Sandra M. Castillo – Christmas, 1970

“Even a map cannot show you
the way back to a place
that no longer exists.”

– Sandra M. Castillo

As Christmas draws some of us home, it also reminds us of the homes we don’t have, or might have once had and have lost. Cuban-born Sandra M. Castillo writes about her memory of her family’s first Christmas in the United States, “away from ourselves”, when she was just eight years old. The poem is soaked with a heavy sadness and feeling of loss, expressed through the account of the poet’s mother and her tears for the “place that no longer exists.”

Christmas, 1970

We assemble the silver tree,
our translated lives,
its luminous branches,
numbered to fit into its body.
place its metallic roots
to decorate our first Christmas.
Mother finds herself
opening, closing the Red Cross box
she will carry into 1976
like an unwanted door prize,
a timepiece, a stubborn fact,
an emblem of exile measuring our days,
marked by the moment of our departure,
our lives no longer arranged.

there is a photograph,
a Polaroid Mother cannot remember was ever taken:
I am sitting under Tia Tere’s Christmas tree,
her first apartment in this, our new world:
my sisters by my side,
I wear a white dress, black boots,
an eight-year-old’s resignation;
Mae and Mitzy, age four,
wear red and white snowflake sweaters and identical smiles,
on this, our first Christmas,
away from ourselves.

The future unreal, unmade,
Mother will cry into the new year
with Lidia and Emerito,
our elderly downstairs neighbors,
who realize what we are too young to understand:
Even a map cannot show you
the way back to a place
that no longer exists.

Sandra M. Castillo
From: My Father Sings, to My Embarrassment

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