one more from Griselda J Castillo

In my recent microreview & interview of Griselda J Castillo’s Blood & Piloncillo (Poxo Publication), I wrote about Castillo’s collection in terms of its rich and complicated relationship with praise as well as its distinct take on ideas of attention and reckoning. All of these elements can be found in this week’s poem, “Trade,” from the same collection.

In this poem, Castillo’s singular approach to the poetic line is applied to cultural critique. The poem presents the meditations of a Mexican-American speaker thinking of Mexico while living in New Mexico. The speaker’s narrative guides the reader through the echo and change beyond the place names, and delves into the differences between those two places as well as the difference between memory and present reality.

Castillo chapWhat happens as these intersections are explored is critique via the performance of language. Castillo’s poetic sensibility invites the reader to play close attention not just to line breaks but to choices in capitalization and idiom. The way, for example, in which “Mexico” is capitalized in the third stanza, where as “american” is not in the second stanza, provides a visual cue of what the speaker is wrestling with. However, it is not a simple gesture of dismissal, but rather a nuanced reaching into memory. One gets the impression that for the speaker this “new” Mexico feels “watered-down,” and that the only way to push against this feeling is to emphasize memory in whatever way one can, in this case via typography.

The use of Spanish in this poem is also performing emphasis. The few Spanish words that appear in this poem do so without calling attention to themselves with italics or translation. This move in Latinx poetry always feels like a necessary one, a gesture of saying something in the only way it can be said, and trusting the reader to take out their phone and consult Google translate if necessary. But more than translation, what Spanish is performing in this poem is presence. Among the English of the majority of the poem, the Spanish words foreshadow the “poor cutting” at the end of the poem, transplanted words that reflect the transplanted speaker. Indeed, the way “poor cutting” brings together both subject and the speaker’s feelings is a an example of Castillo’s accomplished and engaged lyricism.

Trade – Griselda J Castillo

my tacos get cold
and homesick
outside the burrito place
beneath red and yellow umbrellas

someone’s tin foil american flag
flaps against an old cottonwood
bullied by the winter wind
rushing the gray day along

in Mexico it’d be a hot
october day frying under the sun
in its delicious way
caressed by street chatter
from vendors and cockfights
in the alley

papel picado frames a world seen
from under my father’s mustache
my hands swallowed
in his never-ending palms
as he lifts me onto
a carousel of hot afternoons
warm rains
fertile earth birthing
green hackberry leaves

mango trees sigh through an eternal
summer of mom cotorreando
watering temperamental bougainvillea
and exuberant hibiscus
her cooing echoes are the memory
of our backyard

but this is new mexico
where an arid adaptation smothers me
in unfamiliar chiles

where snowy dry roasted mornings
are so cold even yucca and piñon
hunker down
thorns muffled under a cream blanket

I pour watered-down horchata
around dismal flip-flops
throw limp tacos at
a weathered potted plant
and think

poor cutting
never considered
what it would endure
embedded in foreign sand


Copies of Blood & Piloncillo can be purchased directly from the author at:

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