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I Ask the Impossible: Poems

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Cherished for her passionate fiction and exuberant essays, the author hailed by Julia Alvarez as una storyteller de primera,? and by Barbara Kingsolver in The Los Angeles Times as impossible to resist,? returns to her first love-poetry-to reveal an unwavering commitment to social justice, and a fervent embrace of the sensual world.

With the poems in I Ask the Impossible, Castillo celebrates the strength that "is a ...

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I Ask the Impossible: Poems

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An Anchor Books Original

Cherished for her passionate fiction and exuberant essays, the author hailed by Julia Alvarez as una storyteller de primera,? and by Barbara Kingsolver in The Los Angeles Times as impossible to resist,? returns to her first love-poetry-to reveal an unwavering commitment to social justice, and a fervent embrace of the sensual world.

With the poems in I Ask the Impossible, Castillo celebrates the strength that "is a woman-buried deep in [her] heart." Whether memorializing real-life heroines who have risked their lives for humanity, spinning a lighthearted tale for her young son, or penning odes to mortals, gods, goddesses, Castillo's poems are eloquent and rich with insight. She shares over twelve years of poetic inspiration, from her days as a writer who once wrote poems in a basement with no heat," through the tenderness of motherhood and bitterness of loss, to the strength of love itself, which can make the impossible a simple act." Radiant with keen perception, wit, and urgency, sometimes erotic, often funny, this inspiring collection sounds the unmistakable voice of a "woman on fire? / and more worthy than stone."

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Cherished for her passionate fiction and exuberant essays, the author hailed by Barbara Kingsolver as "impossible to resist" returns to her first love, poetry, with this collection, which reveals an unwavering commitment to social justice and a fervent embrace of the sensual world.
From the Publisher
"Poems alight with stubborn love, crackling wit, and towering anger. Earthy and well molded like clay, Castillo's poetry serves as a vessel for emotions . . . Castillo writes on behalf of the voiceless and nameless . . . Castillo writes, too, of her late mother, her thriving son, and the spiky ironies of love, always willing to face the painful truths of human life but always finding her way to beauty." —Donna Seaman, Booklist
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The prolific novelist, poet, essayist and xicanista Castillo checked in most recently with My Daughter, My Son, The Eagle, The Dove: An Aztec Chant, an inspirational gift book, and Peel My Love Like an Onion, a first-person tale of immigration and reimagined selfhood. This fifth poetry collection displays all the energy and political commitment of Castillo's work in other genres, but holds few formal or conceptual surprises. Nevertheless, many readers will be happy to bask in their speaker's experiences and longings or to get angry and motivated by her cries for justice: "Women don't riot,/ not in maquilas in Malaysia, Mexico, or Korea..../ We don't storm through cities,/ take over the press, make a unified statement,/ once and for all: A third millennium call--from this day on no more, not me, not my daughter,/ not her daughter either." Over the course of 60 sometimes multilingual, mostly page-or-less monologues, Castillo's speaker brashly addresses the pope, celebrates Zapatista leader Comandante Ramona, eulogizes friend Dieter Herms, sits alone in a new city ("I have had PMS for three days./ If I drink myself into a stupor, who'll know?"), imagines being seduced by Nastassia Kinski and goes about her business with passion and dignity. The abundant erotic parables and mystical invocations work much less well, often filled with clich s and awkward cadences. But the point here is in the immediacy and the message; this book is worth its weight in a thousand arid ekphrases and aestheticizations. (Mar. 27) Forecast: Nothing much distinguishes these poems from those of many other mestiza feminists speaking out in small presses across the country--except Castillo's relative fame, which adds to her speaker's winning confidence. Fans from her other genres will see Castillo's bright smile on the cover of this book and pick it up. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Castillo enjoys an enviable reputation as a novelist, essayist, and poet, the latter evident in this collection. Although several of these poems have appeared previously in print, including the contemporary classic "El Chicle," this anthology represents the cumulative product of Castillo's poetic muse under one cover. Her commitment to social protest, as seen earlier in My Father Was a Toltec: And Selected Poems, is renewed here in several poems which, as the weakest and most routine of the lot, are less likely to stand the test of time. In their immediacy, however, the poems dealing with death strike a more universal chord; we share Castillo's emotions and inquisitions as she confronts the prospect of death in her family and, ultimately, in herself. Castillo also continues the work she has done in an amorous vein; the titular poem is simple, lyrical, and poignant. In sum, this retrospective provides a delightful and enticing orientation to one of the most outstanding Chicanas writing today.--Lawrence Olszewski, OCLC Lib., Dublin, OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"I ask the impossible: love me forever," Castillo's second collection begins. This curious mix of ambition and limitation—if one is going to ask for the impossible,"love me forever" seems almost petulant—stalks the book, making its poems seem both weighty and insubstantial, at some times strident and at others safe. Chicagoan Castillo (Peel My Love Like an Onion, 1999, etc.) presents poems written over a 12-year period. Her utterly unsentimental subjects range from autobiography (including a marvelous poem,"Chi-Town Born and Bred, Twentieth-Century Girl Propelled with Flare Into the Third Millennium," whose title is an accurate description of its content) to political activism (as in"Like the people of Guatemala, I want to be free of these memories ... —Sister Dianna Ortíz," which describes in excruciating detail the tragedy of an American nun captured and tortured by the Guatemalan secret police), to poems of heterosexual and lesbian love (the best of which is perhaps"La Wild Woman," a fable about a woman who steals a bride away from her own wedding). A few of the poems are in Spanish, with translations by the poet Rosario Ferré. But although bilingualism is a fact of the book, it never becomes a point of intense exploration in the way it does for a writer like Gloria Andalzúa. The poems tend to stop short of real radicalism either in form, language, or statement, instead exerting a kind of steady pressure on the wrongs of urban life and on the violence directed against the disenfranchised. Ultimately, the love poems tell the most nuanced stories of the book, showing strong women who"make the impossible / a simpleact."Energetic,down-to-earth.Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385720731
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/20/2001
  • Edition description: 1 ANCHOR
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 1,411,341
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.33 (d)

Meet the Author

Ana Castillo is the author of the novels Peel My Love Like an Onioin, So Far from God, The Mixquiahuala Letters, and Sapogonia. She has written a story collection, Loverboys; the crtitical study Massacre of the Dreamers; the poetry collection My Father Was a Toltec and Selected Poems; and the children's book My Daughter, My Son, the Eagle, The Dove. She is the editor of the anthology Goddess of the Americas: Writings on the Virgin of Guadalupe, available from Vintage Espanol (La diosa de las Americas). Castillo has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the American Book Award, a Carl Sandburg Award, a Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award, and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. She lives in Chicago with her son, Marcel.

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Read an Excerpt

While I Was Gone a War Began

While I was gone a war began.
Every day I asked friends in Rome
to translate the news.
It seems I saw this story
in a Hollywood movie,
or on a Taco Bell commercial,
maybe in an ad for sunglasses
or summer wear--shown somewhere
for promotional purposes.

Hadn't I seen it in an underground cartoon,
a sinister sheikh versus John Wayne?
Remembering Revelation I wanted to laugh,
the way a nonbeliever remembers Sunday School
and laughs, which is to say--after flood and rains,
drought and despair,
abrupt invasions,
disease and famine everywhere,
we’re still left dumbfounded
at the persistence of fiction.

While I was gone
continents exploded--the Congo, Ireland,
Mexico, to name a few places.
At this rate, one day soon
they won’t exist at all.
It’s only a speculation, of course.

"What good have all the great writers done?"
an Italian dissident asked, as if
this new war were my personal charge.
"What good your poems,
your good intentions,
your thoughts and words
all for the common good?
What lives have they saved?
What mouths do they feed?
What good is your blue passport
when your American plane blows up?"
the Italian dissident asked in a rage.
Forced out of his country,the poor African selling trinkets in Italy,
does not hesitate to kill other blacksnot of his tribe.
Who is the bad guy? Who is the last racist?
Who colonized in the twenty-first century best:
the Mexican official over the Indian
or the gringo ranchero over the Mexican illegal?
"I hope for your sake yourpoems become missiles,"
the dissident said. He lit a cigarette, held it to his yellowed teeth.
"I hope for my sake, too. I tried," he said.
"I did not write books or have sons
but I gave my life
and now, I don’t care.
"Again, I had nothing to give but a few words
which I thought then to keep to myself
for all their apparent uselessness.
We drank some wine, instead,
made from his dead father's vineyard.
We trapped a rat getting into the vat.
We watched another red sun set over the fields.
At dawn, I left,returned to the silence of the press
when it has no sordid scandal to report.
As if we should not be scandalized
by surprise bombing over any city at night,
bombs scandalizing the sanctity of night.

–1998, Chicago

Women Don't Riot
(For N.B.S)

Women don't riot,
not in maquilas in Malaysia, Mexico, or Korea,
not in sweatshops in New York or El Paso.
They don't revolt
in kitchens, laundries, or nurseries.
Not by the hundreds or thousands, changing
sheets in hotels or in laundries
when scalded by hot water,
not in restaurants where they clean and clean
and clean their hands raw.

Women don't riot, not sober and earnest,
or high and strung out, not of any color,
any race, not the rich, poor,
or those in between. And mothers of all kinds
especially don't run rampant through the streets.

In college those who've thought it out
join hands in crucial times, carry signs,
are dragged away in protest.
We pass out petitions, organize a civilized vigil,
return to work the next day.

We women are sterilized, have more children
than they can feed,
don't speak the official language,
want things they see on TV,
would like to own a TV—
women who were molested as children
harassed, which means
every last one sooner or later;
women who've defended themselves
and women who can't or don't know how
we don't—won't ever rise up in arms.

We don't storm through cities,
take over the press, make a unified statement,
once and for all: A third-millennium call—
from this day on no more, not me, not my daughter,
not her daughter either.

Women don't form a battalion, march arm in arm
across continents bound
by the same tongue, same food or lack thereof,
same God, same abandonment,
same broken heart,
raising children on our own, have
so much endless misery in common
that must stop
not for one woman or every woman,
but for the sake of us all.

Quietly, instead, one and each takes the offense,
rejection, bureaucratic dismissal, disease
that should not have been, insult,
shove, blow to the head,
a knife at her throat.
She won't fight, she won't even scream—
taught as she's been
to be brought down as if by surprise.
She'll die like an ant beneath a passing heel.
Today it was her. Next time who.

—1998, Chicago
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Table of Contents

I Ask the Impossible 3
El Chicle 4
No Dogs or Mexicans Allowed 5
Waterbird Medicine 6
Mi volador 8
You Are Real as Earth y mas 9
A Nahua Woman's Love 11
Anna Mae Aquash 12
Nothing But This at the End 14
The Desert as Antidote: Verano, 1997 16
A Small Scorpion 19
I Heard the Cries of Two Hundred Children 20
"Never Again a Mexico Without Us" - Comandante Ramona 22
1999 26
Burra, Yo 29
Burra, Me 31
La Burra confunde la amistad con un cuerazo 33
La Burra Mistakes Friendship with a Lashing 34
La Amiga regresa a educar a la burra 35
The Friend Comes Back to Teach the Burra 36
I Did Not Think She Was Beautiful - Then 37
Coatlicue's Legacy 39
"Like the people of Guatemala, I want to be free of these memories ..." - Sister Dianna Ortiz 41
De quien es la paz? 47
Whose Peace Is It? 49
I Saw Peru 51
Dear Pope: Open Letter from the Americas 53
Los Angeles: A Report 55
Recipes for a Welfare Mother 56
Women Don't Riot 58
Cabrona con corazon/Goat Woman with a Heart 61
Since the Creation of My Son and My First Book 63
For Marcel Ramon from His Mother at Sea 66
La Wild Woman 67
What Is Not Found in Paintings or Books 69
Tatehuari 70
Tatehuari 72
I Decide Not to Fall in Love 74
Y donde se encuentra Dios? 75
Where Can We Find God? 76
On the Meaning of Things 77
Hummingbird Heart 78
Nani Worries About Her Father's Happiness in the Afterlife 79
Dia de muertos 81
How Does It Feel to Be Cruel to a Woman? 82
For My Child Who Became a Man in His Thirteenth Year 83
A Little Prayer for the Trees 85
For Alberto and Selena 86
Death Is Only What It Is 87
Peel My Love Like an Onion 88
Los Tocayos 89
For Elsa 90
I Am Not Egyptian 92
All I Have for Her Is a Poem 93
Maria's Clock Is Alive 94
Seduced by Nastassia Kinski 95
One Thousand Nights 97
When Women Part 99
For a Toltec Queen 100
She Was Brave to Leave You 101
While I Was Gone a War Began 103
A Federico Garcia Lorca mas a algunos otros 106
For James Baldwin, with Love (November 8, 1989) 109
Poeta en Santa Fe 110
Chi-Town Born and Bred, Twentieth-Century Girl Propelled with Flare into the Third Millennium 111
Canto para las brujas of Good Deeds and Desires 119
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2001

    The Lessons of True Commitment

    Ana Castillo is the type of writer one expects to find in Latin America: a prolific intellectual who seamlessly integrates the personal and the political in her work. In this sense, her poetry reminds me of the work of the Salvadoran Roque Dalton or the Uruguayan Mario Benedetti, writers who became the conscience of their respective countries and communities. In the poem 'Since the Creation of My Son and My First Book' Ana writes on the birth of her son and the writing of her first book--an analogy that in lesser hands would be a cliche--and gives us a poem of raw energy and political significance; for readers who idealized the life of the poet, here's the proof: it's a most difficult career choice. The title poem is poignant and beautiful: 'I ask the impossible: love me forever.' It is 'petulant' said the Kirkus reviewer of this book to ask someone to love you forever, but that only exposes the reviewer's limited view of love. A mother has a right to ask that of her son, a daughter has a right to ask that of her father, a woman has a right to ask that of her true love. Ana wrote that poem shortly after the death of her own father, and 'I Ask the Impossible' is therefore one of the most moving testimonies of love I have ever read, about what love really means. This is a varied collection of poetry, and although Ana has not divided the book into sections some sequences are clearly discernible: there are several poems on her son Marcel, all of them charming and beautiful, there are political poems concerned about the fate of Latino women across the Americas, there are lighthearted poems in Spanish about the difficulties of love and portraits of Ana's relatives and friends, etc. This is clearly an essential book for those concerned with contemporary Chicano writing and for fans of Ana's work.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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