I’m standing on the balcony of a high rise, 21 stories, high. The sun licks my face like bright smoke I try to chase, but when I begin, my brain spins in typical fashion, and I become a boy in my head, again, remembering my dad’s childhood home, one story, high, ceilings low, eventually, bulldozed to the ground years after my grandpa passed. Gas had snuck through the walls like a ghost wearing perfume, and it destroyed every room.
Picture this: a ghost house with a screen door, porch swing, and one million pair of saintly eyes not watching, but staring, at you like you’re trying to get into heaven, but you’re only seven. The Virgin hangs above the door, her eyes pour out like a river,
But walk through the door. Ignore the gods. It is the first door on the left.
Inside, a bald man with big hands holds a guitar and a cigarette. His essence was cinematic. He’s like a Mexican BFG, his love big, friendly, and giant.
When his memory went dark, his mind became an exploding star, erratic but catastrophically hilarious. Fact: He laughed at his own jokes. Fact: I do too! The ritual of our greeting went exactly like this: “Hey Grandpa!”, and he’d ask, “How’s ya ugly daddy?” And I never ever had a come back. His laughter billowed out the room like a ballad built with smoke, then he’d flick his guitar with his right wrist, ash his smoke, his unforgetful finger tips moving quick, much like my hands when I wrote this, and
The funny thing is, all my life, my mother looked at me and remarked, “Oh lord—you look just like your father.” And it is remarkable, how she sees the same face of the same boy who gave her her first-French kiss on the dance floor when no one was looking, the same face that faced my grandfather in the front room, with my grandma in the kitchen, stacking tortillas higher than the skyscrapers in front of me.
I remember watching her dig her hands into a bucket of flour, which I always mistook for a bucket of paint. I remember the tortilla beginning from nothing, a blank canvas becoming nourishment, and if I really think about it, she really was an artist, pounding tortillas with her fists until they looked like different phases of the moon painted against the comal sky, and I imagine, in this ghost house, my ghost grandfather, the two of us in this phantom room and me—finally ready with my comeback: “How’s my daddy’s ugly daddy?” HA! And he would erupt again, his laughter howling out the house, back into the universe.
Yes, this poem is about returning, about the indestructible ghosts inside of us, the tortillas I confused for the moon, how faces are places we return to, my grandfather’s spirit, rising high inside of me. I am learning my breath is the last thing this earth will ever inherit. I am learning how to rebuild from the blueprint in my blood. Oh, did I mention, his name was Jesús?