photo credit: Marcelo Hernández Castillo
“Because We Come from Everything: Poetry & Migration” is the first public offering of the newly formed Poetry Coalition—twenty-two organizations dedicated to working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and communities, as well as the important contributions poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds.
During the month of March, coalition members CantoMundo and Letras Latinas are partnering to present posts by CM fellows that will include essays, creative non-fiction, micro reviews and dialogues between writers. This year’s theme borrows a line from U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, “Borderbus.” Please return to this space and enjoy all the pieces in the series, and leave comments to participate in the dialogue.
Barbara Curiel, CantoMundo
Francisco Aragón, Letras Latinas
Dear Jenni, Dear Marcelo
by Marcelo Hernández Castillo
While my mother was being held in an ICE detention center, a man committed suicide by stuffing a sock down his throat. She told me she couldn’t sleep for three days because she worried she would miss the guards calling her name. Everyone slept on the floor. I didn’t write anything in my journal that day.
Migration is inevitable. To move from one place to another, whether out of force or free will, is inevitable. So too is poetry. It is impossible to stop running away from something, or toward something—to be less or more lonely.
I read a line by a Mexican poet named Mariana Rodriguez Espinoza whom I met in Mexico City. It goes: Admiro a Jenni Rivera porque es madre y es como una mujer que a pesar de todo lo que le pasaba lo superaba y era como mucha hembra. Si la conociera le diría eres de poca madre.
When I think of Jenni Rivera I think about mujeres de poca madre. I think about the space she carved for herself in the masculine world of Música Regional. Her song, “Los Ovarios,” opens with “Que alboroto traen conmigo / como les está calando / en el negocio de grandes / la señora está rifando…” It’s basically how Beyoncé opens “Formation” with: “Ya’ll haters corny with that illuminati mess / Paparazzi catch my fly and my cocky fresh / I’m so reckless when I rock my Givenchy dress. Stylin.”
Sometimes I drink too much and want to call someone and apologize. Walking away has always made sense to me.
I wonder what went through that man’s head as he rolled up his own sock and filled what empty spaces were left in his throat? Sometimes it’s just too late to change your mind. I wonder if they let him be buried in the US, with his family. Such a small desire: to move.
I was in a courthouse recently and the judge kept playing with his pen. I was holding a shoe box on my lap because I’d bought a pair of dress shoes for my brother at the Macy’s next door. I wondered if that’s where the lawyers got their suits. I’ve told my therapist I would like for once to not be so fucking paranoid. He smiled and asked questions about my love life.
Recently I’ve gained a lot of weight, nothing in my closet fits me anymore. Thank you Prozac, thank you Wellbutrin, thank you Clonazepam, thank you Alprazolam.
This is a love letter to myself.
Dear Marcelo, what are the conditions for poetry? Did you have to immigrate in order to collect your inheritance of tragedy? Dear Marcelo, did you inherit your parent’s trauma? Are you stuck with those brief moments of silence when your mother decides to change the subject and turns up the volume on the radio? Are these the conditions for poetry?
Gayatri Spivak asks: can the sub altern speak? Can we think about Latinidad without cooperation in the ongoing colonial project?
Western academic thinking is a product. It is produced in order to support Western economic interests. I’m tired of this conversation playing on repeat.
First criterion for Latinx Pxetry: What does she mean to you?
Second criterion for Latinx Pxetry: Did you heal?
Third criterion for Latinx Pxetry: Is there a memory or a break in communication?
Fourth criterion for Latinx Pxetry: Polemical categorizations.
Jenni Rivera didn’t say this but I like to think she did: camino sobre todas las palabras / del otro lado / estoy vacía / y es el borde del mundo. What is on the other side? We have lost so much, or rather, we have been robbed. This is the new world. Jenni, I’m looking for an exit with my eyes closed.
What are the conditions for a decolonization of the mind?
What are the conditions that must be met to end white supremacy?
It’s not that I didn’t want to stay in one place. I was five. There was no food. I wrote my first poem after thinking I could get away it.
Despite the mechanisms of absurd possibilities upon which a person can function. Despite having endured a vivisection of the imagination and the body upon crossing the border. Despite the idea of vivisection. Despite what one poet says to another in a drunken mess over the phone. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Despite the documentation of bodies into clean and orderly spreadsheets. Despite the credibility of fear interview my father had to undergo before being released on probation. Despite there existing a credibility of fear interview, meaning that fear is quantified, calculated. Despite the convergence of past, present, and future in my rented car speeding away from Calexico. Despite the queering of the landscape. Despite the violent narrative founded on the tenets of penetrated versus penetrating. Despite the bright, bright teeth of a man hovering above me in his crisp blue fatigues mouthing a list of numbers.
This is a copy of my green card. My alien number is A-***-***-***. My place of birth is Tepechitlan, Zacatecas, Mexico. I have a tattoo that I got as a teenager after a break up. I wanted my body to be pierced again and again. It healed by the time we got back together. I married her, Rubi. I swore I would never get another tattoo. We always make love as if we’re looking for something. I have trouble falling asleep. I am lying on the floor in my underwear. There’s dog shit everywhere because my dog isn’t house trained. I haven’t written a poem in two years. This isn’t a poem. I’ve collapsed my allotment of explanation. Que se vaya mucho a la chingada.
In an interview, I was asked, yet again, “[Marcelo], do you feel that there’s a pervasive aesthetic box Latino writers are frequently pressured (or assumed) to inhabit? If so, what does that box look like? What are some of its limitations?” This was my response, verbatim: “Whatever you want to call it, or however you want to describe it, I think the point is that Latinx writers are at once challenging this aesthetic and uplifting it. But why is this only asked of us, or of POC in general, as if we’re the only ones who can be pigeonholed into these narrow definitions?…So, I guess I’m wondering why this question is always asked of POC. I feel like it’s a question that has already answered itself. I feel like it has already implied what it wants to hear, and has dismissed how I would like to answer it.”
The man had to witness his own dying. No one heard him suffocating on his government issued socks. If I could do it all over again I would probably be a Satanist, or at least some kind of brujo.
When I climbed el cerro de Tepeyac with Rubi, Derrick, and JD, in Mexico City where the Virgen de Guadalupe first appeared to Juan Diego on December 9th 1531, I felt—immobile. The original church looks over the entire city. The flowers that are brought to her altar are crushed by the Carmelite convent and their perfume is infused into rosaries you can buy in the market outside. I bought one but didn’t know what to do with it. Rubi bought a wooden plaque with her image. I didn’t write anything in my journal that day. I lost my phone in a cab. We drank at the bar inside the Palacio de Bellas Artes. I cried in the theatre as we watched Amalia Hernandez’s dance company. We all drank for different reasons.
It’s been 485 years, 1 month, and 1 day since her first appearance.
I don’t know how to heal. I don’t know what home means. I went blind when I crossed the border. No one knows why, but I know. I grew up thinking that I didn’t matter. I’m going to open the borders of my hunger and call it a parade.
In grad school, someone asked if I got a Chalino Sanchez reference from Breaking Bad. I saw one episode and thought it was funny. I couldn’t get the image of Hal from Malcolm in the Middle out of Brian Cranston. Every narco has gold teeth and a glittery satin shirt which, ironically, is the queerest thing in the cancer that is Mexican machismo. Growing up, I was in love with Chalino, his bravado—the shiny guns he polished on his album covers.
When my mother was released at San Ysidro, I swore I would never write another poem about her. Rubi and I drove her as fast as we could, as far north away from the border. I’m lying if I said I didn’t like pushing 100 down I-5. We got a flat so we took the train from Bakersfield. Rubi held my mother the entire way.
correr / desaparecer / correr / desaparecer / de las esferas vacías / vaciarse escribiente / de donde brotan estos mundos
Even naked and tied to a bed, that man would have found a way to kill himself. It was that great, his desire to crush whatever it was that kept him from moving.
correr / desaparecer / correr / desaparecer / de las esferas vacías / vaciarse escribiente / de donde brotan estos mundos.
This is a love letter to me. This is a love letter to you. We all know how this is going to end.
Marcelo Hernandez Castillo was born in Zacatecas, Mexico, and crossed the border through Tijuana at the age of five with his family. He is a Canto Mundo fellow and the first undocumented student to graduate from the University of Michigan’s MFA program. He teaches at Sacramento State University as well as at The Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida. He was a finalist for the New England Review Emerging Writer Award and his manuscript was a finalist for the Alice James Book Prize and the National Poetry Series. His work has been adapted into opera through collaboration with the composer Reinaldo Moya. His poems and essays can be found in Indiana Review, New England Review, Southern Humanities Review, Gulf Coast, PBS News Hour, Fusion TV, and Buzzfeed, among others. He helped initiate the Undocupoets campaign which successfully eliminated citizenship requirements from all major first poetry book prizes in the country.