Lemonade

by Esteban Rodriguez

September sheds a calendar of unemployed leaves
along the plain’s open palm, scatters their dead music
like dice across the cross-hatched lumps of ground,
where the fingernails of dawn crawl through the morning
yawn of dew, scratch and grip my grandmother’s thirsty
ankles, the worn-out soles from her brown, diabetic shoes.
Her nightgown-knees burrow through the border
of the lemon tree’s shadow, her small shadow spills
further in, as she separates a web of tangled, low-hanging
branches, decapitates the least shriveled lemons, and loads
them in a bowl before the sun’s afternoon autopsy begins,
before another day passes, and the backyard armies
of anonymous insects carve colonies inside their acid skin.
From the kitchen table where I sit, slumped near the torn
and heat-warped window mesh, I watch her stout
and crooked vertebrae pierce the faded, flower-patterned
threads, uncoil carefully from its arched position,
from that steep and sharp angle at which her spine
used to hunch over Midwestern fields, sorting through
acresful of small, ambiguous crops, while at a few cents
an hour, at a pace that was still young and fast enough
to resist the urge of standing up, she’d stack another large
basket, bucket or box, and like a foosball figure moving
back and forth, zigzag through a patchwork of farms
with another harvest to pluck, refilling the inheritance
of her daily quota back to the top. Still, even muscle memory
forgets its intended purpose, and like rows of fallen
and forgotten citrus bulging through their sunburned skin,
she slowly grew out of her migrant flesh, shedding it
between the castrated pores of soil and the housing barracks
she emptied out at the end of every summer, aware though
that somewhere down the road, she’d find herself bent
at the feet of someone else, even if was just herself
kneeling to the older woman she became, to the way
she strolled like a broken grocery cart back in, tipping
the bowl from her Rorschach-shaped hips, and flooding
the table with the future lemonade she’s picked;
a green and pock-marked tide that never seems
to end. And despite her shrinking stature, the fact
that her back has retired into a stay-at-home posture,
the subtle movements in her body language haven’t
lost a step, haven’t stopped the lines on her forehead
from gesturing I squeeze the pulp with my hands, drain
the thin, sour blood her jaundiced-colored tongue no longer
has the patience to lick, as her palate has become too old
and comatose to fix, and her wrists too weak to slide
the bag of sugar I slide over, pushing it closer to the pitcher,
where like a child unfamiliar with packaged plastic,
she tears it open, and pours not a pinch, not a spoon,
not a cup, but enough to resemble the untouched sands
of a mapless island; a gulp of what I imagine
she once imagined as paradise, as she tries to taste
the sweetness of her mix, as she smacks for flavor
till the unfelt saliva dries like paste around
the chapped ruins of her lips.



Read Esteban Rodriguez’s “Locks” and “Last Call”

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