Esteban Rodriguez Ballad

Night before the night

my grandfather died,

we watched, gathered

in our best impression

of a circle, the mariachi sing

his favorite song, each member,

with a glaze of sweat

on his brow, belting

narratives about betrayal,

love, politics and mistresses,

and, as if to allude to whom

they were paid to exalt,

about the common man

turned hero, his journey

through labyrinths

of unforgiving lands.

Aunts and uncles cried.

We grandchildren held

our breaths. And as the mariachi

added round after round

of verse and chorus,

and my grandfather –

sleepy, slouched and shirtless –

mumbled what he could

of their phrases, I thought

of all the lyrics that wouldn't

be sung, the ones about

his wheelchair, its rusted

spokes, its ashy fragrance.

Or the ones detailing

the history of his blindness,

how slowly, cruelly,

his eyes pruned into foggy

relics. Or the ones that sang

of how his teeth had rotted,

and how, sitting in front

of the TV’s pulsing

blue sunset, he'd toss

his dentures on the table,

clock out of anything

that resembled speech,

and resign himself to grunts

and hand movements –

that language his body spoke

when words lost their meaning,

purpose, manifesting,

if we lingered long enough

to listen, into the beginnings

of a ballad we knew

we’d never have the will

to finish.

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