21 Days/21 Poems: Fatherhood
My Father Sings to my Embarrassment
At Las Villas, a small Carol City bar with a makeshift stage,
where he spends too much time drinking,
pretending he can learn to play the guitar at forty-five,
become a singer, a musician,
who writes about “Que Dificil Es…”
to live in Spanish in Miami,
a city yet to be translated,
in a restaurant where he has taken us for Cuban food,
where I sit, frozen, unable to make a sound,
where mother smiles,
all her teeth exposed,
squeezes my hand,
where Mae and Mitzy hide,
under the table shielding them from shame
with a blood-red table cloth,
leaving my mother and me,
pale-faced, trapped by the spotlight shifting on our eyes,
making it difficult for us to pretend
we do not know the man in the white suit
pointing to us.
“My Father Sings to my Embarrassment” by Sandra M. Castillo. My Father Sings to my Embarrassment. White Pines Press, 2002.
In “My Father Sings to my Embarrassment” Castillo dramatizes the speaker’s predicament in the father’s attempt to remake himself in the new land and the unease that his behavior causes for the rest of the family. The apt descriptions describe a scene in which the speaker feels as if her family has become the focal point of attention: “mother smiles/ all her teeth exposed,” and “Mae and Mitzy hide/ under the table shielding them from shame.” Their predicament is heightened by the setting, ‘a small Carol City bar with a makeshift stage,” where the family is trying “to live in Spanish in Miami/ a city yet to be translated.”
This has always been one of my favorite poems by Sandra Castillo. Her poems dramatize the hyphenated existence on many exiles in Miami and provides a much needed perspective on an issue that has been dominated by male poets. Castillo's voice is singular in her ability to write about her heritage and is an elegant blend of memory and the urgency of the present.
About Sandra M. Castillo
Sandra M. Castillo is a poet and South Florida resident. She was born in Havana, Cuba and left the island of her birth on one of the last of President Johnson’s Freedom Flights.
She attended Florida State University, receiving both a Bachelor's and ultimately Master's degree in Creative Writing.
[Castillo has said that she is haunted by all things Cuban and that much of what she remembers about her Cuban childhood, those eight years of her life, linger in her memory like photographs, like ghosts. Her Tio Berto, to whom she has made repeated references, was an amateur photographer whose photographs documented not only her family's past but a Cuban life. Such photographs captivated her and "formed the basis of [her] aesthetic."] She writes about loss, history, gender, language and explores issues of memory. Her work "depicts contradictory worlds, the memory of a homeland and memory politics while examining the ordinary reality of exile.