For Maria Esther 


Si pues, you would say,

when words were needed,

to accompany our shared presence

wearying under the burden of communication.

Your mouth was corrupted by sickness,

your legs frail.

My ears were ill-accustumed

to Guatemalan accents

or to rich Spanish trills & elisions,

trained as they were by harsh Portuguese

consonants wrapped around

spacious Brazilian nasal tones & vowels.


Our shared presence was easeful,

but our communication

better expressed through food,

or the Bible: our refuges from the reality

of dying in a foreign country.

We were not so different. For every time

you thought of hand-formed papusas,

I thought of home-cooked beans & rice.

The difference was that I could bring you papusas

while you had to pick through

whatever was on the alms house dinner tray.


Si pues, if I could bring you happiness

in the form of vending machine burritos

or Genesis in butchered “Portugnol,”

then I felt less alone, and you felt

you were pleasing the gods who smile

when the old feed the young rich foods,

and the God who smiles when the good book

is allowed one more opportunity to work

its way into one more set of willing,

yet utterly stubburn & foreign lips & tongue.


Si pues, there is much to be said for eating

& reading together, but I remember most piercingly

the silent moments in the garden,

watching birds pick

about in the gravel together &

picking about in the gravel with them

with our smiling eyes.

– Daniel Irby