Natasha Trethewey

4. The Book of Castas

After a Series of  casta Paintings By Juan Rodríguez Juárez, C. 1715

Call it the catalog
        of mixed bloods, or

        the book of naught:
                not Spaniard, not white, but

mulatto-returning-backwards (or
         hold-yourself-in-midair) and

         the morisca, the lobo, the chino,
                sambo, albino, and

the no-te-entiendo—the
        I don’t understand you.

        Guidebook to the colony,
                record of each crossed birth.

it is the typology of taint, 
        of stain: blemish: sullying spot:

        that which can be purified,
                that which cannot—Canaan’s

black fate. How like a dirty joke
        it seems: What do you call

        that space between
                the dark geographies of sex?

Call it the taint—as in
        T’aint one and t'aint the other—

        illicit and yet naming still
               what is between. Between

her parents, the child,

        cannot slip their hold,
                the triptych their bodies make

in paint, in blood: her name
       written down in the Book

        of Castas—all her kind
                in thrall to a word.