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La Pulga

Sunday morning strolls along the frontage road
like a censer-swinging priest, scrapes its sunlight
against the corroded chainlink 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 pothole-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 back-seat 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.
Even if that language isn't mine, I attempt to translate
how I'm witnessed through every detail in this scene:
the light-skinned boy walking hand-in-hand with
his mud-brown grandparents, weaving through labyrinths
of two-dollar sock bundles, cases of tomatoes, strawberries,
knock-off DVDs, and mountains of used car parts ripe
with rust and unreliability, where my grandfather stops,
scans the price-tags for discounts, then moves us along
before the vendors stare long enough to make me believe
I've been kidnapped from the suburbs, that my grandparents
are here to parade their new prize around. And yet,
as we carve our presence farther in, as I imagine
my grandparents on the other end, watching as I leave,
I begin to feel I'm the one who's kidnapped them,
softly tugging their clay bodies through a market
they'll never see again; a weekend life remembered
only by the netted sacks of garlic bought, piled
like wreaths across the back seat where I lay
my head to rest; tired, thirsty, and ready to lead
these strangers to a better home.

Esteban Rodríguez

New England Review

Volume 37, Number 4 / 2016

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