He had shaken my hand earlier on the jobsite,
but now would not pay my father for our work.
Through the truck’s open window, my right ear
caught the rolling steel of a passing train, whistle
of its friction, while my left listened to my father
dial a number repeatedly. A broken air conditioner
blew lukewarm air into the hot cab. This wasn’t
the first time, nor would it be the last.
That smile the man met me with, how securely
fastened it seemed to its frame—his hand’s
warmth, liver spots a constellation full of good luck.
My English had impressed him as it did others
who gave my father work. And my father, too,
taught me work that way, as if it were a gift
one might open on Christmas morning beneath
ornaments of dust, one that could adorn the walls
of the widening gap between my father and that man,
unbridgeable I learned that day. In conversation,
before we nailed a single drywall panel to a stud,
they fabricated nostalgia for a misremembered past.
The Good Old Days, where—they pretended—
they could have broken bread. I could not ask
my father if he blamed himself, so I assigned him
blame. He had insisted on a verbal contract,
a handshake, a pact made of air, shared
between one man and another like laughter.
J. Estanislao Lopez lives and teaches in Houston. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Waxwing, The Shallow Ends, and is forthcoming in the anthology, BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNext. He holds an MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers.