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Issue 18, Poesía | May 2016

     

Ghosts

You only talk about events or people that hurt you once.
Then, you let them rest—
I know you’ve been taught this one, too.
Because we spoke of teachings 
that afternoon just before the shells filled with rainwater—
just before you pulled me, soaking, toward you, toward
the quiver-filled house.
You may have forgotten how much it rained that day. 
You may have forgotten the smell of hide,
how it lingers on your hands, the small of my back 
and the fence posts,
how desert swells at a soft drop’s touch.

You may have forgotten a couple of shirts.

Now, that house is empty. 
Brown snakes shed themselves inside its frame. 
I listened to moths twitch inside their paper skins, 
the wood crack and the animals dragging their bellies in.
And, now, I’m not afraid to walk at night 
or to take that three point shot.
I’m not afraid of drought or resurrection,
or of keeping some ghosts here— 
Because I’ve learned to accept twin horses. 
Because I’ve learned how to unfold those shirts, 
that the brothers from Burnt Water will meet me at the gas station
or Laundromat when I’m hungry and tired 
and there will be bread on the truck seat,
a bottle or two opened,
and they will play old country. 
"Maybe it Was Memphis and I Can Still Make Cheyenne" all night long—
And they will help me list all the things 
you would like about these nights: 
the metal in the horses’ mouths, pulling them 
around barrels, their breath-streams in the headlights, 
and those wet eyes, all the children dreaming 
in the trailers.  

And maybe one of the boys will hold me against a wall,
ask about the city and basketball dreams 
he can taste on my skin.
And maybe he will know you or your last name, 
where your family comes from 
or the name of the motel or city you and I found ourselves in—
if I explain it right.  

Maybe I will show him how I braced myself against
the dusty window in Phoenix or Albuquerque
to show you how my grandfather 
used a telephone pole for balance 
and how I watched him from a distance 
with the parking lot crows—
And I can tell him that you asked me 
to show you how he painted red rocks instead, 
how I dipped the invisible brush in invisible paint,
and drew a landscape on the dusty curtain.
The back of your hand tracing the fabric mesas,
my jawline, all the lamplight rivers in my hair—
And I can tell him that you saw
and that I told you about all of it: 
long-eared hares in the sagebrush, bluebirds on wires,
the water stains expanding into clouds,
that I did not take my grandfather home.

But they never asked about our nights 
or old motels—
or why I burned that old house down.
I never made it to the Greyhound station
or find a phone to call you. 
So sometimes I watch the children 
watch me from the window, 
watch me cry like I did that day in the parking lot 
or when you said you had to get out of this place. 

I haven’t forgotten the fire. 
I haven’t forgotten the day the snakes swallowed 
the dreams that escaped from under your shirt.
I haven’t forgotten the way they left, their tails rattling,
all the rain pools and sayings suffocating
in their bellies, their skins brushing 
all the fabric caught in the fence, 
the way they left them waving
to me like ghosts.
Ghosts