There’s a man lying beside my body in the yard.
He has taken my heart, wrapped in his decrepit liver.
               I lean into him. He smells ripe.  

My mother longs to hold me.
I never thought I would tell her. I did.
I told her about his warm hands. I did.
I told her about his shaking leg. I did.
I told her about his wet mouth. I did.
I told her about his hiss, deep into the roots of my hair past long and long past what it means to be loved and thrown away by another. I did.
I told her. I did.

Together, they take my hands and I purge a pile of purple grapes, one sprouts arms and tries to crawl back down my throat – coating my esophagus with warmth, to rest a little in the acid. I take a picture and pull it out with love, my fingertips keeping it hushed. The man eats it from my thumb and forefinger with a hiss and the skin off his testicles peels away laughing into the earth.

                The backyard is a healing realm, I repeat to myself.

There are body parts in the backyard. We pray the dogs don’t dig them up before we’ve had a chance to drink the tonic. 


There is a purring down the slope of my inner ear. The dead cat next door, she’s a voodoo queen.

Tonight, I can feel my feet being pulled down. I smell alley cats. They visit me, under her command. Watching me sleep. With their extended acidic claws deep in my toes, blood pooling they haul me down into a heap of dehydrated soil beneath my mother’s dying persimmon tree. I can see my mother’s moist eyeballs and her tangled clumps of hair from here. I blink and again I’m pulled down, the earth rising past my shins, past my caderas, past my heart. My sweat dampens the earth. Magnetic and wet, the sand molds to my body. I’d like to feel this sand dissolve into my skin as I carry with me a sample size of Hokusai’s Prussian blue wave. The cats ask me, what’s an island to you?

The voodoo queen’s eyes shine brilliant, emerald, poised.

The cat’s chant:
We reap.
We reap.
We reap. 

Within the house an exhausted chorus escapes my mothers parted lips

She chants:
We reap memories.
We reap fragrances.
We reap stilettos and fur coats.
We reap wide teeth and chipped smiles.
We reap agreements.

I agree to complain little, to throw away.


It’s hot and the earth is soft tonight. It’s hot and my nails have splintered. It’s hot and I can’t seem to find my pillow. It was here a little while ago, that soft foam that holds memories. I can’t even think, it’s so hot.

Every night I hang my lungs out to breathe alongside layers of my brain. On the clothesline they hang, spongy tissue breathing the balmy air. My nostrils flare and I can finally breathe.

               The backyard is a healing realm, I repeat to myself.

I knead them with my fingertips, leaving behind my huellas, relaxing their soft mass with my knuckles. I knead my lungs.
My mother hangs her kneecaps out too.
My brother shakes out his anxiety.
My father hangs himself, in a past life, in a motel room before I was born, while my mother yelled “housekeeping” into a room across the city.
Here he hangs his eyelashes, they quiver tickling my lungs, making it harder for me to breathe. I wonder if he’s dead. Has he left us?


Mija, no puedo dormir, my mother calls out to me.
Moonlight drips into her bedroom from the cracked window, swallowing whole her diminutive face making her squint under the cool glow. Her camisón, the one I once swung in; happiness in her lap, now drapes her body loose and thin, deadened from years worn. The crucifix above her head appears smaller, having lost its luster, now a dingy copper caked in dust, jamás duerme. An open circular tin of lip balm rests on the bed next to her arthritic hands. The salve used, lips, her lips used.
               I lean into her.

Tonight I bury my mother’s eyes in the soil. It’s the only way she can sleep. Melatonin only gets her to bed, but can never keep her there. So I scoop her eyeballs out with a spoon. Her pupils dilated and flickering gold, watch as love pours from my own eyes, as her elastic veins snap upwards and back down again. Blood trickling down our faces.  

In a basket filled with discarded orange peels I carry her eyes out to the yard. Like Chinese Baoding balls, they ring together, soft music, humming as I cup each one, submerging them deep into the merciful earth.

               The backyard is a healing realm, I repeat to myself.

They’re too yellow e firme. My own are the same, too much sun and wind damage. The soil grows damp, as I carefully spoon out her tears from within the tonic, collecting them in a rusted Band-Aid tin as I drop fresh ones back into her eyes. I never use artificial. Crying, they thank me with more tears.

When she finally sleeps I head back into the house to collect her cabello, temporarily ridding her of the past. Staring into the dry caves of her eye sockets, I knot the strands together, clumps of memories gasping into the warm air. I sift through them. Within the curve of each ringlet I can see them, their stories, their lives, them. Love affairs. Groucho Marx’s ailing eyebrows and her gelid thighs. Patty Hearst’s kidnapping and deprogramming. A white glove in an unused oven. Mauled dogs and heartbreak. It’s all the same. I see them. I bury them into the soil beneath her eyes.

"After earning her B.A. in English Creative Writing at California State University, Northridge, A. R. Castellanos started taking Method Writing classes in Los Angeles with the poet and teacher Jack Grapes. "Tonic" is the fruit of one of his exercises. Surrealism, it is what she drinks early in the morning when she sits down to write." 

Born and raised in Los Angeles, A. R. Castellanos writes poetry, fiction, and memoir. Her conjured worlds encompass feral spirits, otherworldly legends, and the disconcerting realities of domestic workers in Hollywood's celebrity homes. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Drunken Boat, Chaparral, FRE&D and more. Aside from writing, Castellanos loves to watch movies over and over again with her dog Nola, a rare breed of wolf-bear. For more please visit

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