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Rio Jones


Before the Desert


How does a photograph sound as

it is taken from a wooden desk drawer?

Not its pine planks rolling on aluminum tracks

in the back of Miguel’s office,

nor the treads of his white sneakers

as he crosses the linoleum floor

to show me one of his brothers, Rigo,

whose bones lay somewhere in the desert,

in that borderless stretch where water jugs

hide amidst the brittle shade of nopales.

It’s a common story back in the States —

those who spend their earnings on beer,

their families never to hear from them.

But before I could even dare to ask,

‘How are you sure?’ Miguel said some compañeros

had called months after to tell: “He could not

walk any longer,” they simply said, “And we

had to keep moving.”  How


does a photograph sound when it is passed

into your hands? Not the plastic gasp —

the glossy Kodak rectangle as it bends —

but the sounds of market goers outside.


He, Rigo, stands in front of a gift shop.

I know the storefront, just two blocks from here.

Pink and white stuffed bears, black-eyed puppies,

and glossy umbrellas sized for little girls

hang behind him in the showcase window.

His hands are in his pockets. Although

he seems at peace, he does not exactly smile.

He wears a white Adidas hoodie

and one of those knitted caps with the brim

turned back. How does someone look

in a photograph when he already has plans

to leave? And how does the photographer sound


when she asks her youngest son if he might pause

in the street, in front of that gift shop, just

two blocks from here, to take a picture?

And, anyhow, what do you say

as an American writer “working” here

in Guatemala, who comes from New Mexico,

who has hiked through that desert and seen

the jugs of water camouflaged in the cactus shade?

“Lo siento,” you mumble. I feel you. 

‘I am so very sorry,’ you think in English, 

and it sounds a bit


like a photograph being passed and placed back 

in a desk drawer, the aluminum tracks 

slide as it opens and closes.

Mostly the silence, though, and a few footsteps

from the market goers outside.




Childhood Landscape


An endless field of green

surrounded on all sides.

Neighbors to the left and right.

My house behind. Straight ahead —

the woods. Some. A treeline.

The rattling — the cries and yelps —

from that yard behind the pines.

The Lovings’ collie, Missie,

tied to a dead oak.


One day, my brother and I

hacked down our wooden swing set

with axes. Salvaged

the swings, the rope ladder,

and tied them to high limbs

in the woods. We looked out:

the Loving’s yard, Missie, 

her radial panic,

the whole street. All the backyards

mowed, hedged, fenced-in.

Then the branch snapped.

I ended up on my back, 

my brother climbing down,

sunlight cutting through the gaps.


Now Missie is a living 

witness to my childhood:

my crippling fall from our hideout.  

And that’s it, doesn’t matter

if dogs have memories.

She saw it, brother,

and I remember

she was frantic, jumping

her neck bent back, choked —

her strangled howls grating 

against the streaming sunlight, 

sliced and glorious.



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