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Unterberg Poetry Center

Alfredo Aguilar

2019 Discovery

Alfredo Aguilar is the son of Mexican immigrants. He is the author of the chapbook What Happens on Earth (BOAAT Press 2018). He has been awarded fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Frost Place. His work has appeared in The Iowa Review, Best New Poets 2017, The Shallow Ends and elsewhere. Originally from North County San Diego, he now resides in Texas. Visit his website:
The poem and manuscript below were included in the printed program of the 2019 Discovery Winners’ Reading.

  • My Mother Drove Us Into Tijuana for Dentistry

    because we didn’t have
    american health insurance.
    past otay mesa check point
    were billboards in spanish
    & narrow rutted streets.

    on our left were rows of cars
    waiting to enter the u.s.—

    our dentist, ignacio, was a friend
    from my mother’s childhood & often
    they’d reminisce about their small town.
    folks they knew, folks that had passed—
    how the town looked so different now—
    how their lives led them here,
    with my mother leaving the country.

    i sat in a dental chair & ignaico mixed putty
    until it was pink. he needed an impression
    of my top teeth for retainers. i tasted
    a cold metal tray that kept the mold
    in place. after a minute he unwedged it
    & my mouth smacked of chalk. before leaving
    my mother asked ignaico about
    a new denture—the one she had was old.
    until that moment i never knew
    my mother had false teeth.

    in our car, in the middle
    of an expanse of cars
    waiting to get back into the u.s.
    my mother said i lost a lot
    of my teeth when i was young.
    she removed her top denture—
    smiled at me, revealed a dark gap
    between rows of ivory.
    she tried to say something &
    it came out jumbled. she laughed
    not covering the gap
    then i laughed with all my teeth
    & she pushed hers back into her mouth—
    i’ve worn these for a long time.
    i don’t want that for you.

    from the window
    i watched older men
    push carts between
    stopped cars. they sold balloons,
    bright popsicles, aguas, dulces.
    a currency exchange booth
    announced all i could buy 
    with just one american dollar.
    i looked at my mother—
    noticed her denture
    yellowing at its edges
    & saw her without it.

    my mother left—
    came to america—
    had crossed for this.

  • Manuscript

From the Winners’ Reading: “My Mother Drove Us Into Tijuana for Dentistry,” by Alfredo Aguilar

Watch the 2019 Winners’ Reading.

Please note that all 92Y regularly scheduled in-person programs are suspended.