Cenzontle NPR coverage of Cenzontle by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo. News, author interviews, critics' picks and more.
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Excerpt: Cenzontle


Because the bird flew before
there was a word
for flight

years from now
there will be a name
for what you and I are doing.

I licked the mango of the sun—

between its bone and its name
between its color and its weight,

the night was heavier
than the light it hushed.

Pockets of unsteady light.

The bone—
the seed
inside the bone—

the echo
and its echo
and its shape.

Can you wash me without my body
coming apart in your hands?

Call it wound—
call it beginning—

The bird's beak twisted
into a small circle of awe.

You called it cutting apart,
I called it song.
Esparto, California

Each pepper field is the same.
In each one I am a failed anthem.

I don't know English
but there is so little
that needs translated out here.

For twelve hours I have picked
the same colored pepper.

Still I don't know what country
does death belong to.

My skin is peeling.

Cual dios quisiera ser fuente?

If only I could choose what hurt.

An inheritance.

Those lost mothers bound
to the future of their blood.

I am walking again through the footage
where the white dress loses its shape.

Even moving my hands to sort
the peppers is a kind of running.

Hold still.

The child will sing because I was once her flag.

She will take my picture
—both groom and bride—
a country she has never seen.

I will give her the knife
to make her own camera.

The gift of shade and water—
the likeness of a star to possess.

And I am only half sick
if being sick
is just a bone waiting to harden.

I could be a saint
since there exists no pleasure
that wasn't first abandoned to us out of boredom.
We traffic in the leftovers of ecstasy.

How lonely and inventive those angels were.

If I could speak their language,
I would tell them all my real name


And with my curved knife,
I would rid them of all their failures.
First Wedding Dance

The music stopped playing years ago
but we're still dancing.

There's your bright skirt scissoring
through the crowd—

our hips tipping the instruments over.

You open me up and walk inside
until you reach a river
where a child is washing her feet.

You aren't sure
if I am the child
or if I am the river.

You throw a stone
and the child wades in to find it.
This is memory.

Let's say the river is too deep
so you turn around and leave
the same way you entered—
spent and unwashed.

It's ok. We are young, and
our gowns are as long as the room.

I told you I always wanted a silk train.

We can both be the bride,
we can both empty our lover.

And there's nothing different about you—
about me—about any of this.
Only that we wish it still hurt, just once.

Like the belts our fathers whipped us with,
not to hurt us but just to make sure we remembered.

Like the cotton ball, dipped in alcohol,
rubbed gently on your arm
moments before the doctor asks you to breathe.