I see my dead father's face in your face.
My furled eyebrow, these puffed cheeks
weep into a pillow of inherited hands.
Tío, I still don't know what to do
with this buffalo body. I crush tea cups
every time I raise them to my pursed lips.
How do I tenderize the meat on my bones?
This morning, I dry heaved a vat of foam
into a toilet in Tampa and found no art in it.
Who tells us we deserve to die?
Tío, you, the one with a brown beret,
who saw the hydrogen bomb blow
from an aircraft carrier at Bikini Island,
the one with Hep C and a quiet wife,
I don't know if you're still alive,
but I pray this world has softened
you with its firm kneading hands,
that you are still able to ride you bike
up Homsy to the liquor store on Cedar
and can still reach the oranges in the yard.
Tío, mi tío, when you wet the bed,
is it still my tia's job to change the sheets?
From the kitchen, I see the twelve foot spear
over the maguey. I see its fresh blooms
and know it is about to die. I wonder
if it is better to disappear into Aztlán
or Mazatlán or Mazapan the way you did
or stay in Prather or Marysville and slowly fade
into a sofa chair and reruns of Bonanza.
Is there honor in being shot and skinned? like Ruben?
Hacked up in a hospital for lymphoma research?
Poked and drained with the swollen face of a failed liver?
How many more fists will be raised until we can no longer,
or better yet, don't have to? I'm tired of thinking these things.
Come back, Tio, or whatever. My mom saved you a plate.
The street dump came by and I got rid of Grandpa's clothes.
I found your mesh t-shirt here and I've been wearing it.
Copyright © 2019 by Joseph Rios. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 27, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.