179.1: Marcelo Castillo:: Answer to the Mourner’s Question & Portrait and Condition: [the softest part] 179

Marcelo Castillo's poems choose their wounds over their scars. The roots are exposed, the scabs freshly ripped. This is a poetry that locates equally in hives and in semen, that harvests what poetic fruit it can from suffering. Chronicled in these two selections this week are complex processes of desire, pain, and a kind of acceptance. We find ourselves agreeing—albeit begrudgingly—with the speaker that "[t]his is the only hand I'm allowed." Castillo manages to bring us into the troubling and heartbreaking situations of his speakers without asking for apologies or simple pity. The language of these poems may fester with knives, abusive fathers, and creatures that sting, but it also serves to remind us that a wound festers because it is filled with life. Ryan Winet

Answer to the Mourner’s Questions


I can make honey from the missing
and the lips of strangers mouthing my name.

From the tattoos that glide
over me at night
like many colored moons
threaded together,
pulling my lungs to the shores of my bones.

This is the only hand I’m allowed.

From the center, as in the only quiet
achieved by the bee’s vibration.

The cock filled with honey.
The cock in my mouth
to shred the quiet and piece it together again.

Or the teeth no one knows
the hen can grow but doesn’t want to.

And the knife through the feathers as if through the bee.
As large as my hand, as large as my mouth.

From what is beautiful
and what is not like the thief broken in half—
spilling away in the middle—

the ribbon as the wound hurries to heal.

Honey spread for the hen—
the white that she surrenders in the lightbulbs.

Is it always this blue inside the hen?

I will knot my hands and eat everything I love
from its edge to its center if it has an edge, and if it has a center,
until I am certain that we may live
to be as old as honey, as old as these hands.



Portrait and Condition: [the softest part]


My father’s hands held my neck.

They split peaches in half and fed me.


That was my mouth and that was his nail.
They loved a man at the first sign of weakness,


parallel to the leather, to the boy’s ass bleeding with welts,


to the boy’s ass purple with love
like a belt with love
like any other Tuesday,


and he bent over the sink with a bowl in his face
and he the only tunnel of song for miles,

prom dance without confetti,

split blade of grass where the water’s thickest,


and he the white switch in the bathroom

that will not turn the lights on
and he the man once again after it’s all over.


My father’s hands will love a man at the first sign of weakness.

Their suffering
was our suffering,

thick cords dipped in water—

the last tooth in the box.


They peeled the skin off a calf still bleating.
They were two doves courting the calf who was also a dove

in its thrashing.


His hands cut through the air like ghosts.
They were large and capable of great things.


I always came when they called.
They always had peaches to put in my mouth.