With a keen eye, gentle humor, and great empathy, Esteban Rodríguez’s debut collection explores the lives of the generations who have made their homes in a landscape too often neglected and forgotten. Like the region they portray—relentless, unsympathetic, singed with uncertainty—these poems are marked with a visceral beauty. The aroma of cattle mingles with steaming tamales, and carnival organs play behind telenovelas in this richly conjured and mercurial world. Through the eyes of his luchador mask, with a foot planted firmly on either side of the fence, the young speaker grapples with a host of cultural and familial expectations, a tenuous grasp on his family’s language, and his own burgeoning identity. Funny and poignant, Dusk & Dust lays out a labyrinth of cultural expectations, and, with a voice as clear as it is unique, illuminates a world that seeks to be remembered and lived.
Sunday morning strolls along the frontage road
like a censer-swinging priest, scrapes its sunlight
against the corroded chain-link fence, between
the lines of traffic overflowing from the entrance,
where I already taste the scent of wet cilantro,
grilled onions, mixed meat, and eggs sizzled in a haze
of dust-shuffled heat; in a blanket of black exhaust
crawling across the pot-hole-riddled parking lot,
and through the rows of sunburned cars nudging
each other like buzzards on a corpse they’ve yet
to eat. I endure my grandfather’s crooked parking,
the constant honking, the backseat acoustics of thin
music sprinkled in the air, those far-off plastic
speakers blaring songs with unpredictable trumpets,
and Spanish gritos slapped against my English-only ears….