Castaños, our name,
hardy, sweet and filling,
or the dark bronze color
that shines from their shells
after you brave their thorn-smattered armor.
I ate steaming pork tamales,
beans and rice, and salty chili sauce
at silent breakfasts, lunches and dinners
the entirety of the week after my grandfather died.
These blue eyes. I look like I was plucked out of Sweden-
and the government can’t get the rhythm
for typing ñ on official papers.
I have forgotten the curves of the language
that I can only speak now in dreams-
shameful memory of my grandma sighing,
Necesitas practicar tu español.
I could be Greek or Italian or from Spain.
You couldn’t have known,
as you complained about those beaners,
about an eight year old who hobbled across the border,
her mother’s hand clamped around hers like sutures,
and bribed the guard with five pennies
so that I could be here today.
Yes, even in your gigantic truck
with cigarette burns and torn upholstery-
Yes, even under the weight of your rage
I can breathe without fear.
My grandfather would have exhaled relief
at the ugly validity of the erasure,
like he stole white privilege and painted it on my skin.
Safety in the secret,
the permanent disguise.
The papeles picados lie melting
in the garbage with the catered white people enchiladas
and there are no more quinceañeras
because the Irish, English, Swedish genes
make us look ridiculous in embroidered blouses.
You will never know,
you who yelled, Fucking wetback!
Your heart will stretch before death
and snap into frenzied drumming.
How fast my grandfather’s legs kicked
as he ran from the flaming crosses.
Court Castaños grew up adventuring along the Kings River in the San Joaquin Valley. After moving to Santa Cruz to study art, Castaños now spends time writing poetry and exploring the redwoods.