The towns in Old Texas
resemble the sets of the films
that make them into myths.
Twin lines of stores along a street,
front after front unbroken by alley
so that the thin veneers
of late Victorian architecture
never betrays that the buildings
behind them are thrown together
plain, uniform and very low.
A day with a heat-shimmer,
the mist-like gold of late afternoon.
I paced and sweated, burning
with anxiety, ready to fly from a country
that pasted a pretense of controlled civilization
over the face of inescapable death.
My contract at the university expired
in a month and I would bury my feet
in the soil of a green and pleasant land.
The soda I brought was frozen when I began.
After fifteen minutes it had risen
to meet the heat of my hand.
I paused by the face of a bank
that played at classicism- false marble,
hollow columns- and drank from the bottle.
My eyes rolled across the closed windows
of the decrepit Buick parked at the curb,
taking in the rust, the smell of dry-rot
wafting through the rolled up windows
along with the sweet scent of pork.
There was a body in the back seat,
a waxy, pale doll, or so I thought
until I saw the shuddering chest
and recognized the breathing.
The police were unhelpful-
touch nothing Miss, It’ll be twenty minutes.
I do not know how that rock found my hand.
The glass shattered to squares,
harmless as a rain of rice at a wedding,
I pulled the tab, undoing the lock.
And then the child was in my hands.
It was shuddering, eyes rolled
to cheap white glass. I drenched it
with the dregs of coke from my bottle,
a sweet, hurried baptism
before life had passed, or anyway
to delay its passing.
And then the mother was on me, shrieking.
She had gone for a meal with her friends
in the diner- A new parent, nineteen years old-
she struck out with the natural fire
of a creature, claws out, defending her child.
If she had found her baby dead
no man would have pried the body from her.
It would have rotted on her back.
I pressed the baby to my unsucked breasts.
My spine hit the pavement. The infant wept.