top of page

Esteban Rodríguez 



Though he’s practiced it the Yes the Sir 

the American citizen he pauses lets 

his accent slip lets his forehead sweat lets 

a small smile form on the corner of his lips 

as if it alone could disarm suspicion as if the agent 

just as brown as him would no longer see 

the otherness in his skin and he’d be waved through 

wished the best not thought about again 

But no My father’s told to pull over step out go into 

an office while I whose English is shy but fluent 

must sit outside on a bench guess what they’re asking him 

if they suspect he forged his documents 

if they think he’s not who he says he is And I know he 

no longer is when he comes out tells me 

without a word to get into the car and drives us off 

half embarrassed half relieved and sure 

that when he crosses the checkpoint again he’ll be 

whoever they expect him to be


East Juárez High 


And still the words don’t come don’t cross 

the borders of your mouth don’t sound 

how your maestra says they should sound 

too low too soft too white to claim 

these strange conjugations as your own even though 

you know that if born half a century ago 

you’d have been raised with the right pitch and tone 

that you wouldn’t as you do now feel 

you’re someone else an imposter pretender a student 

who despite attempts to memorize phrases 

like a script can’t speak enough Spanish just like 

his mother couldn’t speak enough English 

couldn’t answer the questions from Ms Smith 

And even when she responded gave the right date 

name a hard concept and explanation the accent 

was too harsh Mexican too foreign to sound 

correct and she was scoffed at berated sent to the office 

belittled enough to confess this to me and for me 

to invent her punishment believe that after sitting 

through the principal’s lecture she was told to bear 

her tongue lips and with a pen was shown the ways 

language can be carved on flesh

Rodriguez - East Juarez High
Esteban Rodriguez

Esteban Rodríguez is the author of Dusk & Dust (Hub City Press, 2019) and the micro-chapbook Soledad (Ghost City Press, 2019). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Shenandoah, The Rumpus and elsewhere. He lives with his family and teaches in Austin, Texas.

bottom of page