Photo courtesy of Stef Bernal-Martinez.

‘This Work Will Take Dancing’: Family Poems by Steven Leyva and Guillermo Cancio-Bello

Our grandparents, with their perseverance, their knowledge, and their secrets, are the guardians of tradition. Their names are often unknown or forgotten outside of the family, but their legacies are unerasable. This week in our series This Work Will Take Dancing, highlighting poetry from Latinx writers in the U.S. South, we feature two tender poems about grandparents: "Abuelito" by Steven Leyva and "Abuela" by Guillermo Cancio-Bello. Cancio-Bello writes of his abuela's gravity "and on those days, when you kiss her forehead or cheek your own memories will rush back in through the small window by which the world came to you."

Read more from 'This Work Will Take Dancing' here.

Abuelito

Rubbed clean like callouses
on a praying hand, the office floors
my grandpa mopped from sundown
to some hell-bent hour, held an obstinate
shine. His patron saint: the bald domestic,
Mr. Clean. Grandpa scrubbed his tongue
with a Brillo pad of commercials,
turned T.V. jingles into a cheap tutor. Weekly
bouts with his wife Dolores dulled
his shrine of woodgrain & cathode ray tube
but not his stare. Where were you
last night? What news of San Pedro Sula?
Did you buy the plátanos? I don’t know
what bills to skip. Sucio, Sucio.

Many fly-swatting afternoons
he’d sit with his boxers around
his ankles into early evening
smelling the oblivion of his own funk,
touching and imagining himself a papi
chulo. Atlacatl, his name
like the crank of an engine,
a name with grease in the gears,
same as his brothers,
the name of a conquistador
resistor, one he could not clean,
donning instead Carlos, the name he’d given
his son like a disinheritance, his own
poco colonización. Another version of mixing
a little dirt from Europe with the mashed plantains.

Abuela

There is a window through which she watches the sky—

sometimes it is the blue crystal of childhood
arching above the world,

and it is then her smile softens
as if she were seeing the girl she was
run through a garden—

and beside her, in those moments, you become
uncle, or father, or cousin
as she blushes caught
in her own excitement.

Later, there will be days
where the window is gray as the clouds
and nothing makes sense
except that she is living,

and on those days, when you kiss
her forehead or cheek
your own memories will rush back in
through the small window
by which the world came to you.

  • Steven Leyva

    About

    Steven Leyva was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and raised in Houston, Texas. His poems have appeared in 2 Bridges Review, Fledgling Rag, The Light Ekphrastic, The Cobalt Review, and Prairie Schooner. He is a Cave Canem fellow, the winner of the 2012 Cobalt Review Poetry Prize, and author of the chapbook Low Parish. Steven holds a MFA from the University of Baltimore, where he teaches in the Klein Family School of Communications Design. 

    Guillermo Cancio-Bello

    About

    Guillermo M. Cancio-Bello is a poet living in Miami with his wife and their two dogs.