by Zachary Caballero
FOR BOYS WITH GRANDFATHERS WHO FORGET THEIR NAMES
BUT NOW HOW TO SMILE
Yesterday, my best friend Alexander told me his grandpa has forgotten his name
but not how to smile, and I crumble at the replay. He tells me,
his grandpa can’t help but use the words wonderful and thrilled,
how for him, it is just nice to meet everyone, again, for the first time,
for the last time, for whatever time is left and it feels good to
love the man that made the love you learn from, how kindness
filled his bones his whole life, so even as his body begins to break
the only thing to escape is music.
And I want to tell him,
Alex, we are boys who come from men who spent their whole life loving.
We are men who saw the boy in us burn down as soon as we
loved for the sake of it, as soon as we saw the music in everything.
Oh brother, we are sons still remembering, even as our grandpas
forget their favorite fruit, even as our names disintegrate in their throats,
at least they know how to laugh and smile in the face of forgetting.
Alex, we come from men made of music, and don’t we both
love to sing? Let me tell you.
The first time I had to tell my grandpa my name,
I don’t remember what his face looked like or what he said
but it was probably in Spanish and he probably laughed
afterwards. I remember my grandfather being so funny,
even if he didn’t.
When my brothers and I would visit
him and my grandmother at the house my dad
spent his whole life learning to love
My Grandpa would ask us “How’s ya ugly daddy?”
then roll his own cigarette and laugh
until it was lit.
My Grandpa would sit in the front room
the walls punched by tobacco and a man forgetting
himself, and he would play his guitar. I don’t
remember the songs, only the singing.
I come from a man who forgot he was a father
I come from a man who forgot his family
but not how to sing, and doesn’t that mean
everything? Even as I write this, I am not singing,
merely weeping at the thought of it. Merely sinking
back into the smoke he became, when the fire
ate his brain and I felt too unbrave to spell
my name out in the ash.
I am twelve when my grandfather finally
becomes a memory
My mother wakes my brothers and I up
in the middle of the night to tell us.
I thought it was a dream, something I woke up
in the middle of, only I couldn’t fall back asleep
or maybe I did but nothing comes to mind right now.
when my grandpa was placed in a home without his wife
to make him breakfast, he would flirt with the woman
by smiling, or singing, or simply forgetting fear
and merely feeling. He would smile, like I do now,
like my dad does, and learned to, and now I know
my mouth has never been mine, merely a memory
replaying over and over again.
I like to think when he went,
the only thing he remembered was the way
my grandmother’s lips left him an eternal song,
something he’d never forget.