“Hands” and “Elegy” by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo


“Dear God, if we were made to be ghosts,
why do the bullets still work? -Airea D. Matthews

  1. [dear god]

I have seen the door of a black child’s face
open to let the sidewalk in
as a cop stands over his body.
I am not going to pretend
that your eyes are anything like ours,
or that your statue is of the visible.
What counts as the visible
when measured by a gun?
You are nothing like us—
If you were there would be no need for prayer.
There isn’t enough room in a body
for a bullet, or the street with its weeks of rain,
or the cop’s arm trying to push
the bullet further—
a tired song in the first parade.
How deep the well that you can’t see
the stones at the bottom.
In your place there is a song, and a window.
The boy lying on the street
is trying to get up
but you won’t let him.
He is looking for the door
but hasn’t found it yet.

  1. [To my 14 year old nephew]

In a few years, everything you touch
will resemble a gun.
You will be one more Midas of black objects.
The guard will think that it’s possible
for a gun to grow out of your hand,
like a bouquet of flowers bursting from your nails.
I’m here to tell you to not run in public,
to keep your hands out of your pockets in stores,
and never reach into your backpack.
Keep your money at hand, your hands away from your body.
Hold the only part of you that resembles a forrest.
Measure how far you can reach and cut it in half,
otherwise someone else might cut it for you.
See everything in halves:
the dirt half—
the light half of a hundred.
Count Mississippis before speaking to the cop.
One Mississippi.
Two Mississippi.
Three Mississippi.
Hold your hands like this.
This isn’t a game, though you’r only fourteen and most things are games.
You are forever 18 and large
at the end of a gun.
Say yes sir and no sir.
I was just on my way to school sir.
Thats just a pen sir.
Thats just my hand sir.
Thats just a pen.
Thats only a pen, sir
How can I make you understand
that you are fourteen and not fourteen
before you have to figure it out for yourself?

  1. [Yes. Yes. No. Long enough to know. Enough. Maybe. But we both know I do.]
    -After Ken Chen

Are you afraid of me?
There’s a name for that.
It’s posted on your door,
though you seem to ignore it.
Do you think I am incapable of pain?
It hurts to hear the sun make its way
through the same body,
retrieving the hands that hold it afloat.
How else do you think we can be
both hollow and solid at once.
Am I a small dancing figure
with the sign of the cross blessing the wounded?
How long have you been looking at me?
Then you can see my hands.
The way they hold my body together.
If you can see, then surely the bodies
are piling on top of me.
How long is enough?
Is your house enough?
Is your wife and kids enough?
Is your car?
Is the way you say show my your hands enough?
And then I show you my hands.
And then you show me yours.
Is that what you saw?
There’s a big show behind the curtains
of my palms.
I don’t want an applause
or an audience of you with your badge.
I want you to be silent—turned the other way.
I want to pretend that just once, I can point
to you and you won’t come,
that I can raise my hands and praise
a sidewalk that’s dry and empty—
absent of bodies like mine
folded on the floor.
I want to pretend that I can’t year your applause
when you pull the trigger.

  1. [Translations]

Dear slain child.
I can hear your.            Hum
sweet. A line through.
What do you do.
Cupped breath, a single word song.
How long a long please.     Line through the young
passed to the young.
Heavy.        Doesn’t want to say.
Can you hear.
Father. Feather. Best.
Can you be sewn back together?
Or that it doesn’t want to be a long please.
Everything was so heavy.
Everything was at once.          Then the blind hum.
The cupped breath.
What do you do with black and brown hands?
Hear your own.           Policeman’s radio.
Line static in the shape of hands.
And the child, who will hum for him?
Like the knot.
Like a door held open.



If it isn’t the rain
it must be the hollow wood

that echoes when I touch it.

How else do the birds know
when to abandon their nests
humming with lice?

There are only masks
because we make them beautiful.
Otherwise it would be too bright

and no one would be afraid to die.
But where do the sick hide
when the cloths are taken out
and cut into robes
more numinous than rain?

I know because I don’t.

Every child must grow
from a center
because even the light
needs something to rest on—

as does the cold
disguised as a mother’s hands.

And either praise the beautiful
or praise what is left over,
incapable of pain.

I will choose the one
that is most like a bridge
and soak my hands in it.