“Grandpa’s Mixtape” by Miguel Barretto Garcia

Miguel Barretto Garcia


The yellow wood of a No. 2 pencil
found its way into the round mouth

and small tooth of the cassette tape,
rewinding magnetic memory back

to Side A. The radio cassette player’s
mouth was hungry of forgetting, that

it was about to bury the recording with
the newest song played by the local

FM station. The recording began with
a breath, out from the sill of the lips

and into the reel, a message saddling
on silk magnet. The unmistakable

sound of an empty room, disturbed
only by a cough or the clearing of

a throat. The rain outside the room
trickled into white noise, and out of

the sonar mist was a testing, testing,
one, two, three, testing coming out

of nowhere, the amorphous sound
rising from the silhouette of tape,

forming into the shape of my grandpa,
his distinct baritone voice, walking

from the corner of my eye to the center
of the living room. He sat there, leaning

his head towards the cassette recorder.
I could only imagine who grandpa was

imagining singing to. Was it grandma
or his future kids, or grandkids? My

grandpa was singing the album of
his life, the kind of Greatest Hits that

no one else has a copy, but me, as if
the word singular could mean special,

as if secret is I have you to myself, myself
alone. Air inside the room was a thick

magnetic force, reeling my body into
the smallness of my childhood, wide-

eyed and wondered. My grandpa
was large in my imagination, but he

walked me through each question with
curiosity, that he was himself a child

recording the world through every
wrinkle and liver spot. If there was

a way for a pencil to spool my grandpa
back into a present. If I could turn

the cassette far and fast enough, time
travel would unravel, and my grandpa

would be doing his number live. But
that is not the sort of physics we live in

this world. We only have the time we
have, and space? Thousands of cassette

tapes filling dozens of boxes, waiting,
the body defying its physics through

memory. Each plastic and magnet:
a muscle, an organ, a touch, a hand

running through my hair, a kiss
on my forehead, a hand holding my

hand, and I have thousands of them,
versions of my grandfather as tracks

of Sides A and B that would outlast
me. I lean my ears closer to the owl-like

cassette player eyes and hear grandpa
speak, sing, his steps walking towards

the window, watching the rain water
the backyard. The recorder found its way

close to his chest: a planet hidden among
light years and bright stars, heart beat

transmitting a message into the future.
Nat King Cole was on the background

playing You’re My Everything, while my
grandpa’s baritone voice is a fine strand of

hair swaying on my arms, as if the living
room was a mixtape played on repeat.

from Poets Respond
March 14, 2021


Miguel Barretto Garcia: “Indeed, Lou Ottens was the father of mixtapes. Among the memories I had fiddling with the cassette tape are the recordings I shared with my grandfather. He was a beautiful singer, and he continues to live in those mixtapes, and I thank Lou for making my grandpa live in memory.” (web)

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