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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.

Published in John Murillo Poems

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