Years can be rough on voices
can wear them down
to the tiniest sounds.
like his frame
has shrunken with age
and the weight of regret
and has grown
so small now
even hearing aids
cannot help me
find it. Only the sound
of his breathing
survives the long miles
struggling across the frozen shards
of empty Illinois cornfields,
catching on the ragged claws
of the Rockies, blowing through
the dusty Californian cities
until it finally reaches me
on the other end of the telephone.
I don’t know where to begin
so I speak of insignificant things
like forecasts and geography.
I am soft and careful, listening
for the rasp and rattle that tells me
he’s still connected. But the
Tootsie Rolls are my undoing.
I mention them to remind him
of sunny days when I was small
and his voice was as big as a canyon.
I remind myself, instead
of his endless parade of feathered fedoras
and secret cigarettes out behind the
horse barn, the one he himself
hammered with bent brown hands,
of the certainty of years’
worth of twisted candy wrappers,
the chewy chocolate sweetness
melting slowly inside sandwich baggies
stuffed into grandfatherly wool pockets,
always proffered with a whistle and
a Polident smile. I am so much taller
than he ever was, now. And
it’s my voice
that echoes back across state lines,
traveling along snowbound freeways
and forgotten shortcuts,
spilling across his bed sheets and
pooling gently around his ears. “You can
go, if you need to. You can go now,”
I whisper and the silence slips in
and he’s gone.
-Lo, in remembrance of Grandpa.