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Then came the Age of Doubt,

the belief you held for weeks

that your mother wasn’t human,

that she was made of more than flesh

and bone, that when the iron slipped –

the tip of it kissing her palms or wrists –

she was programmed to suppress

her jerks, squeals, moans, to never

acknowledge the hole being seared

through her skin. No, she gave no mistake

the reaction it deserved, too focused

on your father’s pants and shirts,

on erasing creases, wrinkles,

on bringing order to the crumpled chaos

of your polos, shorts. And because

she never noticed you were near,

you walked to the board when she

was done, plugged the iron back in,

and placed your hand on the plate,

knowing each time that it would burn,

that you’d run to your mother afterwards,

show her how fragile your body was,

and watch her rub the wound with clumps

of Vaseline, wondering, as she lathered

more in, if there were others like her,

if the heart she had could be found

in those machines.


While my father’s fell, left

a bald spot I thought gave you luck

if whispered to, rubbed, my mother’s

thinned in the front, revealed

what little power her widow’s peak had,

that her scalp, minus the redness,

dandruff, looked just as tragic

as any other man’s. And still,

even when canas took root,

and her body began to shrivel, sag,

she remained committed to her hair,

combed it in the morning down the middle,

put it in a ponytail in the afternoon,

or, when she felt lonely, unloved,

she’d try her hand at bangs, which,

more often than not, resembled

the bristles of a worn broom,

and which made me say, anytime

my friends gazed too long, that she

was in recovery, that the chemo

made her weak, frail, ate up all her hair,

and that only now, after being in

and out of hospitals for years,

was she looking like herself again,

was she ready to end a battle

we thought she’d never win.


And when he grabbed my arm,

pushed me against the wall, I thought

of him at work, of the way his spine

would bend, contort, invent new

geometries, twist in angles I had never

felt. I thought of his grip, of the decades

of calluses, of how his palms resembled

rust, or tree bark, or the caliche splayed

into a semblance of a road outside

our house. And though I assumed

he had to use gloves, I pictured my father

barehanded, moving bricks, rebar,

lifting 2x4s and slabs of wood,

conditioned to the repetition, weight,

and to the pain that came when splinters

pierced his skin, or when something

random fell, and he, caught off guard,

had to stop it with his hands, the way I

felt I had to stop him in the hall,

keep him from my mother, and bear

not just the force of his blurry arms,

but his excuse that he was only going

to the bathroom, and wanted nothing

to do with that vieja, who if he got to,

did to her what his hands had done

before, I’d later take it as my job to comfort,

to tend what had already swelled,

and remind her, as much as I tried to remind

myself, there was more than one way

for a body to be held.


A man, she said. Pegué un hombre.

But when your mother stops,

steps out and ambles toward that dark

and bloodied mass, she finds instead

a dog, a stray that’s wandered this far

from town, and that now, on a night

so humid, moonless, is your mother’s

newest burden. And you remember Max,

the gashes on his neck, mouth,

the gnawed and broken ribs you touched,

fearing infections, rabies, or how,

if he survived, his body would be a ruin

of scars. And that night your mother

found you out back, asleep and clutching

what was once Max in your arms,

she knew one day she’d have to teach you

about loss, about that part of her life

when she, at the sun-seared edge

of her home country, had to leave things

behind – no stopping for whatever fell,

became a relic when it hit the ground.

No, there was no looking back,

and because she sees you seeing her,

she prays for this dying stray, hoping

that when she’s done, both you and God

will accept why she’s walked away.


"Untitled" - Jim Zola

Esteban Rodriguez.JPG

Esteban Rodríguez is the author of Dusk & Dust, forthcoming from Hub City Press (September 2019). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, TriQuarterly, Booth, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. When not reading, you can find him eating or walking his dogs. He lives with his family and teaches in Austin, Texas.

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Jim Zola is a poet and photographer living in North Carolina

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