Poem in three paragraphs, Op. 88
He was waiting for me on the porch of my grandmother’s house, humming disconsolate bars from the Girl from Ipanema, staring with his silent, glaucous eyes, with the intensity only seen in those who knew they had been forgotten. I tried to remember his name. Failing, however, I tried to ignore him and walk straight to my grandmother’s room where, I am told, she lies dead. The humming continued till distance distorted it into the humming of a thousand birds, an erratic, Caribbean improviso, which though always arrhythmic, never seemed out of tune.
When I was young my father always told me that heaven, because it is the house of God, is a house of mourning. I’ve always thought of heaven as a place where there are angels as there are men on earth. The images I originally had of them—white robes and white wings and the halo of beatitude that make their bodies glow (without which they’d be indistinguishable from men)—were derived from the picture books my grandmother read to me every night whenever I’d spend the summer with her. But they were transformed, as soon as the summer ended, no doubt under the influence of the silence of our own house, into pale figures dress in suffocating black, the faces unreadable, glowing as they are not in the calm, beatific light of picture-book angels but in the harsh, industrial light of train stations at midnight. And these angels—if angels they are—never sang but were always silent. I remember mistaking them in a dream with the daguerreotypes of my grandmother’s grandparents, though she would always tell me that they were such gentle creatures, her grandparents, and that they always smiled.
I tried to find a semblance of heaven in her room. It remained unchanged, save for the signs of decay that creeps into old places no matter how good the housekeeping, two decades after my first memories of it. I expected to be sad. I expected to be swallowed by the torrent of emotions the confrontation with her death was sure to produce in me; then a reconciliation, as profound as my own grief on hearing the news of her death for the first time yesterday, But I was disappointed: on entering her room I could only think of how long my journey was and how tired I was and how hot the room was and how thirsty I was: everything but grief. I felt I had betrayed one last time, a betrayal as unforgivable as my leaving her eight, nine years ago, only to return when she could no longer welcome me back to her home. That is when I felt sad.