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American Life in Poetry: ‘37 El mundo’

July 14, 2022 Updated Fri., July 22, 2022 at 4:42 p.m.

Kwame Dawes

By Kwame Dawes

“The classics can console. But not enough,” wrote Derek Walcott, a poet who often found limited literary consolation in Greek mythology, as he wrote about his Caribbean world. For Esteban Rodríguez in his poem, “37 El mundo,” the classics, with their allusions and myths, are not enough of a consolation to capture the labors of his father. In the end, his father’s heroism is rooted in the grit and realism of a world of labor and struggle, and the truthful retelling of the story of his father is enough to create a new hybrid mythology of self.

37 El mundo

Even in dreams, your father is working,

and in the version you’d been having for weeks,

he lifts a large replica of the world, places it

on his back, and because his body here defies

logic and physics, carries it up a hill, which,

after you wake up, you know is a metaphor

for twelve-hour shifts, for pounding nails

into wood, for sliding steel into slots again

and again, and for the days when his back

is shaped into a crooked punctuation,

and his feet, marking the floor into a hieroglyph,

have lost more of their purpose, becoming quiet

when he gets home, so that all you see of him

is not comparisons to language, but two

swollen limbs, a body reclined on a La-Z-Boy,

a father relieved to call this silence his own.

Poem copyright 2021 by Esteban Rodríguez, “37 El mundo” from Wildness Issue No. 2, August 2021. Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.

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