A poem by César A. González-T. in honor of his late brother, Gilbert John González (November 12, 1936 – April 4, 1957)
Little Brother, Gilbert, you were murdered.
April 4th always gets us off-guard,
though we know it’s coming
with that vast timeless silence
leaving us suspended in a void.
I dream of you, in your infancy always,
Mine that little brother’s clarity of vision.
Ah! I remember so well, that first instant
I saw you in your crib.
On the spot
I loved you.
On our way home
in our dad’s little jalopy
that old Ford Woddie ‘28,
I felt all grown up.
Someone, I remember, smiled at us
as we turned south off 12th Street, onto Maple.
Your arrival is a landmark
in my memories.
For a little while
we were two: Rosario Elena and I,
six years later we became three.
You were, el niño, the little one.
“Take care of el niño!”
So we grew up together
celebrating our cradle songs of innocence
sharing the tears that are bound to fall.
oh, you ran so.
I can still hear your tiny foot-falls,
see your small high-topped boots,
hear your little voice calling out my name
in that dusty backyard
of our childhood bungalow of memories
on East Twenty-Eighth Street.
our mother let out
a horrified cry.
I looked up . . . .
You were leaning out
about to fall off the right side of the slide
our dad had built, down
from one of the arms of our apricot tree–
I opened mine
and fell in a tumble with you
all in an instant.
(Little brother–so dearly remembered–
where was I when you fell
dead, you such a man
braving your way
into the flames again and again
to help others,
looking for your best buddy, Joe,
engulfed in that horrible holocaust
of the fourth of April?)
Our father’s simple joy
going to the beach
almost every day of the festive week
of his modest vacation
to la Playa del Rey
Mom blamed the cold sea air,
bit you, she said,
gave you “el gatito” the kitty cat.
You’d wheeze with your asthma,
grasping for air
for your measure of days
In that long ago time,
all the way from New York,
Aunt Mary and Uncle Johnny
sent you warm little wool suits,
a Teddy bear with golden ears–
you came to love it so.
On Sundays, we’d ride out
on the H and B trams,
all the way to Brooklyn Heights
to the White Memorial Hospital,
for your allergy shots,
so much a part of our growing up
Soon, big sister got married.
You and I were left together.
I’d take care of you,
but all too soon, I still just a kid,
was gone too–
to the north, it would ever be farther north
Four days after I left,
on August 18, 1947
our little niece
María Elena was born.
I wouldn’t come home for seven years
before I saw her.
I hardly ever saw you.
Your’s the wonder of being the uncle
yours the joy of seeing her grow.
I saw you in photos
Christmas of ‘56, blessed reunion,
I came from Mexico with young athletes.
You brought us the New Year’s toast,
then out you went into the night
to work in a restaurant
just like our dad.
You worked hard,
You were beginning to savor
the days of your youth,
when one night, just before midnight,
so criminally cut down.
It was hardly the noontime
of your glorious youth.
Our Lord called you,
and, obedient, you responded
and you left us,
you left us.
today we’re going
from San Diego to East LA,
to Calvary Cemetery
where the sun rises,
where you rest with our people,
there between your buddy Joe
and our mom and dad.
We’re going to that little bungalow,
to your family there
to remember those days
so filled with joy
those golden days of many flowers.