OXIDANT | ENGINE : Issue 7

Esteban Rodriguez

Lipstick

 

After hours of wine coolers,

photo albums and love letters

from men she almost married,

my mother tried a new one:

Candy Apple, Oxblood,

Russian Red, each a variation

of what her body – heavy,

lopsided – had never been,

and what still wasn't when,

at the bathroom sink, she’d apply,

wipe, reapply, wipe, until nothing –

no canas, crow’s feet, no black rings

beneath her eyelids – distracted

from the gentle smear across

her lips, from those shades I too

would try, aware it wasn't meant

for boys, and that at any moment,

as I stared at the mirror, lifted

my chin, my mother could walk in,

catch me with a smile her own face

had yet to reflect.
 

Por amor

 

Yesterday I wanted to

write of it: the field, the goats,

the hope that every kid

I turned over – their muddy,

trembling legs locked

in my palms – would just

as soon forget how my father

applied the elastrator,

or how he'd whisper

to himself, claim, in a language

too mournful to understand,

what I assumed was acceptance,

regret, or whatever feeling

allowed him to move

from the barn to the field

to the house, then back out again,

watching the plains, the stars,

the moon that proselytized

a metaphor that caved

the more I tried to make it one,

and the more I rendered my father

a bruised and oversized silhouette,

pacing a scarred terrain,

and failing, no matter how long

he walked, to ponder the details

the next day: the struggle,

the bleats, the sense that there

was purpose to our grips,

and that I, so apt to let

my thoughts wander

from scene to scene, 

wouldn't let myself think

about nights when he swayed

from the couch to his room,

rubbed his half-defeated hands

on my mother's waist,

and tried, with the parts of him

that bore the most weight,

to move past the door,

where he’d force himself

to conceive a new darkness,

and where he wouldn’t

have to face the light’s

judgment, wouldn’t have

to feel the brightness beg

for his blurry flesh

to return.

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