“All accounts of the past are made up of possibilities.”
—Dionisio Martinez

for Larry Villanueva


For years,
you were a story of ancestors,
pre-revolutionary Cuba:
Barrios, Donate, Gallata, Villanueva,
family names strung and pearled in the Caribbean
by blood and memory,
nostalgia and calamity
en Artemisa, a small town in my mother’s childhood,
a woman in December of 1967,
your Tía Marta, a hospital room en la Covadonga,
rows and rows of children, my sisters,
unexpectedly two, your cousins,
whose clothes Mae and Mitzy wore
into history and exile.

En el exilo, La Cuba del Norte,
ten years after the summer of El Mariel,
you were my map of Cuba,
un espejo, un reflejo,
a tisa-blue knot of possibility.
Mi esquina Habanera,
a street en la arquitectura del pasado,
a superficial distance in the patina of memory,
a me I had never really known,
a language I had learned not to think in.

Later, you were a face on T.V.
en Guadalupe, María Elena,
my mother’s telenovelas en el canal 23,
an actor, a director, a sculptor, abstract angst with a face
history and coincidence had given me.

So when you become fingerprints and words,
a noun, a verb, a snapshot in motion,
I am no longer alone with my ghosts,
las sombras de el pasado, inventing truth,
reclaiming language, my old self.
I am me, unadorned by speech,
English or translation;
I am an I, simple, exposed,
this afternoon in our lives,
a conversation about the circle
of coincidence and persuasion,
a photograph of an idea we once were,
and you are familiar,

Constantly returning,
we breathe in Spanish,
move through blank spaces like incantations,
waiting for words to fill a moment
(often ninety miles long)
with etymology, jargon, ghostwords,
shadows and nostalgia,
and become Harina de Castilla, Larry,
re-shaped, translated, improvised, sculpted
and redefined.

Note to Poetry Out Loud students: This poem begins with an epigraph that must be recited. Omitting the epigraph will affect your accuracy score.
  • Sandra M. Castillo, “Harina de Castilla” from My Father Sings, to My Embarrassment. Copyright © 2002 by Sandra M. Castillo. Reprinted by permission of White Pine Press.

  • Source: My Father Sings to My Embarrassment (White Pine Press, 2002)

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