Estaban Rodríguez


Mid-August. The last of July’s clouds curdle
through the sky like expired milk, stain the dry
Bermuda grass with shifting Rorschach shadows,
and a sense the afternoon will offer nothing more
than its stale taste of air, than diasporas of sweat
beading down the borders of my jaw, as I sit
and watch the parched cactus perched along
the splintered porch-rail: pot-ridden, small, ripe
with polka-dotted patches of green skin peeling off,
with a crown of spines cloaked in a history of dirt,
and worn by the sudden flares of gravel rising
locust-like around our home, feeding every notion
that the rain has fled, become a fugitive spread
like folklore in the north. Not even God can save
this place from geography, not even the devil wants
his fever back, an old spell he casted, but couldn’t
force himself to love, as the rare, hieroglyphic breeze
I love buries itself further in the ground, scalps
the desert of my father’s head, the bandana noosed
around his neck, the brown and sweat-clotting pores
of middle-age flesh, his entire arthritic skeleton
resurrecting into its daily chores again, relentless
like the sun, and like the open grave of land
he was born on, evolved to embrace the slow
embalming heat; the blisters, burns, the small
stampede of mangy cattle he wrangles in our corral.
Another day’s work I feel the need to help him
work on, but am still unsure when his body language
suggests my hands are too young and handsome,
when I see his thick and scabbed calluses mapped
throughout his palms, and feel my own gripped
around the soft pad of a ballpoint pen, cross-hatching
the cactus and him along my textbook margins,
because even if this after school image was fading
before I started, decomposing at the pace of papyrus,
at least there’s enough space here for them to live,
and for me to sketch myself between them, let
my stick-figure body bleed through every page,
wondering who, if anyone, will find these portraits
next year, if they’ll study the way our faces melted,
visualize what little life there was for us to absorb.

Esteban Rodríguez holds an MFA from the University of Texas Pan-American and works as an elementary reading and writing tutor in the Rio Grande Valley, promoting both English and Spanish literacy. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review, Nashville Review, Sugar House Review, storySouth, and Bluestem. He lives in Weslaco, Texas.