Winter Cumbia with Brother and Sister
for Elias and Adanari
Drinking in different cities, all three of us
end up in restaurants where the air is synthesized
lavender and a steady bass line anchoring a sedge
of crane calls mimicked by a keyboard.
With our red eyes perched
on neon, elbows on yellow plastic tabletops,
we watch the night break apart in drafts
and coats through automatic doors. Weeks
have passed since we last saw each other,
and maybe this soft splintering is what comes
after grief allows us some form
of breath. But out here on my own, I
can still see the ways in which we try
to remind and connect ourselves with memory.
Tonight it’s by sharing the names of the songs
playing on the too-loud speakers bolted to the white
tile of these places, the times an accordion
unexpectedly completes a phrase and calls out
like a father in a sundown of reeds.
More than twenty floors up on Erie and State
three young Latinos clear some squatters
from their table. The reserved sign rises up
along with the complaints from the displaced
white man and his bored wife and their friend.
Brown skin glows by candlelight and phones
are set down; they claim their rightful place.
This isn’t the Chicago you knew, Father. See,
right next to me at the bar is your youngest:
gloss-red lips talking about a dissertation, a
defense of language. In less than one month
she will be thirty; in two days a poem of mine
about this place, but the one you knew, will be
published in a journal and I will still be here.
The summers are as hot as you said. Sweat
down my back beneath a blend that feels like silk.
This is a blend that feels like silk, this is not
the steel plant. The two bartenders are black
and brown. Laborers, but this is not the steel
plant. They freeze wildflowers in ingots
of ice. This is not the steel plant. Still, here,
this far up, there is no coincidence. Let me
tell you, we paid someone to drive us back
to our hotel, and he was relieved that we spoke
Spanish. I told him you used to work here.
Told him it was my first time in the city. He
was working at 2:00 a.m. and was, like you,
double-shifting, but all good jokes, persistent
joy, laughter echoing out to Michigan’s heart.
Gustavo Hernandez is the author of the poetry collection Flower, Grand, First (Skull + Wind Press 2021). His work has previously been published in Rattle, Acentos Review, Sonora Review and other publications. He was born in Jalisco, Mexico and lives in Southern California. hernandezpoetry.com