Letter to America by Derek Sheffield

Translated by Rhina P. Espaillat

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Report from America Auténtico

after James Wright

Just off the highway to Tacoma, my friend and I
stop for gas in North Bend.
While he buys sweet rolls wrapped in cellophane,
I use the restroom. On the metal frame
above the stall door, I read
nigger/mexican bar. Because I’m as white
as the man who wrote it, it takes a few moments
before I see the rope

around a dark neck. Jesus, I think,
the seat a frigid halo against my cheeks. I’m afraid
the clerk will shrug, as if this is just another
the joke is in your hand penned
above the urinal. I’m afraid she’ll see my friend
licking sugar flakes from his queer fingers
and call the boys.

She’s outside smoking a generic cigarette.
A line of smoke jets from the corner
of her mouth. Son-of-a-bitch,
she mutters, having scrubbed it off
three times already. She is too thin,
and her hair falls flat
as road dust in the gasolined air.
I am home once more as her break
ends with a stubbed promise—
I just might lock that door,
let ‘em keep their crap to themselves.



Reporte Desde América: Auténtico
       translated by Rhina P. Espaillat

a ejemplo de James Wright

Donde se separa la carretera hacia Tacoma, mi amigo y yo
nos paramos a comprar gasolina en North Bend.
Mientras él compra bollos dulces en celofán,
yo me aprovecho del baño. En el marco de metal
que lamina la partición, leo la frase
“taberna para negros/mexicanos.” Porque soy tan blanco
como quien lo escribió, me toma unos pocos segundos
notar la soga

que rodea un cuello oscuro. Jesús, pienso,
el asiento un halo frío contra las nalgas. Temo
que la empleada simplemente encogerá los hombros
como si se tratara de otro caso de
“el chiste lo tienes en la mano” escrito
sobre el orinal. Temo que ella verá a mi amigo
lamiéndose azúcar de los dedos homosexuales,
y entonces llamará a los muchachos.

Ella está afuera fumándose un cigarrillo genérico.
Un hilo de humo se le lanza de un lado
de la boca. “Hijo de puta,”
gruñe, habiéndoselo secado
ya tres veces. Es demasiado flaca,
y el pelo le cáe sin gracia
como polvo en el aire saturado de gasolina.
Yo habré vuelto a casa cuando termina su tiempo libre
con la colilla de una promesa:
“A lo mejor cierro esa puerta con llave.
Que se queden con su mierda.”




Derek SheffieldDerek Sheffield’s forthcoming collection Not for Luck, which will be published by Michigan State University Press in 2021, was selected by Mark Doty for the 2019 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize. Through the Second Skin, published by Orchises Press, was the runner-up for the Emily Dickinson First Book Award and finalist for the Washington State Book Award. He is a co-editor of Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy (Trinity University Press, 2020). Derek lives with his family on the eastern slopes of the Cascades in Washington and is the poetry editor of Terrain.org. Catch up with him at DerekSheffield.com.


Rhina P. EspaillatRhina P. Espaillat has published 12 full-length books, four chapbooks, and a monograph on translation. Her most recent publications are two poetry collections titled And After All and The Fieldand a chapbook in collaboration with fellow poet Alfred Nicol, Brief Accident of Light. Espaillat is noted for her English translations of Saint John of the Cross, as well as her book of Spanish translations of Robert Frost, Algo hay que no es amigo de los muros / Something There Is that Doesn’t Love a Wall, and her bilingual collection of Richard Wilbur translations, Oscura fruta / Dark Berries. 

Header photo by tpsdave, courtesy Pixabay.


Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.