Greg Solano


I had a word for
the woman who raised me
but I lost it she is
shaped like a vase and
her name translates to light

in the mountains my grandfather
calls her a coward
the word for coward is cobarde
he says the years pardon
no one and Luzila Montes

least of all it is colder
than it has ever been
in Miami she turns the heater
on and she turns it off
over and over again

it makes her nose bleed
at night when she’s asleep
she is the groundskeeper
at a catholic retreat site
outside town they have horses

when I fly home
to see her she likes to
walk me into the gardens
and speak in a whisper beneath
the statues of saints

in the morning she says
the whole place smells like syrup
or like the suggestion of
syrup and she says it
reminds her of making me waffles

in her bedroom I see
that all her Guadelupe candles
have burned down when
she dies I wonder where
they will find the appropriately

coffin-like vase to lay
her into the earth
in a dream I smash it with my teeth
everything I see I unsee
all of her perfume bottles

and the candles in the
bathroom the birds in their
cages the electric fans all
unplugged in a stack
by the shuttered windows


One hand washes the other,
the two wash the face,
my grandfather used to say.
He was tall. He had long
arms that would reach down
into the bottoms of truck engines
and come up black with grime.
In a photograph in my mother’s
kitchen I’m a kid holding a shovel,
standing on the trunk of a felled tree.
Smiling, my grandfather kneels in front
blackened arms at his sides. He was
going to cut it down but we dug it up
instead, so I could help, and listen,
see the roots. As he got older, and his
skin thinned with age, I’d watch
in the evenings as he’d rub aloe and honey
into his wrists and his arms. Because
of his medication he was almost
always bleeding. The day he died
he held my hand and said “I’m dying.”
“I know,” I said. And then, a moment later,
“I love you.”
                      Barthes says the language of love
is always borrowed, so that in love
we can never be sure of what is being said.
What I mean and then a web of smoke.
In the morning, with him dead, very little
is different. Life goes galloping away from us,
he used to say. In the Everglades, in the summer,
we’d reach out our arms in the sun,
sawgrass up to our waists, and in the stillness
mosquitoes covered our arms like black
vibrating sleeves. When it’s like that,
and you swat at them, they bite. But if you run
your hand slowly down the length of your arm,
starting at the shoulder, they fly off. Cleaning
out the shed, my cousin wheels out the
Caja China, a wooden roasting box
like a small coffin that burns on the inside. My
grandfather standing over a gutted pig
on Christmas Eve, with a hammer
and a pick to shatter the spine.
It’s not the way his father did it,
but it’s how he taught us. That final night
in the hospital, I showed him a photograph
of himself, taken before I was born, and asked
“Who’s that abuelo? Who’s this here?”
But he’d gone blind and just said my name,
in Spanish. Everything sounds beautiful
in Spanish. It’s true. What if words
just divide us from experience, like a thin layer of
oil over a bowl of water, so that all I have
is the shape of the thing I want
but I can’t contain it. My mother feeding her father,
then washing his face with a piece of cloth.


brother mad & wild,
brother sleeping,
brother drinking & brother waiting
deep brother singing
& brother smashing,
brother of sticks, gnarled wood
that snaps in strong brother hands,
smoking, sniffing brother
kissing brother, on the heart brother,
and not wanting brother,
no more brother,
no more waking up before dawn
to walk a black dog through dew & fog,
no more nosebleeds in the pews,
no more bearing it away,
no more strangers in the house,
no moon without the craters of your restlessness,
no song, not a mosquito’s drop of your
blood brother, not a kiss, only the slow
dance towards home.


Greg Solano is a Cuban-American poet and graduate of the University of Virginia’s MFA program in Creative Writing. His poems have been previously published in PANK Magazine, Matter Monthly and Different Interest.