On Seeing a Photograph of My Grandmother, Estela, Whom I Never Met

Orígenes / dossier / Febrero de 2019

Robin Myers

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After Coahuila, Del Rio, San Antonio, Chicago, and Janesville, Wisconsin,
after the revolution and its quicksand borders and her father smoldering in the shuffle,
after his long, starched-collar tenure at the Parker Pen Company, wordlessly
reading the newspaper every day, a hand drifting out behind it to feel for the bowl
of little peppers beside him, after the sister and brothers born in succession,
some with names that changed language on the tongue, some that swelled into
their English edges like a screen door in summer, after the skirts and scarves
and hats and tiny violins they were instructed to play for the neighbors, none
of whom looked very much like any of them, when they came to call,
after college, which she left for, alone and against orders —after, as people say
when young women do such things, she “ran away from home”— after
her Egyptian lover and the horror of both her parents and his, after the war,
after my grandfather, a tall, grinning, ruddy-haired philosopher, was sent
on a ship to the middle of an ocean teeming with metal, and after a ferocious
bout of chicken pox that could have killed him but actually plucked him out
of what slaughtered the others in whose company he’d gone, after one
dead brother and then another, the one who’d wanted to die, and before
her sons, three of them —four, counting the one who lived for just a few days
after he was born: Bruce— my father the second, before the house in Denver
with the garden in back, before the dogs whose faces she’d take in her hands
to lovingly insult in the language her parents had stopped speaking to everyone
but each other, before the two years in Lima, before she let her children
stop going to the steely Catholic school where their palms had smarted,
before my father and his brother flung, in the most resplendent gesture of triumph
a childhood could possibly grant, their textbooks off a cliff and into the sea,
before the house she and my grandfather had longed to build in the Michoacán town
with a name like a swing—Er-on-ga-rí-cua-ro—and never did, before his
stopped heart, before my father’s stricken years as a hospital orderly,
biking delirious in the snow to his writing workshops after the night shift,
before the other war, my father’s three drafts, each time reprieved by this
scale or that one, before he saw my mother in an airport, before New York
and the suburbs and me and my brother and everywhere that’s grown us up,
before Mexico opened itself to her again at last, but not as she’d imagined,
going it alone, renting an old house in a city with low clouds and dark stairs
clambering up and down from the lake —a larger city now, tumefied
with traffic along its skinny streets, land ravaged in ways that would have
pierced her had she lived to know— before the letters she’d write to my father
in her two tongues, and before I stood on the steps of the Xalapa cathedral,
not knowing whether she would have ever gone in —I have not—
but suspecting that she would, at least, have stood here too,
my grandmother —twenty-seven, twenty-eight, maybe thirty—
dances by herself in a white dress, soft-armed, barefoot,
her skirts sweeping up around her in the gust of her grace,
her dark face tilted toward the camera but not looking into it,
smiling a little, as if quietly astonishing herself,
as if she knew she had something beautiful inside her
that had lived there all along
and had decided,
right at that very moment,
with her help,
to speak.

Imagen de portada: Louise Bourgeois, de la serie À l’Infini, 2008. © 2017 The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, Nueva York