Waiter Park

Steven Espada Dawson

I learned to drive stick in a lowered Honda hatchback that would stall when rolling over even small things. Empty soda cans, the levelled bodies of stray cats, the thick skin of a basketball I didn’t see a child bowl underneath. It was my brother’s car. We’d make pit stops at Waiter Park—the nickname mom gave to the strip of grass where old burnouts waited for their lives to change. Brian would sit in the back seat, window down, trading aluminum foil balls of heroin hits for wrinkled fives, tens. You forgot that stop sign back there, he’d say, taking the wheel from me. Then, we’d get cherry slushes mixed with blue raspberry and sit in the car parked outside the gas station. The visor mirror in the passenger seat was missing, but in its place was a sticker that read You’re Beautiful. Once, we stalled on a speedbump going home. He tugged that car into neutral, and we both got out to push. I looked at his face, blood-flushed, crack-lipped, scabbed, and shoved through my teenage shoulders into the metal. I could feel it. I can still feel it. We were beautiful.

Steven Espada Dawson is from East Los Angeles and lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where he is the Jay C. and Ruth Halls Fellow in Poetry at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. The son of a Mexican immigrant, he is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship. Most recently, his work appears in AGNI, Guernica, Kenyon Review, Ninth Letter, and Poetry.

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