– Poetry by Isabella Neblett – Runner-up in the Dreamers Writing Contest: Stories of Migration, Sense of Place and Home – March 2, 2019
“I look at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world.” -Frank O’Hara
We drift between our areola outlined pupils
expanding with flickers of artificial sunshine in Third Ward where the dead are buried
in gun cartridges
splintering into my city’s veins plump with cracked open IPAs and discarded plastic bags
choking baby turtles.
At midnight, you will find me nestled behind my crumbling apartment building from the 80s.
The lady above me has a neon blue Christmas tree on her porch year round.
My neighbor deals drugs. At 1 A.M., I hear her muffled steps in the hallway.
When her mother died, her brother turned her eye into a decaying orchid and I swear it bloomed
enough for pollen tears to leak the way her father’s veins did when he jumped out the window
rolled up in an Italian flag screaming, “Merci!”
(It means thank you.)
According to Google, the word Texas originates from the Caddo word taysha, meaning friends
or allies: there is a war in Houston’s pot belly.
We shave fat from organs and stuff it into grandma’s cookies, but only if you’re white.
Abuela serves me turkey bacon baked in the oven. We bathe our chilaquiles in tofu sour cream.
It took approximately 30 missed calls before Abuela stopped calling me Gabriellita and just
“Gabriella, why don’t you talk to me?” an aria in Spanish,
piano keys screaming Clair de Lune every time I had a panic attack,
I would fall to the floor sobbing I can’t I can’t I can’t
and use every muscle in my trembling hands to cover myself in a thick blanket.
I would touch the edges so lightly I swore it was a butterfly wing.
In the confined space, there was safety. When people ask me how to trust, I am torn between
my mother’s delicate painted fingertips gliding across my brown skin
the burgundy velvet pout of her lips twirling into an awkward smile
eyelashes reaching like ebony spider webs for a single light blue teardrop
her hand contorting into a paintbrush and every stroke is violet flower petal on my skin
When I applied to be the youth poet laureate of Houston, I was asked to write a poem about it.
I sat on my bedroom floor with unwashed black ocean wave hair, laptop nestled against my
They wanted love poems, wanted to know about Houston’s big ass and her redneck blush and
how she moans like black coffee brewing every time a steamboat rolls into her port.
They didn’t want to know that she is the sex trafficking capital.
That women with foreign tongues lay stripped in those boats, bones poking out of oiled skin.
That I was one of them in my own way in my own way
“Houston” is a nonfiction poem inspired by my experience as a first generation American trying to navigate my way through Houston’s history of violence against undocumented immigrants, sex trafficking, and environmental injustice. In this poem, I explore what it means to be a hyphenated American living amidst a society currently plagued by discrimination and prejudice towards the very people I am descended from.
About the Author – Isabella Neblett
Isabella Neblett is a student activist who uses poetry and public speaking as platforms to empower survivors of trauma, destigmatize mental illness, and promote human rights. Her work has been published in Alloy Literary Magazine, Edible Houston Magazine, Need to Beat, and Teen Ink. When she is not writing and performing, you can find her studying at Emory University where she is double majoring in English and Creative Writing & Philosophy, Politics, and Law.
Read all the winning stories and poems from the 2019 Dreamers Writing Contest: Stories of Migration, Sense of Place and Home.
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