Night Shifts

          All the while you served people food, you had empty mouths back home, too. Andes Mints. You would bring them after your night shift at the casino. You wore a white, button-down shirt and black slacks and, when you could, you pocketed a few for us four. I didn’t grasp this uniform meant you were a waiter. I was no taller than the windowsill, and loved unwrapping the shiny green foil. I savored the chocolates, their minty resolve, without caring where they came from or caring that when you came home, the outside world had already gone still.
          Years before, you flew from Bogotá to Miami. It was Miami first, and then Queens, New York. Somewhere in there you came back to Colombia and regaled your journeys to your nieces and nephews, but before you could finish, you returned again to Los Estados Unidos. There you saw a man land on the moon on a television screen in a New York bar. Por la primera vez, viendo la pie en la luna. There you reunited with some unfamiliar acquaintances that later became familiar ones. They were Colombianos. Como tú. And on countless New York nights you clinked glasses and smoked with them, maybe praising Dios, thinking it was such luck you weren’t drafted into the Vietnam War after all. Too short, too small, too old, they said. Years later, que suerte, you became a citizen anyway.
          You learned to say “I need a job” in English at the JFK airport to anybody who would listen. That’s when they put a mop in your hands. So you started mopping, and then you stopped smoking, stopped drinking, or at least that’s what you told me you did. Maybe it was when you had Elizabeth, and before you had us, that you stopped having fun. Somewhere in there, you thought it prudent to stop those vices, but I know you didn’t let go of all of them. These days, I see you having fun with your cigars and drinks. You swallow hard, let out a loud smack afterward.
          I know you came to San Francisco for a time that’s too brief to remember. They must have known you’d been searching. They offered you a ticket to Reno to gamble, a free one, and you came without hesitation. They being some Reno henchmen trying to get new players. The way you said it, it seemed you were happy for it, really. Impulsivity was always your strong suit: you played it resolutely. After you saw the lights, and, maybe, when you walked under the Reno arch, the red beacon beckoning a windfall of possibility, you decided the city felt like home. It had what you needed, and that’s all that mattered.
          You were a waiter and you were a salesman. And another time you were a factory worker, too. Your eardrums started to ring uncontrollably then. We visited you in the hospital and you showed us the ear they tried to fix, the one with a nauseating buzz. Was it caused by the factory? Or, was it the construction you were in? The aspirin you took to loosen your muscles? You weren’t sure but your ear never stopped humming. I was confused later when you said the noises were still there. For the longest time I believed they sliced off your ear and stitched in a new one, the scars fading with time.
          We didn’t know it as we laid over and around your hospital bed but we were your second family, and in many ways, your second life. You served customers fancy casino steak dinners at Bally’s, told them they made a good choice, that the odds were in their favor. Late at night when you returned, we took your Andes Mints from your pockets and gladly ate them. Catherine, Carlos, Camila, then me.
          I know where the mints come from, and I see your hands now empty with no more to give. Your memories now are soft and ashen; your hands shake and your eyes have turned the color of obsidian. I sift through your stories. I try to find new ones. I cautiously attempt to assemble a vision that’s yours. I ask, please, remember me. Please, remember us. In all this, I try to imagine your future, but everything appears as dark as those nights waiting for you to come back home.


He tugs at his sleeves. Maybe he has a sister—as I have a brother—whose brain, like the zebrafish’s brain, craves that bitter swallow, that floating high.

Surface Tension

My mother has what you might call a tradition. Each summer, when the Connecticut heat slides towards 90 and the humidity makes it feel like you're breathing through cotton balls, my mother goes outside to her car, rolls up all the windows, closes the door, and sits in it for as long as she can manage. She alerts no one. Seven to eight minutes later, she throws open the front door, gasping, eyes squinting from the sweat that could no longer be held back by her eyelashes. She smiles as sweat pools inside her shoes and eventually spills out of them, leaving two watery footprints on the floor when she walks to her bathroom for a shower. I wonder for a second what Yemaya would have to say about the oceans at her feet.

In Search of Touch

First dates are meant to be flirtatious and giggly. In another time, we would be meeting inside a dark downtown bar. Music playing. The stench of sour liquor pinching my nose. He’d ask what I like and order me something smooth. After half a drink, the conversation would begin to flow. I’d ask him a crucial question, “What’s your favorite kind of fry?” He’d say tater tots. “What? That’s not even a fry!” I’d say shoestring dipped in blue cheese because ranch is so over. Later, because he’d be too shy to make a move, I’d ask him to kiss me. This seems to be my move in any time. And we’d make out sitting side by side on barstools all limbs and tongues.