Should by Chris Rodriguez  

I never wanted to play in Little League.
My legs were more fit to be crossed in front of a Nintendo
than to be dragged from base to base,
but my father laid out the math for me:
I am Cuban, Puerto Rican, and a boy.
I should want to play baseball.
My father told me the feelings come after the action itself.Before games, I would put on my uniform as carefully as casting a spell,
lacing my cleats and adjusting the brim of my cap
to conjure a love that wasn’t inside of me.
Every swing I took was a prayer for the passion
to knock me out like a cork ball to the forehead,
but I would always strike out and end up picking dandelions in the dugout.
My mother would often catch me in the outfield,
staring straight up, waiting for a ball that was never coming.

“It takes time,” my father said,
wrapping his fingers around my mother’s on the bleachers.
She held his hand the same way I held a bat,
with a shaky grip, more out of obligation than desire,
her wedding ring, a love charm that was never endowed with magic.
I had always known them as one entity, but as I grew older,
it became clear that their names were more antonym than synonym.

They were an unexpected coupling –
the dandelion and a young boy’s clumsy foot.
My mother was the two-step with abuelatia, and bebe on a Sunday night.
My father was the fist that unplugged the radio mid-salsa.
She tried to reinterpret their differences,
thought perhaps silence is its own genre of music,
promised that she would find a song in the quiet.
Every morning before he went to work,
she would wrestle an “I love you” out of her throat
as if it were an exercise she could master with practice,
her mouth a limp muscle just needing a little tone.
The mid-day phone calls, the welcome-home kisses,
the “baby’s,” the “sweetie’s,” the “cariño’s” –
all a daily regimen to hone an absent feeling that should have been there.

And it never came.
My mother never felt it,
but, she thought, he did hold a nine-to-five,
and his parents were still together,
and he never struck out in his life,
and wasn’t he an admirable sport?

Before my mother married my father,
my abuela sat her down in the dugout of her bedroom
and laid out the math:
he’s Latino, he comes from a good family, and he has a steady job.
You should want to be with him.

When I told my parents I just didn’t like baseball,
my father was most disappointed,
claimed that I gave up too easily,
pelted me with a flurry of “should”s.
After he left the room, my mother took my hands,
knowing they too were something she passed down,
and whispered, “’Should’ is a word meant for duty, not for love.”

Once, after a family party,
after my father escorted everybody from the ballpark of our home,
I caught my mom standing alone
in the outfield of our living room,
staring straight up,
waiting.

Chris Rodriguez is a performance poet and educator based out of Northern New Jersey. He started his poetry track record at Montclair State University, representing the school at CUPSI in 2012 and 2013. In 2015, he represented Jersey City Slam at NPS. During the day, he teaches English at Bloomfield High School, where he also advises an after school Poetry Club.

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