Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Esteban Rodríguez






Then the handle broke,
and when the window sunk,
and we could no longer pull
what remained up, my father cut
a trash bag, taped it on the door,
made the car seem as though
it had eye patch, or as though –
when the bag billowed, fluttered
like a sail – it was a small boat,
or was whatever metaphor I made
that my father didn’t understand,
just as he didn’t know who MacGyver
was, and why, every time he taped
the bumper back on, glued the fallen
side view mirror, or kicked the grille
so the car would start, I called him
a name so gringo, americano,
bestowed him with a compliment
he shrugged off, never once asking
what it meant, and thinking perhaps
that when I stood behind him,
watched him wave the smoke
from the hood, nicknames did little
to get things fixed.



Tupac preaches, and near his voice
I sit, watching one cousin tattoo
the other, watching smoke fill the room,
until all I see is a needle, a name,
a script that curls and spreads across
Lalo’s chest, like branches, tentacles,
like roots replacing the root-shaped flare
of his veins. But when the blood settles,
and the walls have grayed, I think
of the ink as armor, a badge, as a medal
he won for loving his girl, and for turning,
days before, the name of his ex into a flag,
thick, botched, snake- and eagle-less,
more Italian than Mexican, but large enough
to remind him that his past could be erased,
or at least covered, masked with thick lines,
bold colors, or with whatever image
he could buy his flesh, have designed
knowing there’d be no regrets.



Midway through, religion kicks in,
and you picture your place in hell,
imagine a pit where masturbators
are thrown, screaming, crying,
begging for forgiveness, writhing
on the ground without their limbs.
And yet, as you see yourself amongst
them, pleading to a god who no longer
listens, you don’t stop, try not think
about your judgment, how fire
will feel against your flesh,
or that your sin, as you’ve heard
televangelists claim, is the catalyst
for larger events: poverty, hurricanes,
ongoing wars and every end-of-the-world
disease. And with every stroke,
there are new victims, calamities:
your grandfather’s memory,
your aunt’s car accident, and, as always,
your mother’s sudden blindness,
the way she doesn’t see you
when she walks in, turns away
from the power shrinking quickly
in your hand.

Esteban Rodríguez is the author of Dusk & Dust, forthcoming from Hub City Press (September 2019). His poetry has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Washington Square, and Puerto del Sol, with new poems forthcoming in phoebe, TriQuarterly, and Booth. He lives with his family and teaches in Austin, Texas. More from this author →