Five Cent Secret

Castaños, our name,

means chestnuts,

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.

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