My grandparents went to Lebanon today. I slipped Jido a note into his wallet when he asked me to hold it as he adjusted his oxygen tank. “I love you too much” is what I said at the end before I signed my name. Jido says “I love you too much” the same way people usually say “I love you so much”
He fumbles with English but I bet he says more in a day when he gets the words wrong than most people that get the words right say any other day.
He doesn’t reach for ink much these days so I told him to write more poems in his head, because I know that’s where he keeps them. I made sure to tuck a book into my grandma’s carry-on for him. I know he probably won’t read it but I made sure he knew it was there, just in case. He’s not much for reading when he’s thinking so much about breathing, about getting it right, getting enough, getting too tired. Sometimes he reads, though, and I like to tell myself it makes breathing easier, even just a little bit. I hope he remembers it’s there.
We both love Candide. it bothers me that I’ll never read or understand it in the language it was written in, but Jido has and does. It’s what he’ll turn to for fun. He reads it in French because he’s always read it in French and I wonder if he feels young when he reads it, if he feels like he did when he was a student. He used to hang from trees and on top of roofs and there was always a book in his pocket if it wasn’t between his fingers. I wonder if he doesn’t read anymore because he’s too tired, or because it makes him young inside. Feeling young again makes you feel even older when you remember your age again. It’s a different kind of breathlessness when he’s already got enough of not having enough breath. Every time he finishes a book, he has to remember
to breathe again. He has to remember he can’t climb trees anymore. He just plants them, makes them his children. His actual children have children that also aren’t really children anymore but when he reads I wonder if he forgets that.
When I was seven, he brought a sort of plum-apple tree sapling with him from lebanon. it grew like our family did and despite when our family didn’t and even when our family broke off in places. They would always come back. Family usually does, and the genarek never fell that far from the tree anyway. The tree was at its grandest before Hurricane Irene. It sheltered most of the yard, dropping plums right into our hands. I remember the morning after, their yard was a mess. We pulled into their driveway to find Jido sitting in his chair, motionlessly watching the tree’s carcass sprawled over the ground, its tiny plum apples still crisp under the condensation, they weren’t yet aware that their life force was depleting. We all just gathered behind, watching him the way he was watching the tree. I think he was reminding himself to breathe. The next few days involved The Resurrection. A few roots still clung to earth like veins masquerading as limp ligament. He trimmed the branches and propped the tree back up with slabs of wood left over from when Irene smashed her fist into the fence’s grin.
One of the last times I wholly believed that the hand of god cared to leave its pocket was when I tried to imagine Jido bringing this tree back to life all by himself. In my mind he always had the credit because he didn’t knock it down to begin with, I just couldn’t figure out where he got the extra breaths to trap in his lungs the way sails catch briny winds in their throats as they try to swallow them.
These days when I sit under the stunted tree to comb through fallen plums with my toes, the best I can come up with is that it was his version of lifting a truck to save his child: It’s when the bones sense danger, it’s when they activate because the lungs can’t. This is a type of science I’m comfortable with, if only because I can scribble in the margins, tuck it between poems and then slip it into Jido’s wallet because he keeps it in the pocket close to his chest.
He’s thousands of feet above the ocean right now. It’s not exactly like dangling his feet from trees and rooftops of his youth, but i wonder if he’ll close his eyes and feel the wind under him anyway— this cloudy breath that once tried to take apples from him. I hope he feels young at least long enough to write a poem in his head that spans the oceans between us.
Even though he won’t write it down, i hope he remembers that it’s there.
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