On its brittle vine, my grandfather’s voice
ripened with stories he thought forgotten.
The time he gashed his elbow on the tracks.
The time a boy overturned an altar of votive candles,
almost alighting the church. The time he stole
a wrestling figurine from the town market
only to have it stolen from him. We slept
in his childhood home in Nuevo Laredo near
a cemetery. Beyond his father’s headstone,
construction lights glowed, and drills shrieked
Like children, tin-tongued. A Wal-Mart’s steel frame
Incited local youth, whose chants I could only parse
the music of. Others snuck onsite and worked shovels,
haggling afterward for pay. Inside the house’s walls,
creatures scratched the night’s percussion. Half-dreamt
ants hauled off slivers of leftover bread. I awoke
to my grandfather’s mumbling in the adjacent room.
My brothers lay beside me. I felt homesickness unfurling
from my gut as a spangled sadness. A longing so sure
of its direction—toward the river that marches
according to its nature, down the past of least
resistance—giving freely its terrible advice.
Excerpted from J. Estanislao Lopez’s We Borrowed Gentleness, available via Alice James Books