For Ximena Gómez
Am I any closer to knowing you here, where you grew up—
One of three sisters, like in Chekhov—in a valley hugging
The Cauca River, mountains blue as rain in the distance?
Upstairs at the nursing home, your father grows thinner,
And you give him water by the spoonful, so he won’t choke. He
Calls you mijita and asks you to close the window. His
Face has shrunk to bones and cartilage. His eyes are large and
Searching. There are neighborhoods in Cali where you walked,
Looking at birds and bougainvillea, the impenetrable green
Of the future. We haven’t had time to see the places you lived,
For you to tell me what you fantasized as you stepped over
Cracks in the sidewalk, dodged traffic. The first days we were
Here, your father learned my name, but now he’s forgotten it.
He thinks I’m “Jaime” and can’t be convinced otherwise. Will
We all end up like this? In the garden below, there are birdsongs
I don’t recognize, but plants that I do: heliconia and bird of
Paradise, ginger blossoms red as candy and that kind of ginger
With the white blossoms too. Yesterday, there was a huge cat
Observing everything, and a turtle that stopped to look at me
Reading, then strolled off, scratching his small black nails
Against the concrete. I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself.
When you leave the place you were raised, it ceases to exist, and
You cease to exist in the same way. The signs are changed
Above the shops, the highways become more crowded. Now,
Everyone has motorcycles. I imagine you reading Freud in
That massive library or maybe Spinoza, your thoughts drifting
To coffee and dancing salsa with your friends, or listening to
Estanislao Zuleta disparage his contemporaries. How far is it
From Colombia to Miami, to your apartment in Midtown, to
Translating the narratives of immigrants asking for asylum—
Venezuelans who don’t want to be sent back to die or
To beg in the streets of Cali or some other place? Yesterday,
We saw families by the side of the road to Pance, with nothing,
Stopping here or headed farther south. Men with cardboard signs
At the intersections, asking for pesos. But, none of this brings me
Closer to you. At night in our room, we touch each other, carefully,
And then with hunger, fingers and mouths unrestrained, thighs open,
Looking for what? I’ve never figured this out. The room smells
Vaguely of cigarettes, but we’re showered, our skin damp and cool.
Your father is probably dozing. There is not much left you can say
To him now. The water you give him is a kind of sacrament,
A way of preparing for a time when preparation doesn’t matter,
Preparing you for continuing. When you leave, he will cease to
Exist, and you will also in the way you existed before.
His wrists and hands are transparent. He reaches for the cup you
Can’t give him. You remind him, one spoon, then another.
He gags, coughs, swallows the fluids that fill his throat, takes
A shallow breath, asks for more water. Tomorrow, we will fly back
To Miami. The residents of the home will be eating dinner, watching
Television, voices, music in the background, unaffected by the heat,
The mosquitoes that come around in the evening. Your father will
Lie in bed, waiting for sleep to cover him, his mouth dry. On the plane,
I’ll touch your hand, then bring it to my lips. Forgive me, mi amor, for
Knowing so little, for not even knowing what it is I want to know.