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Willing Witnesses : For Jean Janzen and Dixie Lane

April 19, 1987|Robert Vasquez

\o7 I.

For months you've been here, hidden

by fallen dogwood, with termites winged

and blossoming in the air. What's left of you

shines beneath tangles of March light:

your rib cage a trellis for wildflowers

creeping toward heaven, your hind leg

cracked by the trap

once set yawning by the river your tongue loved.

The moon's curved flame

lit the lamp of the river and you came,

prodded by the wick of pure thirst.

Someone has clipped your skull off your body

like a rose, leaving you

to take on the color of starlight,

to fill with dandelions called up by your ruin.

Someone left you to be named and furred

by imagination. Someone knelt over and released you

from the long, steel kiss of your going.


Once, high in a tree, going

for the last winter oranges, I found

three dead hatchlings-- robins I thought.

Their bowl of twigs held cotton

from junked sofas, the foil

of Juicyfruit, and a red rubberband.

The birds were hard, their wings like old rubber,

their beaks still open.

Had I found them still in their blue shells,

like Easter candies, I would have watched them,

one by one, hit the cement below

like heavy balls of spit.

I was nine years old.


Somewhere, Penny, along this slab of river

where everything greens, you are long dead.

We named you after the copper hue

your eyes hoarded, like the pennies

in tiny trouser pockets I jingled to call you.

But your eyes tarnished as you went blind,

and you shook like a child

locked in a dark room. It was a Sunday,

We waited in the car, by the bridge

that has crumbled like you, and cursed our father

who hit you with a brick

and tossed your brown seven pounds

into the willows that hugged the bank.

I was long in coming back,

ignoring the Sunday light that called and called,

echoing over the years of tall grass

this light that flowers along the river

brooding in a cold bed of stones,

the river and the light your only willing witnesses

who know where you rest,

waiting for the rustle of coins.


Robert Vasquez was born in 1955 in Madera and grew up in Fresno. He is at work on an MFA at UC-Irvine. From "Piecework, 19 Fresno Poets" (Silver Skates Publishing, 1020 Santa Fe Ave., Albany, Calif.: $9.95; 221 pp.), edited by Jon Veinberg and Ernesto Trejo. ( 1987, Robert Vasquez, by permission).

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