Over the autumn break this week, my husband and I flew to South Texas to spend time with my family. Less than a week ago, my Aunt Olivia had been buried in her adopted homeland of Chula Vista, California. After the funeral, several of my mother’s siblings returned from the funeral with nasty colds, from my Aunt Elida in Boston to my Uncle George in Los Fresnos, Texas. I too caught whatever they had, and spent most of this last week in a haze of cold medicine, my mother’s herbal remedies— and lots of wine. (My Uncle George’s birthday was this past Thursday, after all, and we had to celebrate.)
I don’t like to think that my elders are getting older. But I do. Time has haunted me for as long as I can remember, in a way that my childhood friends found strange and unrelatable. Perhaps this is due, in part, to being a child of two cultures, Mexican and Jewish, as the seemingly smallest of choices is sometimes the greatest power you can wield.
By that I mean what traditions and rituals you choose to keep. What language you use when recalling a certain memory. When and who you decide to visit. What battles in earnest familial conversation you choose to fight, and what you decide to let go. Which family member you turn to the most, and who turns to you. Time is everything in these matters; time is never not fleeting when you grow with two very different cultures that inform your future as much as your past.
But this year presented a new challenge. What do you do when you feel a great unhappiness radiating from someone you love, someone who raised you and sacrificed his life for you, someone who, no matter what you say, tells you he is a failure, that he feels the weight of his age like a sack of bricks tied to a rope on his foot? I did not know what to say to this, to my father, one of the most brilliant people I know, a man who built from odd parts a central air-conditioner system for my mother, who can fix any car, who helped me with Calculus despite never having taken it, the very man who encouraged me to rewrite stories in The Torah when I did not like certain female representations. At first I reminded him of these things. I told him if it were not for him, I’d have never taken all the chances I did. That the stock in which he was taking of his life was brutal and unfair, that his gaze too critical, that there was no point in beating himself up over what could’ve been.
This week, I was met by silence from him. A new kind of silence. A solitary elsewhere in which he found solace, as we sat at the table with my husband and my mother who carried the conversation.
A silence all his own. A silence we could not share.
But a silence he trusted to keep alongside us, a silence adjacent.
Toward the end of this week, I understood that I have to let him go through this, no matter how long it might take him. No matter how loud the ticking of the clock in my ears. Because it’s not my clock in the end, but his.
I understood that simply being there was enough. That I had to let go all my other attempts to help or fix or heal him. That I had to listen to and respect his silence— and nothing more.
I don’t know how long this understanding will hold. I don’t know what’s next, or that if my hope for him to find happiness again will happen. But I do know what I can do. The smallest of steps. Visit as often as I can, even if we just sit there, letting others carry the conversation. Keep writing and sending him my work, which according to my mother, he saves to read for the evenings. Keep our weekly discussions on Jewish mysticism which seem to be easier for him via phone.
I suppose what I mean here is that I am thankful for what is painful because it has made me more awake than ever.
I want to do whatever I can for my parents, and right now. I don’t mean future hypothetical grand overtures of love, which overwhelm me, but beginning by writing this here. By remembering this week in which my father woke up in the middle of the night, hearing me coughing, and drove to a 24-hour drugstore to get the exact medicine that he promised me would work, so that I could get some rest.
It’s the smallest of things, he’d say.
That night, I slept once without waking.
He always knows these things, my father. I don’t want to forget that.
I don’t want to forget what it means when the smallest of promises are kept.
I’ve been thinking about poets and writers for whose work I’ve been thankful, and what follows below is merely a small sampling.
Roy Guzmán’s incredible poem “Restored Mural for Orlando” is now a chapbook. Guzmán collaborated with poet Marco Antonio Huerta, who translated the work into Spanish, and visual artist D Allen, who not only designed the chapbook but also created additional art that accompanies both the poem and translation. I can’t wait to get my own copy. Get yours here.
I keep returning to Meera Nair’s haunting essay “An Alternate History” in Guernica in which the author contemplates, against the backdrop of a hate crime, love in a time of displacement: ” The two of you are alone here, unmoored. Immigrants in an indifferent country. Orphans, even though your parents are alive and full of questions. Indians without India.”
“I cannot believe that a raccoon is up our tree with a/ leash around its neck,” the speaker in Bruce E. Alford’s poem “Ironic Structure” laments, “He is out on a branch and says that he would love/ the earth. God have mercy, Glorious grace.” Read the full poem, published in HEArt Online, here.
Check out this poem “I Can Eat Spicy” by Kyle Liang in Stirring in which the speaker takes a strangely wonderful trip down memory lane where “[l]ast night, I shampooed my hair with persimmons// until the drain asked if I was bleeding/ yellow from trying to clean my greasy perm.”
Here are some poets to follow on Twitter:
& check out their respective recent work in:
Lastly, check out these two poems from Christine No in The Rumpus. The first, “To Do List,” absolutely wrecked me. I’ll be looking for more of her work.