July 2023 Poetry Feature: Esteban Rodríguez

Please welcome new contributor ESTEBAN RODRÍGUEZ.


In LOTERÍA—which draws its form from the Mexican game of chance yet manages to convey a sense of inevitability with every line—Esteban Rodríguezpresents intimate and compassionate portraits of family members. Among the most vivid are those of his father, whose crossing of the desert is imagined in kaleidoscopic, multivalent sequences both harrowing and hallucinatory, and his mother, whose high spirits and physical sufferings are vividly reconstructed and turned for moving insights. Deeply companionable, offered in a voice that is simultaneously energetic and guided by confident restraint, these poems are full of love and clarity, an uncommon and welcome combination.  

—John Hennessy, Poetry Editor 


34   El soldado 


March, but summer’s heat  
already occupies the air.  
And in the middle of the yard  
seated in the middle of your uncles,  
aunts, your cousin smiles, babysits  
a Bud Light because he can,  
because nineteen is just a number,  
and his deployment is near.  
“Nineteen,” your uncle jokes,  
“and already you get to travel  
the world,” and because he knows  
that that world is filled with promises  
of IEDs, ambushes, shrapnel  
and severed limbs, he adds,  
“We’re proud of you, mijo, proud  
of what you’re about to do.” 
But you wonder if you can be proud  
of him too, if after accepting, without  
question, what it means to invade  
a country, you can accept he’s a year  
older than you, that your body  
is no different than his, that in  
a few months, while he’s trudging  
through rubble and sand, taking  
position in a bombed-out house,  
you’ll be walking a new campus,  
hopeful that at the end of each class,  
you’re one step closer to figuring  
the world out. 

20   El pájaro 

And as he treks farther into this scalded  
stretch of earth, weaving through clumps  
of matted hide, heaps of broken bone,  
your father spots a dead bird, believing,  
at first, that it’s nothing more than another  
lifeless thing, until he comes closer, kneels  
before it, and after wiping the sweat searing  
his brow and eyelids, sees a key between  
its ribs, small but shiny, and if not a sign,  
your father thinks, then an opportunity,  
one placed here by God or whatever god  
demonstrates love with symbols and mysteries,  
with the hope that as men like your father  
seek a new land, a door will appear,  
and they will no longer have to pray  
for miracles, no longer beg for salvation  
on their knees. 

4   El cartrín  

There was an uncle for everything:  
dirty jokes, conspiracies, drunken  
monologues at barbecues and birthday parties.  
And there was Tío Roy, who, no matter  
the gathering, dressed in bright polos,  
seashell necklaces, bleached jeans  
and boots made to walk Italian plazas.  
Yes, this was the uncle who doused  
his body in cologne, kept his shades on  
at night, and who didn’t care when his back  
was turned and everyone—uncles, aunts,  
cousins old enough to have earned an opinion— 
gave a look that said how he dressed  
was too much, that he wore his “happiness”  
on his sleeve, not out of any sense to spread  
his well-being, but out of his attempt to thrust  
all of who he was in their faces, to make  
his business theirs, to remind them,  
despite their most silent objections,  
that what makes anyone uncomfortable  
never lives for long at a distance.  

48   La chalupa 

For once, it’s not about your mother,  
father, not about deserts or exoduses  
to other countries, but about you  
and this canoe, about a river you find  
yourself in, a moment where you stop  
paddling, and in order to undergo  
an “experience,” look at the horizon,  
let the eager sunlight bathe you,  
let your skin, still scarred in old  
adjectives, shine with new descriptions,  
and let your body welcome whatever  
emotion you think you’ll soon feel,  
because there is no one around you,  
because history is raging somewhere  
on shore, and because you accept,  
for once, that whatever future lies ahead  
was and will never be yours to control. 


Esteban Rodríguez  is the author of six poetry collections, most recently  Ordinary Bodies (Word West Press, 2021), and the essay collection  Before the Earth Devours Us (Split/Lip Press, 2021). His poems and reviews have appeared in New England Review, The Gettysburg Review, Colorado Review, West Branch, The Adroit Journal, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. He is interviews editor for the EcoTheo Review, associate poetry editor for AGNI, and a senior book reviews editor for Tupelo Quarterly. He lives with his family in south Texas.

July 2023 Poetry Feature: Esteban Rodríguez

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