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Category: John Murillo

On Negative Capability

Whitewalls Mudflaps

Late night howling down

a dark dirt road Headlights

killed and so the world gone

black but for the two blunts

lit illuminating Jojo’s fake gold

grin   One girl each screaming

from the backseat we raced

the red moon rawdogged

the stars His mama’s car

my daddy’s gun Public Enemy

Number One Seventeen and

simple we wannabe hard-

rocks threw rudeboy fingers

and gang signs at the sky

Blinded by the hot smoke

rising like the sirens

in the subwoofers blinded

by the crotchfunk rising

from all our eager selves We

mashed in perfect murk a city

block’s length at least

toward God toward God

knows what when or why

neither Jojo nor I nor our

two dates screaming had a clue

or even care what the black

ahead held

Come road

come night come blackness

and the cold Come havoc

come mayhem Come down

God and see us Come

bloodshot moon running

alongside the ride as if

to warn us away from as if

to run us straight into some

jagged tooth and jackal-throated

roadside ditch

When Jojo

gunned the gas we pushed into

that night like a nest of sleeping

jaybirds shaken loose and

plunging Between our screams

a hush so heavy we could

almost hear what was waiting

in the dark

from Kontemporary Amerikan PoetryFind more by John Murillo at the library

Copyright © 2020 John Murillo
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Variation on a Theme by Elizabeth Bishop

Start with loss. Lose everything. Then lose it all again.

Lose a good woman on a bad day. Find a better woman,

then lose five friends chasing her. Learn to lose as if

your life depended on it. Learn that your life depends on it.

Learn it like karate, like riding a bike. Learn it, master it.

Lose money, lose time, lose your natural mind.

Get left behind, then learn to leave others. Lose and

lose again. Measure a father’s coffin against a cousin’s

crashing T-cells. Kiss your sister through prison glass.

Know why your woman’s not answering her phone.

Lose sleep. Lose religion. Lose your wallet in El Segundo.

Open your window. Listen: the last slow notes

of a Donny Hathaway song. A child crying. Listen:

a drunk man is cussing out the moon. He sounds like

your dead uncle, who, before he left, lost a leg

to sugar. Shame. Learn what’s given can be taken;

what can be taken, will. This you can bet on without

losing. Sure as nightfall and an empty bed. Lose

and lose again. Lose until it’s second nature. Losing

farther, losing faster. Lean out your open window, listen:

the child is laughing now. No, it’s the drunk man again

in the street, losing his voice, suffering each invisible star.

from Kontemporary Amerikan PoetryFind more by John Murillo at the library

Copyright © 2020 John Murillo
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Dolores, Maybe

I’ve never spoken to anyone about this. Until now, until you.

I slept once in a field beyond the riverbank,

a flock of nightjars watching over me.

That was the summer a farmer found his daughter

hanging in the hayloft, and wished, for the first time,

he had not touched her so.

I wish I could say we were close—the girl and I,

I mean—but only knew her to wave hello,

and walked her, once, halfway up the road

before turning finally into my grandmother’s yard.

This was Ontario, California. 1983.

Which is to say, there was no river.

And I wouldn’t know a nightjar if it bit me.

But the girl was real. And the day they found her, that was real.

And the dress she wore, same as on our walk—

periwinkle, she called it; I called it blue,

blue with bright yellow flowers all over

—the dress and the flowers, they too were real.

And on our walk, I remember, we cut through the rail yard,

and came upon a dead coyote lying near the tracks.

A frail and dusty heap of regret, he was companion to no one.

Stone still, staring. Our shadows stretched long and covering the animal.

She told me something, I want to say, about loneliness.

Something I’ve since forgotten, the way I’ve forgotten—

though I can see her face as if she were standing right here—her very name.

Let’s call her Dolores, from dolor. Spanish for anguish.

And whatever the sky, however lovely that afternoon,

I remember mostly the wind,

how a breeze unraveled what was left of a braid,

and when I tried to brush from Dolores’s brow

a few loose strands, how she flinched,

how she ran the rest of the way home,

how I never saw her after that,

except when they carried her from the barn—her periwinkle dress,

her blue legs and arms, and the fields

ablaze with daisies.

I spent the rest of that summer in the rail yard

with my dead coyote, watching trains loaded and leaving.

All summer long, I’d pelt him with stones.

All summer long, I’d use the stones to spell the girl’s name—

Dolores, maybe—in the dirt.

All summer long, fire ants crawled over and between each letter—

her name, now, its own small town.

A season of heat and heavy rains washed my coyote to nothing.

Only teeth and a few stubborn bones

that refused, finally, to go down.

Weeks into autumn, someone found the father

hanged from the same groaning tie-beams,

the hayloft black with bottle flies.

But that was 1983. Ontario, California.

Which is to say, the bottle flies are dead. So, too, the ants.

And neither field nor barn is where I left it.

I’ve never spoken to anyone about this. Until now, until you.

I gathered a handful of my coyote’s bones, his teeth,

and strung them all on fishing wire—

a talisman to ward off anguish. A talisman I hold out to you now.

Please. Come closer. Take this from my hand.

from Kontemporary Amerikan PoetryFind more by John Murillo at the library

Copyright © 2020 John Murillo
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

On Confessionalism

Not sleepwalking, but waking still,

with my hand on a gun, and the gun

in a mouth, and the mouth

on the face of a man on his knees.

Autumn of ’89, and I’m standing

in a Section 8 apartment parking lot,

pistol cocked, and staring down

at this man, then up into the mug

of an old woman staring, watering

the single sad flower to the left

of her stoop, the flower also staring.

My engine idling behind me, a slow

moaning bassline and the bark

of a dead rapper nudging me on.

All to say, someone’s brokenhearted.

And this man with the gun in his mouth—

this man who, like me, is really little

more than a boy—may or may not

have something to do with it.

May or may not have said a thing

or two, betrayed a secret, say,

that walked my love away. And why

not say it: She adored me. And I,

her. More than anyone, anything

in life, up to then, and then still,

for two decades after. And, therefore,

went for broke. Blacked out and woke

having gutted my piggy and pawned

all my gold to buy what a homeboy

said was a Beretta. Blacked out

and woke, my hand on a gun, the gun

in a mouth, a man, who was really

a boy, on his knees. And because

I loved the girl, I actually paused

before I pulled the trigger—once,

twice, three times—then panicked

not just because the gun jammed,

but because what if it hadn’t,

because who did I almost become,

there, that afternoon, in a Section 8

apartment parking lot, pistol cocked,

with the sad flower staring, because

I knew the girl I loved—no matter

how this all played out—would never

have me back. Day of damaged ammo,

or grime that clogged the chamber.

Day of faulty rods, or springs come

loose in my fist. Day nobody died,

so why not Hallelujah? Say Amen or

Thank you? My mother sang for years

of God, babes, and fools. My father,

lymph node masses fading from

his x-rays, said surviving one thing

means another comes and kills you.

He’s dead, and so, I trust him. Dead,

and so I’d wonder, years, about the work

I left undone—boy on his knees

a man now, risen, and likely plotting

his long way back to me. Fuck it.

I tucked my tool like the movie gangsters

do, and jumped back in my bucket.

Cold enough day to make a young man

weep, afternoon when everything,

or nothing, changed forever. The dead

rapper grunted, the bassline faded,

my spirits whispered something

from the trees. I left, then lost the pistol

in a storm drain, somewhere between

that life and this. Left the pistol in

a storm drain, but never got around

to wiping away the prints.

from Kontemporary Amerikan PoetryFind more by John Murillo at the library

Copyright © 2020 John Murillo
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.