Esteban Rodriguez


Praise be
             every mattress that held our savings;
every clerk that counted our Ziploc bags
of coupons, pennies; every scratch card
my parents fetched from their purse and pockets,
so eager to scrape off their latex-coated boxes.
Praise their attention to the fine print, instructions,
to how quickly they dug up change from the cup holders,
glovebox, counsel. Praise the wins of five, ten,
fifteen dollars. Praise that rare twenty that filled
our tank, or that my mother stuffed in the piggy bank
of her bra, or that compelled my father, intent
to redefine and test his chances, to walk back
into the store, return to the car with a Break
the Bank, a Mega Cash, a Cash Spectacular,
or the hundreds of other cards I’d check over,
make sure the top row matched with the bottom.
And if any did, if there was a number, symbol
or word his bricklayer eyes had missed,
I’d hand it back to him, imagine if his lips
were to move beyond their silence, he’d say
to my mother and me, You gotta spend money
to make it, or some other cliché that again
would make us believe luck – regardless
of circumstances, conditions – was something
that could always be repeated.


Like an old acrobat, the sun teeters its last
performance along the mirage-ridden plains,
resigning its encore beneath the underpass
and into the Quik Stop parking lot, where nightfall
begins to douse itself on a band of tumbleweeds
too fatigued to migrate back into their symbolism,
and uninspired by the breeze stirring the scent
of gasoline further into insomnia. Inside,
the fridges glow like see-through tombs filled
with ice cream, milk, with fogged shelves of blue
24-ounce cans my father, past the age of hesitation,
roams his way toward, while his steel toes shed
a trail of dry cement I try to follow, but veer off of
when I round the corner, and lured by cravings
beyond acknowledgment, feel the shiny sound
of a chocolate bar in my hands, the way
satisfaction is produced and wrapped, and how
despite the convenience, there’s at least a sense
of honesty in not denying what the body feels,
in cocooning from one mindset to the next,
as my father, already less my father, nudges me
from my stillness, and guides us incoherently
back to the counter, where in the slanted mirror
overhead, his face warps into the impression
of a smile, and his distorted figure remains
as patient as a moth’s, unaware that when we
return tomorrow, he’ll still be pressed against
the cold convex of glass.

Esteban Rodríguez holds an MFA from the University of Texas Pan-American. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Gettysburg Review, Notre Dame Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, New England Review, and Puerto del Sol. He lives in Austin, Texas.