Poems from MY BOOK OF THE DEAD (unpublished collection by Ana Castillo, 2020). This group of poems has been previously published in various books & literary journals. (Some alignments may be off due to cut & pasting. (No comments on edits or grammar, please. This is being done.). I’m happy to share & thank you for reading. Positive vibe comments here are always welcome. All the line drawings are mine. (Please don’t reproduce w/out my permission.)
A Storm Upon Us
(In Memory of John Trudell, written upon the occasion of his crossing over.)
A storm is coming. It is on the horizon.
It has traveled far, fast, wide, and
taken much in tow, the storm
infused with lies and nitrogen. Water, air, ground—
infused, our fruit and animals infused,
our minds infused with lies and nitrogen. We’re dumb struck,
believe ourselves smart when we are, instead, confused.
The tricksters counted on our being caught unawares.
They knew our selfishness, greed. Most of all, fears.
The storm approaches. (Can you hear it?
Nine hundred and ninety-nine hoof-like vibrations beat against our eardrums &
we remain indifferent.) We have our things gathered. Our children
seem fine. We always rebound.
The storm comes and goes, returns. Next time, harder. We don’t even bother
with shelters. We give it new names, each time, further fire and rain.
We start again. It could have been you or me, we say, dying
in public beneath a baton’s blows falling amidst a spray of a sniper’s bullets,
but it wasn’t. We go on.
Disaster has happened to someone else.
We venture out and buy more. We take more. We discard. We pillage the earth.
The storms take sinister forms,
go by isms, neo, and post-hyphenations.
leaders of the faceless enemy, warn. Beware.
when you travel we cannot protect you.
We will be vigilant of your whereabouts.
Our watchful Eye will know your life.
Long lines to survive much less thrive lie
You’ll feel shame like in naked dreams
but worse because we, in fact
are watching you.
We will make sure you don’t question.
And when the storm is upon you,
when it has destroyed your homes,
and your children are not fine
and your dreams of golden roses and bright days are nowhere
but in the pages of a storybook,
we will be content in our heavens eating peeled
grapes, sipping fine wines from our vineyards of abundance,
sitting on our thrones,
new gods. We’ll smile down upon you.
our creation of ruin,
pick our teeth with your bones.
Algo de ti [An Ekphrastic Exercise]
Algo de ti
me recuerda a casa;
no la de hoy,
la de otros tiempos–
Las tortillas de la abuela
sobre su comal ardiente;
el perfume de la bugambilia
en el jardín.
Tus pestañas estrelladas–
como las estrellas mismas
que contemplaba yo, me parece
hace siglos ya.
Algo de ti
me llama en la noche
cuando te estrechas
en tu cama, como te imagino
que lo haces, o en el pleno sol del día.
No eres mujer para esconder.
Los hombres suspiran cuando pasas;
las mujeres te dan un—Uf. Mírala.
Eres un parasol blanco con encajes y moños cursis,
mujer de medias rotas en el atardecer. Eres
lo que yo quiero que seas
hasta el momento en que llegas a mi puerta
y yo me convierto en tuya.
When Snow Turns to Rain and It is Still Winter
I am a Bedouin woman, burka weighs and drags.
Goats graze lazily along red stone. My gaze afar.
He was a cheerful boy, my son the poet, grew tall like the poplar with
eyes fiery as embers. My son–
I mutter, as if he just left the room, scent of his soap
lingering. My son–I start each conversation as though my heart
were whole as a pomegranate clinging to its branch, alive. My son
writes verses and lives like a monk among hyenas.
He prays, meditates. Say it. My son
locked behind walls. I once climbed the jagged hills of Petra
hid within its caves. My son sleeps on a pissed stained bunk, once a boy
who had a warm bed, milk, the breast of his mother upon
which to rest his head.
He read books and played with other children.
On the phone now men are loud and he shouts, Ma. My son.
Each bead I pray upon at dawn has his name. My lips murmur,
God in your heaven. The chitterling of birds, the desert floor—all the same. Why
does the world not long for him as I? God made us strong this being
called Mother. The rain and torrents are Mary’s tears that cleanse the weary.
soon my eyes will be illuminated with your presence.
Homage to Akilah
(For Akilah Oliver
and Oluchi, en memorium)
His body was decomposing her baby her flesh child she once held
at her breast. (He was dead.)
Death took residence in her head.
Neglect. Negligence. Hospital sued
over a young man left in an emergency room.
How was it all became a crap shoot,
fate of offspring we’d nourished, adored,
gave to our last breath? They–our babies girls boys
muchachitos niños queridos
neighborhood kids—pudgy or puny and picked on
or had too many tíos,
Los García or the Walkers mom had Lupus or marido with
bad back & couldn’t work. Nephews nieces mijos mijas
nietos nietas sent out to the war on streets.
Society wouldn’t let them be,
not last century or the one before and not in 2018.
A poet woman mother raised a boy
migrant teacher of language went from campus to campus;
plethora of words in her arsenal Akilah and me, tokens–
brown female evolved spirit
from the Southwest or Southside of any city.
She was a teacher with dreads and sleepy-eyed smile believed—
must have–in doing right doing it strong for the sake of
showing her son right from wrong.
If you stayed steady, she said to herself (must have)
captain on a ship of two, where Ramen noodles or mac n cheese dinner,
night bath regular, a story read, put the child to bed
graded papers ‘til 2 a.m., then started again (must have, like I had)
would benefit fly like Obama had. Success—
at his fingertips.
No one would shoot him down in a ‘good’ neighborhood,
No policeman would kill him dead for reaching into a pocket.
No school would hold him back ‘til he gave up.
Diabetes and other diseases would be kept at bay.
He’d be ready your boy your flesh your son (& mine)
for the perpetual onslaught.
The time came for round one bell rung Oluchi fists up,
the newly minted Black man fell. Just like that.
Just like that.
When she got the call,
rushed to MLK Hospital,
put her ear next to his lips–
bloated and bluish, parched like onion skin,
having kissed their last-kiss lips, swollen and soundless,
felt no breath,
heard no final “Mama, I love you,” her boy
left to perish on a gurney
her son her flesh,
she started to die, too.
Slow drip of existence oozed through her pores.
Good-bye, far-reaching star,
order a round of green mint tea for the house before we move on.
Joy, as she once knew it, vaporized.
I felt it way ‘cross the land of the free and the brave
(belonging to Whites with money and no conscience.) In a world
le monde un mundo where no education,
knowledge of couplets, art, or science,
extent of good works,
lectures attended or charitable donations,
would re-set a heart broken
by a child’s ruin.
not knowing each other
but by the way soldiers instantly bond.
I heard her wail
like a canine hears a dog whistle, ears up, heart pounding.
We’d shared the vanity of affording good nutrition,
books, clean water and little league.
Nothing had saved them,
not we—Amazon mothers.
(Somehow, I’ll say it, absent
fathers had failed them.)
One afternoon, standing in her living room,
tired of beating without his, Akilah’s heart stopped.
She hit the rug heavy,
sun filtering through bay windows
kept her lifeless body warm ‘til they found her.
The killing fields are everywhere–
under the viaduct or over the freeway
Chicago L.A. Detroit Denver
Mothers aunts lil sis abuelas
with outlined lips & swaying hips–
single mothers push grocery carts on the sidewalk,
sneak out to dance,
fuck in alleyways hoping for love again,
stretch meals through the week,
have pre-paid phone cards,
spend paychecks in advance—
survive in the cracks.
I’d taught him how
to do shoelaces, his tie, ride a bike,
later, shave and drive a car,
have pride in work, clean house, fry an egg, wash out his drawers,
be respectful of women, neighbors, be an honorable friend.
He was behind bars.
Look at this poet.
Look at her life,
who went down at twenty-one.
Don’t leave your mother
with only the memory of a son.
Two Men and Me
I left Bukowski again, went back to Bolaño,
both men bad to their women. Me, like the rest,
couldn’t get enough. Both smoked and drank
themselves to death. They liked it rough, said
that was how they got their best writing done.
One winter we all ended up in hell, ran
into each other at a café. [REVISION: bar,
public bath…FILL IN THE BLANK.] Chuck
wanted to fuck. Roberto punched him in the gut.
We quaffed a few whiskies. They knew. I knew.
I wasn’t that kind of girl. Instead, we set out to do
a three-way poem. Tu primero–said Bolaño.
“What?” Bukowski said. “No comprendo.”
“HOW FUCKED UP YOU GOTTA BE YOU CAN’T
UNDERSTAND SPANISH EVEN IN HELL?” Roberto was mad.
“You illegals!” the other started racializing the situation.
(No wonder he was in hell. Then, again, we all were.)
“I’M NOT MEXICAN, PINCHE GRINGO,”
Roberto yelled throwing another swing.
This time he got me in the eye by mistake.
“There are no mistakes in hell,” the demon bartender said, handing me
some ice. “That’s the beauty of this place.”
The guys stopped.
No one had ever seen ice in hell.
Yeah, it was the start of something big.
I imagine him lying on his back,
gaze to the azure sky, white clouds—unlike
this grey New York on a rain-drenched day.
Notebook at his side, sheets splotched from an ink pen;
pipe in hand, hat off, wispy hair rustling in the wind.
Leaning on an elbow over wet dandelions he slaps
at a buzzing fly. The poet reaches for language
until evening falls.
At last, he stands,
dusts off trousers and heads for the pub. After an ale or two,
“Come to me,” he’ll whisper to a a ginger haired mate,
“when the gaslights grow dim.”
That was that, life, then, not fate.
Walking home, pondering the vastness of an indigo sky
the poet falls in love,
the way old men fell in love, with unspoken desires
and hearts that broke into clusters of stars;
with failing gaze, winked back at a bespectacled sight.
Illuminated streets were new.
Everything gleamed with the shine of progress,
railways and motor cars—
democracy in action. The nation belonged to men of ambition,
ladies and their heirs. He, with his rhyme-less verses pertained to no one,
or so he rigorously declared.
On a fair day, a friend and he hiked through the woods,
vigorous in thought and perseverance.
They had wine and bread, clever banter. Perhaps,
they swam in a river
and while one read to the other,
dried their flesh in the sun.
The poet felt young again on such days,
the feeling, a treasure
to store with saved letters.
He’d remain immortal that way,
virile in the minds of romantics.
Rhetorical questions were for lesser minds.
True pleasure came with soup served out of the kettle.
He, himself had killed the turkey or duck,
plucked feathers, pulled out liver and gizzards.
raw heart dropped on his own tongue.
Everything else went into the boiling pot.
Later, he’d call out, “It’s done!”
Meat melting off bone, potatoes and carrots
or love—whichever came first.
A Francisco X.
ese raro día.
sin saber qué.
Por la mañana soleada, todo normal.
Al fin, noticia inesperada,
como un viento levantando la falda
o llevándose el sombrero.
El coraje de Ehécatl
o su éxtasis.
Seguido por los truenos
Los dioses se llevaban
al poeta de mariposas y paz.
Siempre seremos más de aquí que de allá,
decíamos en mejores tiempos,
cuando llevaba mi pelo suelto
y él, una sonrisa de caballero y bigote negro.
Una noche de bohemia le comenté
(mas sin pensar que con ninguna intención)
que su poesía era infantil,
Desde ahí, se hizo mi rival,
Al oír de la muerte
del poeta de mariposas y paz,
me puse a recordar a tantos ausentes,
los grandes y los mediocres.
La cobija de noche, la pluma incansable,
llamaban los recuerdos–
las parrandas, los vinos y cigarrillos, el mariachi
El Bar La India Bonita,
caminando por la Misión, la Calle 24.
Ya todo un sueño.
Murió el poeta
de mariposas y paz.
Si no lloré,
lloraron sus amigos,
Lloraron otros poetas, grandes y menores.
Lloraron los cuervos y los gorriones,
las nubes impregnadas,
hasta los cerros escurriendo blancas lágrimas.
Coyolxauhqui montada en su trono,
esperando la batalla,
también sacó un pañuelo.
Ahí está el poeta, me dije yo,
asomándome por la ventana.
Zip, zip, zip, iban sus alitas de Huitzilin.
[Xicanisma Prophecies Post-2012] Putin’s Puppet
is not Aryan (or a golden-hair-Thor) but through & through as close
to yellow as it gets.
A flim-flam man claiming billions no one sees.
He & the Czar
had a chat at the Ritz, in a bar,
over Red Bull, vodka, coke and complimentary chips,
served up by naked women who took American Express and rubles in I.O.U.s.
One rat said,
You take the East. I’ll snatch the West.
It’s all for the taking for swine like us and our friends
like ‘we’ have friends), rapacious and sly,
unconcerned with who or how many die as we take the planet. Don’t worry, man.
the jaundiced Chinese & ‘Rocketman’ (we’ll send to the moon.)
France can eat escargot. Palestinians must go. We’ll suck the earth dry. You & I,
pillage until we are down to two. We’ll compete for the universe.
Fair enough? (Haw, one said. As if we define fair by anyone’s terms.)
I, the poet rest my head on a pillow or a rock, the throb is the same,
my brain doesn’t stop a slideshow of doom.
viewing Dr. Strangelove scenes,
reruns play & no new plots.
No breathtaking aerial shots—
Aston Martin racing along the coast toward the villain’s hideout.
No soundtrack. (We are silent, not censored, not yet.)
No scientific facts in this version of a world for the taking.
No historical reference without revisiones…
(No Spanish or you may be arrested.)
They are watching, legions in camouflage,
hoods or riot gear,
ready to take you out.
On your mark.
Putin’s Puppet doesn’t read books,
see films, listen to a symphony (or even the Top Twenty.)
He doesn’t look at art.
Instead, he shuts beauty down,
the big man on campus with the loyal fraternity.
Putin’s Puppet knows one color, said his son–green.
I’ll disagree. Putin’s Puppet does see color and it revolts him.
Blacks belong in Africa, he opines, and Muslims must stay in the Mid-East.
Mexicans are the scourge.
Like with his father,
his father before him and so on. Dark races serve one purpose–
servitude or genocide.
As for women–
you kill a rhino for sport or for its horns.
[A woman is worthwhile only if she enhances
How did we get here? How did we, indeed.
Not without concessions, not without greed. Down the rabbit hole
the nation went into Wonder-less slime.
We are in it deep this time.
When I can’t sleep, I spot the devil pissing in the dark.
I’ve lost feeling in my hands and feet.
I am an indian woman off the reservation,
as they say in racialist double-speak.
We do have reservations for the original peoples of the land.
Take a moment to think on that.
 I coined the term Xicanisma in the 1980s as Chicana activists and scholars began to form our own feminism. It was discussed at length in by book, MASSACRE of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma. UNM Press, 1994,20th Anniversary Ed., UNM Press; 2014, NM)
In these times, you and I share,
amidst the air you and I breathe,
inspiration we take from day to day thriving,
opposition we meet,
the sacred conch shell calls us,
drums beat, prayers sent up,
aromatic smoke of the pipe are our pledge to the gods.
An all-night fire vigil burns
where we may consume the small cactus messenger
of the Huichol and of the Pueblo people of New Mexico,
red seeds of the Tlaxcalteca,
mushrooms of María Sabina,
tes de mi abuela
from herbs grown in coffee cans on a Chicago back porch,
tears of my mother on an assembly line in Lincolnwood, Illinois,
aid us in calling upon memory,
in these times.
In other days,
when memory was as unshakeable as the African continent,
and long as Quetzalcoátl’s tail in the underworld,
whipping against demons, drawing blood,
potent as Coatlicue’s two serpent face,
and necklace of hearts and hands
(to remind us of our much-required sacrifices)
for the sake of the whole.
we did what we could to take memory
like a belt chain around the waist to pull off,
to beat an enemy.
But now, in these times of chaos and unprecedented greed,
when disrupted elements are disregarded,
earth lashes back like the trickster Tezcatlipoca
without forgiveness if we won’t turn around, start again,
say aloud: This was a mistake,
we have done the earth wrong and
we will make our planet a holy place, again.
with my two hands,
palpitating heart; we can, and we will
turn it around, if only we choose.
In these times, all is not lost, nothing forever gone,
tho’ you may rightly think them a disgrace.
Surely hope has not abandoned our souls,
even chance may be on our side.
There are women and men, after all,
young and not so young anymore,
tired but tenacious,
mothers and fathers, teachers and those who heal and do not
know that they are healers,
and those who are learning
for the sole purpose of returning what they know.
Also, amongst us, are many who flounder and fall;
they will be helped up by we who stumble forward.
All of these and others must remember.
We will not be eradicated, degraded and made irrelevant,
not for a decade or even a day. Not for six thousand years
have we been here, but, millions.
Look at me. I am alive and stand before you,
unashamed, despite endless provocations
railed against an aging woman.
My breasts, withered from once giving suckle,
and as of late, the hideousness of cancer,
hair gone grey,
and with a womb like a picked pomegranate
left to dry in the sun; so, my worth is gone,
My value in the workplace, also dwindled,
as, too, the indispensable role of mother.
As grandmother I am not an asset in these times,
but held against all that is new and fresh.
Nevertheless, I stand before you;
dignity is my scepter. I did not make the mess
we accept in this house.
When the party is done,
the last captive hung — fairly or unjustly,
Children saved and others lost,
The last of men’s wars declared,
trade deals busted and others hardly begun,
tyrants toppled, presidents deposed,
police restrained or given full reign upon the public,
and we don’t know where to run,
on a day the sun rose and fell,
and the moon took its seat in the sky,
I will have remained
who stayed behind to clean up.
Thank you for reading! The book is under consideration at this time. Hopefully, you’ll see the rest of the over forty poems included in the near-future!