Monday, July 9, 2018

Encounter at the Panamá Canal (Poetry)

(Note: After my maternal grandmother, with whom I was very close, passed away, we traveled a number of times with my grandfather. Papi, as we all called him, was lost and severely depressed. He always loved exploring and entertaining new people he met, so the traveling helped him a lot. We took a cruise through the Panamá Canal, which was his station during World War II. The story of his time there is told in one of his short stories, titled "Sargento Nube". I wrote this poem during that cruise. For me, the significance of this poem is my deep desire for some sort of connection with my grandfather, which I never did get. I did some stupid stuff when I was a teenager, stuff I am still ashamed of, so that lack of connection is partially my fault. Also, we never quite clicked like he did with my sister. Since we were little kids, it was perfectly clear that I was our grandmother's favorite, while my sister was our grandfather's. At the moment I wrote this poem, I was fictionalizing a shared moment I wanted to have with him, but that never quite happened. As the years have passed, I've come to terms with that estrangement, my paternal grandfather was a complex man, and I'm ok with it and with my memories of him. These are, by and large, good memories.)

Encounter at the Panamá Canal

The shiny cruise ship rocks softly
The deck is deserted, the novelty ignored
and the passengers go back to the
mindless gambling and endless eating.

I stand alone.

The jungle unfolds before me.
Beyond the iron horses and the
concrete caves, green takes a peek.
My stare is fixed on the wilderness.

Papi was here.
In my mind’s eye I can see him.
He is staring at me.
He’s standing at the edge of the forest.
Apart from civilization.
Apart from  everything he knew.

Beads of sweat form on his forehead.
He is hot.
The thick green army issue shirt
doesn’t help.

His boots are shiny, despite the mud.
He sports a steel helmet, not that he needs it.
(He has never fired a shot.)
I see his eyes.
They still carry 
 the hint of vitality of the past.

They are tired, dead.
They long for home.

In his stare I can see.

I can see the white sands of Buyé.
The narrow streets around the Plaza.
Home’s rice and beans.

So much.
All that was lost.

I smile at him.
There is a pain in our heart.

I can barely make out his stripes.
Sergeant they made him.
Sergeant in the Second Great War.
The one after the never again.
Only a  high-school graduate.
But the most important man.
Fighting for a nation
far, far away.

Beneath his thin mustache,
“Puerto Rican style” they used to say,
a sad smile forms.
He is waving goodbye.
His silhouette disappears
as if it were swallowed by the wild.

I try to find him once more.
But he is gone.

Sadly, I turn away.
There is someone besides me.

Papi stares at the forest.
A hard stare, nothing more.
His hair is grey and thin.
His face wrinkled, his mustache gone.
He smiles warmly,
I smile back.

We both know.
We can share now.
I understand why he never talks 
 about it, why he’d rather forget.

I put my arm around his shoulder.

We slowly walk away


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