Jessica Espinosa Kirwan



Jessica Espinosa Kirwan hails from Miami, FL. She lives with her husband and two young daughters in Gainesville, FL. She attended the University of Florida where she received an MA in English with a focus on Victorian literature. She remains loyal to the Gators by working as an editor and research coordinator for the Department of Radiation Oncology at UF. Jessica recently published four poems in The Dead Mule School for Southern Literature ( and has coauthored several medical articles published in peer-reviewed oncology journals. She plans to garden, cook, play, write, love, and die in the south, a geography she loves for its warmth and diversity. 

To Abuelo: A Short Biography of Your Decline through the Eyes of a Distant Granddaughter

Ten years ago you went on voluntary bed rest

(like a stereotypical immigrant grandfather

in a picaresque novel)

Although we tried to hide that letter from Cuba

you discovered that the last of your nine

older brothers and sisters had died

You knew you were next

(so you begged for death like Pollux)

I balanced in the rocking chair alongside your bed

shuffled with shattered Spanish

Without convincing you you were healthy

Six years ago you began yelling obscenities

(too shameful to whisper )

you were diagnosed with Alzheimer's

We sighed with relief and fright

Abuela quit sewing to care for you

With the right medication

You rose from your bed for trips to and from the patio

Silently stared at the lawn (envious it was freed

of your dilapidated workshop…

but couldn’t they have waited

to empty the house of you…)

you walked to and from the kitchen

searched for dull knives

(the only ones Abuela kept around)

to and from the bathroom and closet

not knowing where to pee

not knowing whether you were in Cuba or the U.S.

on vacation or in prison.

(You called me by my aunt's name

asked your wife for your wife

swapped like currency my brothers' names)

Yet a familiar gesture or joke breached

your infantile demeanor

Occasionally you knew we were your kin

(maybe because we inherited your eyes)

Four years ago we asked you how old you were

and your response was 40 years younger

than the truth (an intermission for laughter)

We placed you in various nursing homes

where you proposed marriage to fertile CNAs

you tried to repair their functioning electronics

You kicked the nurses who

fed and teased (then

restrained and sedated) you

When they turned their backs you fled

Camaguey was just a few miles away, you said

a cop found you strolling alongside the highway

as the sun rose on the paved horizon

you were without wallet or dentures

(yet carried a phone number in that sieve of a brain)

Two years ago you began coughing up your food

The words "aspiration pneumonia" elude

a family of teachers and business people

they elude a lump of organs

poised on the precipice of failure

Last week I brought my one-year-old

to visit you at the home

Abuela dressed you in

new Land’s End sneakers

a green-and-white-striped Polo

ironed forest-green slacks

and those dentures (she insists

on stuffing into your mouth)

that droop from your gums.

My, what big ears you had, and we chuckled

at the likeness of Yoda in a wheelchair

(You did not know my girl was your great-granddaughter

she does not have your eyes)

When I said we were going home

you got up to go with me

I knew my mistake

(in using the word “we”)

but I recovered

fooled you into believing

you could leave after dinner

You’d soon forget the promise

I took a look at you, Abuelo, knowing it may be my last

and I realized

you are not my Abuelo

(only a brittle, vacant husk with holes for eyes)

You do not eat, drink, laugh, complain, walk, invent, or love like my Abuelo