“McDonald’s Circa the ’80s” by Elena Castro

Elena Castro (age 15)


The first day I realized my father was a brave man,
was his first day as well. I watched his feet fumble,
stumbling over the stream of coffee he had spilt onto the floor.
The red-faced man snarled like a jackal, livid
over the dollar spent on the sole of his own shoe. My father
had just left home, just left the mother kneeling within her decor
of Jesus statues and flickering candles, pleading to the individual Jesus
responsible for her son’s safety. He left for a life
without the mud he had helped cake into the shape of a house,
without the dirt he called a kitchen floor. He took shelter
on the mats of a VW hatchback long abandoned in the parking lot.
The jackal led a pack of cops acting as hound dogs,
sniffing for the smell of contraband. His wet back
was soaked with sweat, rain beads lined the rear-view mirrors
as they did his windowed face. I got a peek of it, a glance
of his eyes curious about the world outside of their habitat.
I wanted to air out his enclosure, give him a taste
of what it’s like to be a free man, tastes of chalky asphalt
just inches from his reach but I knew he must stay hidden.
Exposing his sweaty skin to the fresh lick of nighttime
meant I would have to be the fearless one. I wanted to grab his hands,
rough with labor, and pull him away from his long game
of hide and seek, alert the hunting dogs to claim their prize.
I, too, am born a foreign tongue—like father, like daughter—
and see myself in him leaving behind my nascent life
so that he might return to the life of a happy man,
the life of a humble man. So that perhaps one day
my father would never again have to be a brave man.

from 2018 Rattle Young Poets Anthology


Why do you like to write poetry?

Elena Castro: “Propagation is the term, often used in the context of succulents and cacti, which describes the growth of a daughter plant. It is also the term that describes the spreading of beliefs across regions. It describes the tireless effort of budding thoughts in a place where they may have never been seen before, in the event that their mother idea had to be propagated to a new area out of panic, out of fear of dying out. I write poetry with my mother plant in mind.”

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