Black Lawrence Press
November 20, 2018

Welcome, Willy Palomo!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired during 2018. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Willy Palomo, author of the poetry collection Wake the Others, which will be published in early 2020.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our November Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies) and translations from German. Also, our Big Moose Prize for the novel is currently open to early bird submissions.


The Author

Willy Palomo is the son of two immigrants from El Salvador. He is a McNair Scholar, Macondista, and a Frost Place Latin@ Scholar. He has performed his poetry (inter)nationally at the National Poetry Slam, CUPSI, and V Festival Internacional de Poesía Amada Libertad in El Salvador. His book reviews and creative writing have been featured in Best New Poets 2018, Latino Rebels, Button Poetry, PBS, The Wandering Song: Central American Writing in the United States, and more. His first collection of poetry is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in 2020. Follow them @palomopoemas and



On writing Wake the Others


Wake the Others recounts the story of my mother Maria Elba Palomo, a refugee and survivor of the Salvadoran civil war. My early encounters with Ana Castillo and Martin Espada compelled me to write more introspectively about my heritage. The earliest poems in the collection began when I was 20. I began writing the book in earnest once I realized I would never fully understand myself without wrestling with the complexity of my mother’s story. I wrote this book with the hope that immigrant families will find healing in seeing themselves reflected in my mother’s stories, with the hope that others would finally accept and respect our humanity.

I believe the spirits of our ancestors and descendants guard and inspire us as long as we honor them and honor ourselves. It is beautiful for me to think that my great grandmother, who once saved my mother from death and illness as a baby, is also fighting to save me. That my future son could be the one who pushes me beyond fear and submission. That I could have been with my mom during the war, at the border, and more. We’re all in this together. My poetry tries to unite the dead, the alive, and the not-yet-born. I want the next generation to have access to our family’s stories. I want my ancestors’ struggles preserved in the best words I can give them. Because we need each other. Because we will need each other again.




Papí punched holes on the top of the barrels,
so we could breathe but none to see, so I can’t
say I saw the battalion. I can’t say I saw the men,
¿or were they boys? tear a white flag from Papí’s
shirt & stomp his chest as if putting out a fire.
There was no fire, just Papí, grunting & swearing
there was no one left in our shack. No sons
to make soldiers. No daughters to make single
mothers. This is how Papí protected us.
He made us wear his jeans instead of faldas,
so if soldiers found us, we’d be harder to rape.
He beat us when we spoke back or said achís.
He taught us to cook sopitas y arrozes y tamalitos,
so one day, we could be good wives. The world
is unjust to unmarried women, he said. And thus,
we learned to suffer. Good daughters, we listened,
always, even as the soldiers revved the cackling engines
to run him over again. Even when our men cheated
on us again and again. Papí should have died that day.
It took one man to stand between him and the soldiers.
It took one man to yell stop and defend his good name.
In English, witness is a translation of martyr. In Spanish,
testificar comes from wagering your flesh on the truth.
Power forgets some of us survive to tell the story.
The man lived. The soldiers fled. Papí lived,
and slowly, we massaged his ribs back into place.
For weeks, we put warm milk on his tongue.
The swelling stopped. He relearned how to walk.
Some of his daughters still hide in barriles
de frijol, others are mastering the art
of walking away.
Mama, 53 
Poem Where I Wonder if I am Laughing Too Loud
When Papí drank too much, Mamí would shake
………….a can of beer and throw it at his feet.
I know some of you want to see her
………….small brown wrist cock, the hail and hiss
of the can erupting like a mini volcano.
………….Call it venganza, justicia, call it nothing
but spunk and fury when Mamí brags
………….about sweeping Papí out of the room
with a broom. I want to brag too.
………….Look at this woman. Tiny as the sun.
Tough as a penny. No one can tell her
………….she needs any man, let alone a drunk
passed out on the sofá. It could have been 8pm.
………….After a double shift. Tal vez medianoche
Tal vez mediodía.  Still in his work boots.
………….In nothing but his calzones. That’s why
we used to fight, Mamí told me, laughing.
………….And I laugh, too, because we used to make
robots out of the leftover boxes of beer.
………….Because I just realized calzones looks
like Italian food in English and underwear
………….in Spanish. Because I, too, have awaken,
sticky and wet with what-the-fuck, disgusted
………….by the scent of me. I, too, have wanted
to hurl my hurt onto the floor and watch it burst.
………….And who hasn’t wanted nothing but rest
and a little liquor after a long day’s work,
………….except for maybe my Mormona of a mother,
for whom “too much” meant any alcohol
………….at all, who forced Papí to hide
his cans behind the TV, under the bathroom
………….sink, anywhere to be free from her
damning gaze and the can shaking in her
Shoulda been Felipe Amaya
The same Tía who named Mama una india fea y ignorante,
ingrata y desagradecida named me William, a name Mama
would misspell on birthday cakes but fits cleanly in the mouth
of every white person I have met. A name that could shake
Johnny’s hand but never look at me in the mirror. Tia wanted
people to know I belong here. Look, I can speak English
just like you do, mister. If I am wiping the window of a Bentley,
it is because I own the Bentley, sir. If I am asking you for rent
money, it’s because I own the building, madam. By twelve,
teenage girls, the irrefutable lords of our middle school kingdom,
christened me Willy, and it stuck because I had dreams of biting
into “the white nectarine of their necks.” I never wanted William
anyway. If you asked me, he was a sellout, who can’t pronounce
his own name. When he’s at the door, even his Mama pretends
she ain’t home. Better be Willy, like Rodriguez, like Colón,
like Perdomo. You can come back home as Willy Palomo.
I’m telling you, if Mama wasn’t ass-tired from fighting
over money, she would have named me after her father,
Felipe. It’d be my name if there wasn’t already too many
holes in the wall and broken bottles shattered against
the counter. Teachers would have called roll in fear
of the sullen brown boy in the back of the classroom
who always raised his hand and looked them dead
in the eyes when he asked questions about the other
side of history. Felipe is a man with strong, calloused
hands, a grip that could rip a root shackled in rock,
shoot a steaming stream of milk fat from swollen
utters, catch a fish with nothing but a shirt as a net.
Felipe is the name of a survivor, who only limps
because men from Atacatl’s battalion ran him over
with a car and still couldn’t kill him. If he’s a spick,
he’s the spick that stole your job, fool. He’s the spick,
talking to your wifey right now and you ain’t even know.
I’m still searching for Felipe lost in fields of maiz.
Tía was right, Mama, we come from una marabunta
de indios locos y ignorantes, feos y desagradecidos.
Shoulda been Felipe to prove it to her—to prove her right.
After Patricia Smith