Three Poems by Hugo Esteban Rodríguez
A good place to be far from
Home, sabal mexicana, Mexican fan palm
beacons of green welcoming you to the Rio Grande Valley
They border a highway and Freddy Fender
the sentinel as you enter the bubble
Maybe you'll find Willie, maybe you’ll find yourself, maybe you
Maybe you get stuck there and maybe you blind yourself to the greater
wider, weirder world beyond the Nueces and beyond the Brazos
187 reasons to leave, 187 reasons to return
Less to stay, more to go. Zion and Babylon.
Maybe that’s just how it feels in the magic valley that isn’t a valley
but it is a river delta, the sign of change and conversion at times
to leave was to change, and to leave was to understand why people felt
was a good place to be far from
like we wouldn’t grow there
among the mosquitoes and Catholics
like we wouldn’t be happy there
like we’d get stuck there, not for the better, just the worst
Or so the narrative went
But really I’m going to take the far away and stuff it into a breakfast taco
consume the far, and the distance
eat them up like the empty miles from Raymondville to Kingsville
And see this magic valley
as a good place to be from
the obsidian dream
Restored, refreshed, the right decision to enter
into the vanity of the obsidian dream
where we can practice self-care
let’s stand with our own presence of mind
where we’ve withdrawn
and none of us present actually are
Image of a smoker braving what passes for the cold in Houston
hunkering down between the buildings
the only sound we hear
are snippets of conversation
drive-by stories we’ve all heard before
The myth of living fast is debunked by how slow corporate can be and the minutes don't burn
they melt into a crawl
and the physics of nostalgia are ignored by the realities of the false promises we've made to
and we've made ourselves
I went to a bar to gamble on turtles.
I went to a bar to drink a whiskey, neat.
I went to a bar to pick up women.
I went to a bar to wait for so long for this myth to manifest itself.
I'm disassociating now.
I reach down to a leaf that fell to the floor, I hold it
in my hands and see that there's still green there
and I feel my heart beat faster waiting for a break in conversation
to declare what and who I am and how and what I feel
meant to be broken, meant to be understood, meant to be obeyed. Norms that tell you where you belong and where you won't stand out
the barback blends into the 1 a.m. Midtown crowd, no morea figure to be recognized than he is seen as part of the scenery. Like that stool. Like that table.
Like that Iranian men outside selling pizza to drunk yuppies. Like the Mexican women selling tamales to the same people who are too drunk to care, but drunk enough to approach the tamal like they approached their Christmas gifts 15 years ago. Child-like wonder and religious experience alike.
Celebrating at the altar of consumerism, the same greed that gave them their toys gave the tamalera reasons to leave when they closed down the maquiladora porque the up-tops felt the Chinese workers could work for cheaper, much cheaper.
I know this to be true and I look around me and take in the scene as a fixture would. Polo andjeans and speaking an English so fluent it might as well be native.
The same English that got
me called coconut porque segun no soy de aqui ni de alla. In Spanish, the word destierro
means exile, a removal of and from land once taken at the point of the sword and
religious syncretism. We all got new names then.
New societal norms still used to keep us from our books and to segregate us for census
purposes and for peacetime purposes and for the sake of keeping brown at brown's throat
we would disrupt the status quo
and we're not allowed that.
It would deviate societal norms.
Hugo Esteban Rodríguez is a Mexican-American educator, writer, and hailing from Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley. He is the author of "...And Other Stories" (2018, La Casita Grande Editores) as well as other short stories, poems, and essays that have appeared in places like The Airgonaut, The Acentos Review, Picaroon Poetry, and the Texas Poetry Calendar. He is a graduate from the University of Texas at Brownsville and the University of Texas at El Paso. He lives in northwest Houston with his wife and their three furchildren and can cook up the best grilled cheese sandwich you’ve ever had.