Dr. Melissa Castillo Planas

Dr. Melissa Castillo Planas is an Associate Professor of English at Lehman College and the CUNY Graduate Center specializing in Latinx Literature, History, and Culture. She is the author/editor of six books including two poetry collections, most recently, Chingona Rules with Finishing Line Press, which is currently a finalist for the 2022 Juan Felipe Herrera Best Poetry Book Award. Her scholarly book, A Mexican State of Mind: New York City and the New Borderlands of Culture, is taught at colleges across the country. She writes and researches from her experience as a Mexican American New Yorker. www.melissacastilloplanas.com 

“January 6, 2021”
(Multi-color woodblock print on paper) by Zorawar Sidhu and Rob Swainston

It’s not what I think
of that day.

It’s too beautiful -
a rainbow of rich colors
like a stained glass window
over a mourner's face –
no hint of carnage
the death of “our” maybe
democracy, so they
tell me I must have a baby I
never wanted.

Perhaps the faces are resigned
by shock & pain
realizing we never had a chance
against a mob – they are
the minority now –
& still we don’t have a say.

Perhaps the streaked faces
actually are in mourning –
mourning an identity
of scams, of propaganda
in pledges & allegiances
& government classes that
never taught anyone about
governing equally (as if that wasn’t
the purpose).

& haven’t we always been ruled by the minority?
& isn’t that the basis of American Democracy?
& is this all just an elaborate catfish where the picture says freedom but he shows up with handcuffs?

& the exceptionalism we hold
like a carrot to the world
is actually a weapon to destroy
what is not made in our (white) image?

& is American Democracy really just a God Complex?

----------------------------------------------- // ---------------------------------------------------------

This is not a poem about trauma

I never wondered once
what my life could have been
with her
unless it was a him
until you told me that choice -
that was never a choice
at all - could have not been

I never wondered how I would
have loved someone
when I didn’t yet love

I never wondered how I could
have cared for someone
when I was still starving
for a piece of my
un-American dream.

Is it ok to say
I didn’t feel anything
in a poem?

It was like deciding to have
breakfast, or go for a run,
or buy a new book.

This poem is not about trauma.

I never wondered because by then
I was already floating away in
the ocean, planning for

----------------------------------------------- // ---------------------------------------------------------

Not Another Love Poem
For JM

I want to invent a new word for love -

one that hasn’t been used across centuries
slipped in and out of my own hurried tongue
gifted to men that didn’t deserve a
second conversation or slivered from
mouths as a form of coercion.

I want a word untainted by the weight of our pasts & centuries of poetic interventions.
I want a word unbothered by sonnets, flowers, or cliched metaphors.

I want a word to describe the every morning
when I wake up and watch you gently
breathing beside me.

How your poses - legs up, arms behind the neck - make me chuckle inside
How your dark hair invites my fingers to mingle
How your lashes frame looks that still give me goosebumps
How your mouth slightly parted asks me to kiss it

I want a word that describes more than a four-letter word I often said without thinking.

I want a word for
the desire to snuggle closer and never let go
the ache to feel you deep inside my body
the safety that you can always dry my tears
the poem I don’t know how to write because everything feels so different when you’re
sleeping next to me.

Love is too small, too few letters for all that I need it to say to you. I want a new word for
every morning, laugh & lingering moment when you sleep beside me and I wonder why
at 37 everything feels so new.


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