Queen's Quarterly

Queen's Quarterly
Queen's Quarterly


Josh Levy

When Papi spoke English
it was with an Old World guttural yawn.

It was the 1980s. I was a child. He withered
beneath leopard-print sheets selected by Grandma.

A blue plastic container on his nightstand
heaved with pills the size of missiles, a humidifier

grumbled on a red-and-green Persian rug, the television
broadcast muted mouths by the foot of the bed.

He smelled of cough syrup and lotions. Meals
were brought on trays, which impressed me.

Sometimes he found the strength to feed squirrels almonds
from the palms of his hands or play chess in the garden.

Papi relished capturing my knights, my bishops, my queen,
then said, “Let’s swap sides.” A favourite memory: a ladybug

landing in the tower of my rook; her polka-dotted wings
stretched into a sunbeam while we giggled.

But mostly Papi stayed in bed. A music box sat
next to the pills – the wind-up kind, pins plucking

tuned teeth on a steel comb to fashion notes
like church bells on helium.

A mechanical ballerina practised pirouettes
while three toy soldiers

marched around a painted pond. We’d listen
to the repeating melody; he, with a

faraway look in his eyes, and me
clinging to the idea that all Papi needed 

was for Grandma to wind him back up.


Joshua Levy writes in many genres, including fiction, memoir, and poetry. He was last year’s CBC Writer-in-Residence, and his work has been published in numerous periodicals. He is a previous winner of the CNFC/carte blanche Nonfiction Prize, the Prairie Fire Nonfiction Prize, the SLS Nonfiction Prize, and the CBC/QWF Fiction Prize. His first full-length book of poetry, The Loudest Thing, was published by Mansfield Press in 2019. A memoir is forthcoming. He lives in Montreal.