Father is leaving for work. Mother is home
because of the new baby. I watch him
on the couch while she irons shirt after shirt.
Hanger in her mouth like a giant fish hook,
she buttons them up, one by one. Father kisses her
on the cheek after looking at the baby
and Mother says, mucho cuidado.

This was my daily lesson on affection,
back when my parents still loved each other.
Today, a man I barely know said this to me,
mucho cuidado, and affection pricked my heart,
his good-bye probing sharp and hot.

From the car, I wave at Grandma and Grandpa.
Plump as snowmen, they raise their arms
as we back out of the driveway.
Mucho cuidado, Grandma says, take care,
come back to me.
Grandma to Mom to me—
our hearts learned to love this way,
to distance what we feel from what we say.



This poem began, as it says, when a man told me "Mucho Cuidado" as we ended our conversation, and I remembered this scene between my parents. One of my goals with this poem was to show the complex meaning of the phrase, which is not directly translatable into English, although it is used similarly to certain English phrases.