by Major Jackson

The subject of crossing borders is central to understanding Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s debut collection, Cenzontle, a book that will fuel any reader’s desire to protest the terrorizing rhetoric undocumented Americans face along with the fear of deportation in today’s political climate. While the book launches from this crucial and poignant event—Castillo immigrated to the United States from Tepechitlán, Mexico, as a child—the poems reach far beyond mere current affairs. Melancholic and sensuous, the speaker in most of these poems addresses another kind of geography, his own interiority and a rising allegiance to himself—flaws, desires, imagination, and all: “And I say to my father, / I want to be all pink. For one day. / To name each part of me after the names of my mother’s lovers, / To throw my head back and dance like someone pretty, / or just hold the shame in my hand.” In lines that are textured and pitched toward verve and rapture, Castillo navigates a tender journey of self-discovery and celebrates himself: “I’m going to open the borders of my hunger / and call it a parade.” But with these rebirths and transformations come loss and inevitable changes. In the poem “First Wedding Dance,” the speaker attempts to provide solace: “We can both be the bride, / we can both empty our lover.” The revelations are slow and steady. Castillo’s forms feel airy and fragile, but the strength of his revelations are unquestionable: “If we leave our bodies now, / they will find their way back to us eventually. / ... / / Until then, touch me, I am gentle. / This has nothing to do with the rain.”

This review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2018.