Some days, the water wouldn’t work,
or at least that’s the phrase my mother used
when the city shut it off, when again,
unknown to her, I’d watch, after school,

the city worker sneak into the corner of our yard,
open the meter box, work his hands
and wrench on the valve. At night,
my father—after explaining to my mother,

that his check wouldn’t come for another week—
would let his frustration out by sitting
in his truck, listening, with the windows
halfway down, to albums on pirated CDs,

and singing every now and then the verse,
the chorus, the one line that embodied everything
he thought he would one day be, not the man
who had to go back in and watch his wife

with their children filling up a bucket
in the shower with what water remained,
because there was no way, as her sighs and head
shakes said, that she was going to bed without

washing her body, without feeling she had cleansed
at least some of her stay-at-home skin.
And unlike my father, who walked away,
opened the fridge convinced that sticking

his head in was the same thing as a shower,
my mother sat my sister and me in the middle
of the tub, and in between scrubbing our chest
and arms with soap, she dipped a plastic cup

into the bucket, and poured the cold, cold water
onto our heads, humming what sounded like a prayer,
one that if she repeated enough, would atone
for all her sins.

Esteban Rodríguez is the author of six poetry collections, most recently Ordinary Bodies (Word West Press 2022), and the essay collection Before the Earth Devours Us (Split/Lip Press 2021). He currently lives in south Texas. 

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