After my father would joust his head in,
let his temple’s cattle-scented sweat puddle
between the empty stacks of ice trays,
let the patchy savannah of his scalp imagine
a snowstorm in December, a black blizzard
barricaded in the back of our freezer, my mother,
hunched like Quasimodo in a nightgown,
would loudly stuff a pack of wine coolers in,
would make it known that she was carving out
her time to relax, that as soon as the glass
and gold aluminum foil cooled to the point
that it burned her hands, she’d begin her dance
to the kitchen table, spread the bottles out
like a line of pawns, and one by one, erase
the evening heat that would weigh her body down,
the thirst she knew would soon return
as a stronger thirst the next morning.

Unlike my father though, who’d dress
his discretion in a paper bag or koozie,
she’d ebb between the low and loud of a weekend
bar, would one moment embody the tucked away
table still flirting with their pints of silence,
and the next be the jukebox hogger, the woman
standing from her seat, unafraid to request
another song, to solo that one about love,
or the one she couldn’t help but relate
to the monotony of a stay-at-home mom;
a plight disguised with the melody playing
inside her head, as she’d mumble a few lyrics
in Spanish, echo the childhood tunes of a happier
Mexico, and spin in circles the way my father
used to spin with her, lock their hips together,
and blur across the living room’s torn
linoleum floor.

But standing at the doorway, perhaps picturing
a hypothetical of himself, the potential scenarios
of his own habits infused with impulse,
my father would simply step outside, pace
the porch and like a man down to his last pack
of cigarettes, inhale the night’s firefly-filled air,
while I, seated across my mother, would watch
the bottles’ condensation bleed onto my scattered
papers, the stack of homework she’d help me with,
the written and rewritten sentences discolored
by the growing rivulets, until it no longer resembled
English, but a language of wet graphite, a dialect
of wrinkled curves her own voice began to mirror,
as she’d lean over, belch a strawberry-sweet burp
above us, and pause as if about to apologize
for the embarrassment she thought I felt,
for the quiet empathy I could never mask
to my expressions, because my sense
of vicariousness always placed her somewhere else:
a larger, ageless room where the bartender
would only joke about last calls, and she’d chug
another round of on-the-house laughter, a gulp
of relief only her smile could distill.

Esteban Rodriguez