I recently reconnected with an aunt of mine.
On the surface, this is no big deal. Except the nice lady in question is the last living blood relative I have connected with my father. I mean, she might know his actual birthday.
The last time Pilar, my aunt, and I saw each other, my grandmother – mother to her and my father – had died. I spent the day with her and her family going around the neighborhood collecting stories about him.
Then she handed me what photographs she had of him. I had never seen these photos, never seen so much of my father.
We lost touch after that visit. It’s been eight years.
Finding each other again is a big deal because my father’s side of the family is riddled with men who leave or go missing.
In honor of our re-acquaintance, I have decided to share a poem I wrote a little after my grandmother’s death.
The line about the whispers of tough gossip is Pilar wondering after her brother.
Two Years *
In a house with only a front and back door,
The rooms separated by bed sheets,
A television that only worked at night,
When it wasn’t windy,
When it didn’t rain,
And a crucifix above the kitchen sink,
My grandmother would fill bottles with water and sugar
And watch over me as I ate in my sleep,
My mouth chewing dreams that would never fill me up.
Eyes puddled with dark rings would look down,
Bags the color of beaten and bruised fruit;
Her hands, brown and thin with veins
Like cross hatched branches,
A tree named Augustina
Would hold me, pour water over me
In the same place she peeled potatoes.
I never knew her name til I was eight.
On the phone, there was more static than I knew words in Spanish.
There was a photograph, paper swollen and smooth,
Picture blurry and dull,
A smile the color of headlights at night.
What face did I make as she passed me around,
Miren Angel, look at my son’s boy,
My father, the fisherman
Who let his son grow up not knowing how to swim,
His footsteps on the whispers of tough gossip,
Like dust being swept across the floor,
No longer the imprint of a foot,
No longer there.
Tina, I have seen buildings fall and the morning grow gray with smoke,
I have seen deserts explode through the green eye of the television,
I have seen a man hit in the mouth with his own gun,
I have seen women scream because men with broken bottles in their hands
Don’t know better or don’t care,
I have seen love in a bruised face,
A pair of heavy eyes,
Your eyes —
Skin crinkling like burning leaves —
And I wish the metaphors could stop,
I wish I was Jesus,
That when I laid my hand down
It meant more to me than words,
More to you than an unfamiliar tongue,
Sounds you can’t understand
Stretched out in scribbles, curled
Like hair on a newborn’s head.
* an earlier version of this poem appeared in Glyph, the literary journal of the College of Santa Fe