Cenzontle

Marcelo Hernandez Castillo. BOA, $16 trade paper (108p) ISBN 978-1-942683-53-7
Castillo’s lyrically rich and cinematic debut compresses the emotional resonances of lived experience into poetic narratives of devotion, eroticism, family, labor, and migration. The poems make displays of fragility and power by turn, a duality drawn into relief by the precarious condition of the undocumented immigrant. In “Immigration Interview with Don Francisco,” the interviewee conjectures that “Perhaps the butterflies are mute because/ no one would believe their terrible stories.” But Castillo resists resignation to silence; his poems embody a belief in art’s transformative ability. Lush musicality renders agricultural labor, corporeal punishment, and romantic difficulties beautiful. Forged in Keatsian negative capability, Castillo’s poetics often involve finding the description that will lift the painful or unjust into music: “The bird’s beak twisted/ into a small circle of awe// You called it cutting apart/ I called it song.” In certain moments that turn toward song becomes a survival tactic (“After the first boy called me a wetback,/ I opened his mouth and fed him a spoonful of honey”) and in other moments a way of relating to what one loves. Thus, Castillo’s poems become objects of community and gratitude: “I leaned into you,/ all of you,/ as if in chorus.” (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/19/2018
Release date: 04/01/2018
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