Five Poems — Esteban Rodríguez

In the village of missing daughters,

the sons, once a month, dress in their sisters’
clothing, spend the night in skirts, blouses,

in garments too small and tight for
their farm-worn and bricklaying bodies,

but perfect for the elders to reenact
their judgements, to question if such fabric

will be flaunted at brothels, or if the combination
of length and patterns is meant as courtship

for a husband, one who isn’t thought
to be a cousin, or one who although might

have a limb missing, and whose fortune
dwells in a herd of goats and old recipes,

knows that when the moon sprawls into embers
across the fields, and the wolves cease

their soliloquies, night, that ancient accomplice,
will lead the thieves to another house,

and will watch as the daughters, leaning
from their curtained windows, are sung to,

serenaded, gifted a ballad of promises,
and lured – spellbound and half-clothed –

onto wagons, carts, or onto the backs of daughters
who’ve returned, and who laud to their supple hauls

of the love they’ll receive in other worlds.

In the village of missing sons,

the elders enter the cornfields at night,
clothe the naked scarecrows

in their grandsons’ shirts, and with gas cans,
torches, with the ashes they sprinkle

as a final touch, set these ragged decoys
on fire, and watch, in a posture fit

for the jealousy of gods, as the symbol
they created melts, becomes charred wood

and straw, become masses the mothers
of the missing sons take down, haul home

through the morning fog, and place
at the kitchen table, where their boys stare –

if their buttons have stayed intact –
at the mush their mothers serve.

And while the mothers ask about their days,
and the sisters lick the chipped edges

of their plates, the fathers eat in silence,
unwilling to address an object their wives –

after supper – wrap in a blanket, carry back
to the fields, and nail to the crosses from where

they stood, and from where they wait –
as they gaze at the shriveled moon –

for what remains of their bodies
to be scorched anew.

In the village of missing fathers,

the newest widows roam the fields
in wedding dresses, reciting the names

of all their children: Algol, Betelgeuse, Cetus…
And while their daughters lift the trains

scraping the soil, and the mothers name
a child with the next letter in the alphabet,

a son digs a hole behind his house,
tosses in his mother’s ladles, brooches,

his sister’s dolls, diamonds, drawing books
and dresses, arriving, hours later,

at his father’s toolset: hammer, sickle,
a flask his father filled with ale

and ashes, and which he’d gulp
as he surveyed the fields, never once thinking –

if he thought anything at all – that his wife
would one day wander the stalks, chant

the names of apocryphal children,
and take off her dress when the moon

swelled to fabled proportions, casted
its glow on her frail and flimsy body,

and watched as she gave herself,
with the fervor she once showed her husband,

to the cold and fallow ground.

In the village of missing mothers,

the strays that skulk the streets
are left unfed, and while sons spend

their days hand carving caskets,
and daughters make altars of their mothers’

earrings, necklaces, the men who still bear
the title of husband turn to poetry, utter,

shirtless and with the moon as witness,
portions of old epics, or portions of verse

they wrote on napkins, tissue, toilet paper,
on parchment they burned at the edges,

striving for authenticity, or for whatever noun
assumes they have the right to feel

the way they do, and that allows them
to scrawl metaphors they believe represent

their wives: a broken vase, a tire swing,
an empty house with the dinner table set,

or that desert they keep returning to,
tweaking the variations, but placing in each

a woman – chained by the ankles and wrists –
who watches the sun reclaim its throne, reign

over heaps of crosses and carcasses.

Elegy for a Postwar Moon

At your fullest, the elders set up court
outside the village, and when they finish

sharing anecdotes, parables, finish drinking ale
as part of their opening statements, they call you

as witness, ask to what extent you remember
the flyers, pamphlets, the rations that were dropped

with photos and bold-printed promises,
or the night the army entered with gas cans

and torches, baptized the barns and houses,
and quickly, methodically, bound as many sons

as they could capture. An elder speaks of sin.
Another of faith, prophecy. And because

they’ve each summoned God through doubt
and drunken prayers, and have yet to hear

his testimony, they debate complicity,
and all night, as the stars assume the role of jurors,

ask why you stood by, watched the beatings,
executions, listened to the soldiers demand allegiance,

or to the cries of the grandmothers who now,
as dawn froths the horizon, wade into the fields

with pots and pans, shoo away the crows perched
on their sleeping husbands, expecting that once they haul

their better halves home, they’ll return to find you
still cuffed to the darkness, shaken, exhausted,

and ready to admit to any version of their story.

Esteban Rodríguez is the author of Dusk & Dust (Hub City Press, 2019). His poetry has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Water~Stone Review, Washington Square Review, and Puerto del Sol. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, he currently lives with his family and teaches in Austin, Texas. @estebanjrod11

Image: snow flies, Christian Collins, Creative Commons.