I did not hear her until I heard her say, “I am sorry about your father.” She wore glittery Cuban heel shoes, and there were fierce red ribbon highlights in her hair. She lit an old Marlboro from one of Papa’s abandoned packs from the kitchen table, half-crushed, laying beside his empty soup bowl. She made an adjustment to her one of her stockings, beige, and it had a run along her calf. She tried to cover it with one hand. She was embarrassed. Her hands were small and shapely, but her nails were chipped, and the polish was unevenly painted a mossy shade of green. She moved her hands slowly, in motions usually reserved for seduction. She probably didn’t realize she was doing that, but maybe she did. Maybe it was a natural movement of her shape, like water that flows down a hill and curves around the trunk of a pecan tree. When she moved her palm across her thigh, I felt something glow in me. I saw all of this in her shape, her shadowed curves, and I discovered the meaning of Miss Gabriela Magdalene Joaquin between the shape of each of her words. “I liked him, that is what I am trying to say,” she said. “I will miss him.”
this place has become carnivorous,
and our time here,
illegible to our children
having written our smudged armistice
with our fingers
from a pit of the ashed bones of
a juniper tree
from some goddamn general’s
we are both bound
we understand each other
to spit into the darkness
of our mother’s land,
but we will not outlast
the dirt under which
you can see
the winter years have cinched around us both
and our uniforms
have less integrity than when we started
i knew your father
and he knew mine
and somehow circumstance
hate each other
most regrettable of times
to despise each other together
for the mutual benefit of our
and whatever is left of our blood
We heard the baritone command of the rain
— it was a cello’s thrum, a wordless play —
upon the stone cobbles beneath shoe-less hooves.
We clouded together under the canopy
of a delicatessen and waited for the pastrami
to invite us inside, but it was typically mute
(as pastrami will be), and so we waited.
We had no umbrella,
and my suit was freshly laundered
and Dee’s hairstylist was profoundly anti-weather,
so we watched the sky and the gray passers-by,
and waited for a change:
perhaps a burr of sunlight,
or a morsel of blue above the Grand Theatre
or William’s Mercantile?
But none availed itself to us.
My wristwatch was impatient,
for I had an appointment to somewhere,
and Dee was terribly afraid of catching
pneumonia or heart-faintness,
and the Delicatessen was about to close.
We would be stranded! in the middle of the city,
perhaps savaged by the wageless poor
that roamed the alleys behind the
The music of the rain no longer entertained us,
and our bones shuddered in the dampness.
Dee’s glasses were misted by her anxious tears,
and I longed for a cup of Earl Grey, strongly brewed,
and in a civilized setting.
I sighted a taxi-cab passing by,
Off Duty, it suggested, and I waved,
and the attendant waved his finger back at me
— a charming fellow — but he still drove away.
And now here we wait, Dee and I,
impervious to this foul weather:
more resilient than most, and braver than many.
The afternoon has fallen upon us in a very hard way,
but my suit is still unassailable
and Dee’s curls still hold most successfully.
We will wait until our moral victory is assured
should the rain ever stop for a moment or two
or until the umbrella shop next door
re-opens its doors to us before
close of business today.
Still we hear the baritone command of the rain
— it is a cello’s thrum, a wordless play —
upon the stone cobbles beneath shoe-less hooves.
My eyes abide the blighted light
of the yellow-leafed tree.
Please set my stone here
and let us both rest.
But please stop and listen —
I know you can hear it,
the grief in my spirit,
and you see the fraying of my days,
my finite breaths
I still lean into old memories,
away from you,
away from who
I wanted to be.
I did not expect to be loved so well.
We sit cross-legged on the scatter rug and listen to the rain peck at the windows. The water fractures itself against the screen and it draws patterns I want to trace with my fingers. We have a box of candles on the kitchen table, for when the dark comes back inside. She leans into me whenever the rain turns loud, and her face is solemn and so still. Outside, the wind carves itself into the hickory trees. She can’t hear me offer up comfort, so I lean back into her. We listen. We wait.
Forty years on,
she follows the path of his ghost,
a slender and thorned road
that leads to a ruined ecstasy.
Above the carpeted dirt,
she remembers the boy’s twitching mouth,
so unaccustomed to casual pleasure,
and the slow burn of tobacco between them.
The last of the afternoon light
dripped between the hemlocks
and fell upon bare shoulders.
And she, alone, still wonders
if he ever smelled the gunpowder.
A perpetual yesterday dressed in ash;
grief, do not whisper but lay hard upon my breast,
and ache, yes, as I reach for my faith.
Death’s sore words are set upon the tongue, but keep her, Lord,
for mercy, yes, and love.
In honor of my mother, who unexpectedly passed April 14/18. And I, in another country, mourn her.