Esteban Rodríguez


On Congress and a street you still
don’t know, you spot him, guitar in hand
but with no shoes, and by his feet,
an open case speckled with coins
and crumpled bills. And as he plays
a tune you think you’ve heard before,
you remember a story your father would tell,
how a man he once knew confessed
one tipsy night that when he was in the desert,
when he was at the point he believed his body
would soon stop moving, a figure with a small
guitar appeared, and while the group
he was with was sleeping, the figure knelt
by his side, strummed a few chords,
sung a few words, and then retreated
into that singed and swollen darkness.
And when your father would say
that the man said in that moment he felt “saved,”
you couldn’t help but think the story
was really about him, that inventing someone
to describe his crossing would help him
understand if the lyrics were directions,
the chords a blessing, if the figure was his soul
and his soul was still wandering
the uncertainty of that desert.


Even in dreams, your father is working,
and in the version you’d been having for weeks,
he lifts a large replica of the world, places it
on his back, and because his body here defies
logic and physics, carries it up a hill, which,
after you wake up, you know is a metaphor
for twelve-hour shifts, for pounding nails
into wood, for sliding steel into slots again
and again, and for the days when his back
is shaped into a crooked punctuation,
and his feet, marking the floor into a hieroglyph,
have lost more of their purpose, becoming quiet
when he gets home, so that all you see of him
is not comparisons to language, but two
swollen limbs, a body reclined on a La-Z-Boy,
a father relieved he can call this silence his own.


Like every dare that year,
you accepted, took a bite,
thought the nopal in your hands
tasted like cardboard and spinach.
And as you chewed through it,
wondered how you’d spend
your friend’s money, you remembered
the story about the group of migrants,
how they were found in a shed,
how their bodies, rendered into headlines
and evidence, were, you imagined,
so pale and thin, because by the time
they’d arrived at that place, they,
perhaps like your parents, had done things
they never thought they’d do:
shit by boulders and bushes,
ignore the muffled screams at night,
forget again how many people
were in their group, and at some point
in their exodus, eat something
the desert had yet to devour,
a piece of carcass, an unknown plant,
whatever made them believe
that with one more bite,
there were sure to feel full.

0-18ESTEBAN RODRÍGUEZ is the author of the poetry collections Dusk & Dust, Crash Course, In Bloom, (Dis)placement, and The Valley. His poetry has appeared in Boulevard, Shenandoah, The Rumpus, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. He is the Interviews Editor for the EcoTheo Review, an Assistant Poetry Editor for AGNI, and a regular reviews contributor for [PANK] and Heavy Feather Review. He lives in Austin, Texas.

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