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Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

Marcelo Hernandez Castillo was born in Zacatecas, Mexico, and immigrated to California with his family at the age of five. He received a BA from Sacramento State University and an MFA from the University of Michigan. Castillo is the author of Cenzontle (BOA Editions, 2018), which was chosen by Brenda Shaughnessy as the winner of the 2017 A. Poulin, Jr. Prize. A founding member of the Undocupoets, he teaches poetry to incarcerated youth and also teaches at the Ashland University low-res MFA program. He lives in Marysville, California.

By This Poet


Essay on Synonyms for Tender and a Confession

                      —For Sandra María Esteves

Color it all blue.

                      My father and my father’s father and his.


           And all of us in one suitcase that hasn’t been opened.
           I haven’t been opened.

                                  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.

           And sometimes this doesn’t stop me.

My name a two-hundred-year-old word for Please.

                                  As in, please let me open the suitcase.
                                  As in, please let me play whatever is inside.

           And sometimes my name talks to me.
                                            It says, you ain’t shit.

           It says I could send you flowers but what’s the point
           if they will still be flowers when you get them.

                              It says even the priests are lonely.
                  It comes to me as one priest confessing to another:

                  Marcelo, I want the red dress
                  and to throw my hair up real beauty queen style.

If I’m lonely, put the bright birds back in their cages.

                                                                 Marcelo, I wanted a gun.
                                                       I’m not ready to be dipped in water.

Like you, like a father.

                                                And so I opened the lid
                  and held each flute inside like shattered glass.

            But there was no song, there was hardly any glitter.

And the priest who is no longer Marcelo,
                  and the flute which is no longer Marcelo,
                  and the lover who is.

                  I don’t know what it means to name a child.
                  When he said my name, I opened his eyes.

                                          I played the song.

                                          Neither of us knew how it ended.
         We would have paid anything at all to make it stop.

Gesture with Both Hands Tied

I’m going to open the borders of my hunger
and call it a parade.

But I’m lying if I said I was hungry.

If dying required practice,
I could give up the conditions for being alone.

I undress in the sun and stare at it
until I can stand its brightness no longer.

Why is it always noon in my head?

I’m going to run outside and whisper,
or hold a gun and say bang,

or hold a gun and not do anything at all.

The lamps that wait inside me say
come, the gift is the practice,
the price is the door.

First Wedding Dance

The music stopped playing years ago
but we’re still dancing.

There’s your bright skirt scissoring
through the crowd—

our hips tipping the instruments over.

You open me up and walk inside
until you reach a river
where a child is washing her feet.

You aren’t sure
if I am the child
or if I am the river.

You throw a stone
and the child wades in to find it.
This is memory.

Let’s say the river is too deep
so you turn around and leave
the same way you entered—
spent and unwashed.

It’s ok. We are young, and
our gowns are as long as the room.

I told you I always wanted a silk train.

We can both be the bride,
we can both empty our lover.

And there’s nothing different about you—
about me—about any of this.
Only that we wish it still hurt, just once.

Like the belts our fathers whipped us with,
not to hurt us but just to make sure we remembered.

Like the cotton ball, dipped in alcohol,
rubbed gently on your arm
moments before the doctor asks you to breathe.