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