladder. What's the difference?


I cried on a toilet in the middle of New York City. Four times in one day. I counted. I promise.


That time I was stunned by my own pudendum. The smell.


Then I became ashamed of my shame, etcetera, infinity until the end of time itself.


The vulgarity of the orchid in all of its hooded glory is showy but exquisite. 


The first time I ever came the light was weak and carnivorous.


I covered my eyes and the night cleared its dumb throat.


I heard my mother wringing her hands the next morning.


Of course I put my underwear on backward, of course the elastic didn't work. 


What I wanted most at that moment was a sandwich.


But I just nursed on this leather whip.


I just splattered my sheets with my sadness. 


                  after Larry Levis


You wear faded black

and paint your face white as the blessed

teeth of Jesus

because brown isn’t high art

unless you are a beautiful savage.


All the useless tautologies—   


This is me. I am this. I am me.


In your ragged

Salvation Army sweaters, in your brilliant


awkwardness. White dresses

like Emily Dickinson.


I dreaded that first Robin,

so, at fifteen you slash

your wrists.


You’re not allowed

to shave your legs in the hospital.


The atmosphere

that year: sometimes you exist

and sometimes you think you’re Mrs. Dalloway. 


This is bold—existing.


You do not understand your parents

who understand you less:

your father who listens to ABBA after work,

your mother who eats expired food.


How do you explain what you have done?

With your hybrid mouth, a split tongue.


How do you explain the warmth

sucking you open, leaving you

like a gutted machine?


It is a luxury to tell a story.


How do you explain

that the words are made by more

than your wanting?


Te chingas o te jodes.


At times when you speak Spanish, your tongue

is flaccid inside your rotten mouth:


desgraciada, sin vergüenza.


At the hospital they're calling your name

with an accent on the E. They bring you

tacos, a tiny golden crucifix.


Your father has run

all the way from the factory.

-from Lessons on Expulsion (Graywolf Press), selected by Spring 2023 Guest Editor, Gerard Robledo

Erika L. Sánchez is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her debut poetry collection, Lessons on Expulsion, was published by Graywolf in July 2017, and was a finalist for the PEN America Open Book Award. Her debut young adult novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, published in October 2017 by Knopf Books for Young Readers, was a New York Times bestseller and a National Book Awards finalist. It is now is being made into a film directed by America Ferrera. Most recently Sánchez published a critically acclaimed memoir-in-essays titled Crying in the Bathroom with Viking Books. Sánchez was a Fulbright Scholar, a 2015 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent fellow from the Poetry Foundation, a 2017-2019 Princeton Arts Fellow, a 2018 recipient of the 21st Century Award from the Chicago Public Library Foundation, and a 2019 recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. She was the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz chair at DePaul University in Chicago. In April 2023 she was informed that her contract would not be renewed due to campus-wide budget cuts, but we all know it’s because the university does not value faculty or students of color.

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