Unspoken Elegy for Tia Cucha

Growing older, I’ve come to witness the aging and slow “slipping away” of many relatives from the older generation of my family. I was moved to write a series of poems to honor them and capture their spirit through my memories of them, but also to “discuss” the fears of my own mortality and the impermanence of all things. I suppose, I want them–as I want myself–to live forever through words on the page. Here is my Tia Cucha. . .

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I arrive with a box of pastelitos,
a dozen red carnations, and a handful
of memories at her door: the half-moons
of her French manicures, how she spoke
blowing out cigarette smoke, her words
leaving her mouth as ghosts, the music
of her nicknames: Cucha, Cuchita, Pucha.
I kiss her hello and she slaps me hard
across my arm: ¡Cabrón! Too handsome
to visit your Tía, eh?
She laughs, pulls me
inside her efficiency, a place I thought
I had forgotten, comes back to life
with wafts of Jean Naté and Pine Sol,
the same calendar from Farmacia León
with scenes of Old Havana on the wall,
the same peppermints in a crystal dish.
And her, wearing a papery housecoat,
sneakers with panty hose, like she wore
those summer mornings she’d walk me
down to the beach along First Street,
past the washed-out pinks and blues
of the Art Deco hotels like old toys.
The retirees lined across the verandas
like seagulls peering into the horizon,
the mango popsicles from the bodeguita
and the pier she told me was once
a bridge to Cuba–have all vanished.

I ask how she’s feeling, but we agree
not to talk about that today, though
we both know why I have come
to see her: in a few months, maybe
weeks, her lungs will fill up again,
her heart will stop for good. She too
will vanish, except what I remember
of her, this afternoon: sharing a pastelito,
over a café she sweetens with Equal
at her dinette table crowded with boxes
of low-salt saltines and fibery cereals.
Under the watch of Holy Jesus’ heart
burning on the wall, we gossip about
the secret crush she had on my father
once, she counts exactly how many
years and months since she left Cuba
and her mother forever. We complain
about the wars, disease, fires blazing
on the midday news as she dunks
the flowers in a tumbler–a dozen red
suns burst in the sapphire sky framed
in the window, sitting by the table.