Jean McKinney

Strange Stories for Strange Times

Tag: prose poem

In Santa Cruz: A Soledad City Story

 

In Santa Cruz, the border is only a breath away. On summer nights the searchlights of la migra stitch the mountains and the road spins out snakebelly white between Tombstone and Nogales. Taking those empty curves through the grasslands you lean hard on the gas because

 
You’re looking for the Virgin with the cracked feet and the poppy smile. You saw her once, high on a hill: eyeblink glimpse from the back seat of a car bound for Mexico. She was framed in white stone and dead flowers, and offerings of broken dolls and stuffed animals filled the mouth of her cave.

 

You’d thought she vanished under the weight of the years between then and now. But this midnight squirms with nerves and heat lightning and a roadside prayer might cool your fevered soul.  She was somewhere along this two lane. You’ll know her when you see her.

 

South of Patagonia, bats drift against the stars like burned paper.  Your high beams snag a bullet-chopped sign that says Quarantine. In Santa Cruz, rabies always simmers in the blood of the land dwellers.   Cinder-eyed on the fringes of the light,  ibex watch you pass.  They never have rabies.

 

But there’s no Virgin in these parts.  Maybe a mad bat bit her one of these glassy nights. At Lochiel, bronze plaques declare the place a historical site, but you push on. You know the story anyway: doomed boys in blue, cavalrymen dropped by cholera before the Apache ever got close.  They never knew your Virgin anyway. She prays for sorefooted travelers begging with dime store candles and drifters with frayed hearts.

 

She has to be close now. You can trust a hill Maria. She won’t take her broken toes to Nogales where the music fills up the empty spaces in the night.

Up ahead, trees get thick and moths ride the headlights.  You round a skinny curve and river smells rise up around you.  This is it; she’s here.  Cottonwood trees lean on their shadows as you pull over under her hill.   Crowned in white stone she waits in plaster silence while you climb the little path worn down by many feet.

You breathe in the scents of her sanctuary: dying carnations and candlewax and dust.  A ceramic pig and a one-legged doll lie inside her circle.  With no other offering  than your own fractured heart, you wait with them for the mercy she holds in that one chipped eye.

Preacher Said – A Sorrows Hill Story

Preacher said

That humpbacked beast called sin waits just at the edge of sight.

If you turn your back he’s on you

Just like that green slime thing we saw that time on the midnight movie.

Preacher said

You got to pray and pray and pray some more.

Pray for the armor and the sword!  Pray for the strength to prevail!

 

Well I think I saw that old beast out back in Mama’s garden just last evening.

Under the shadows by the willow tree come twilight

I squeezed my eyes up sideways and I saw him, dressed up just like Sunday in Preacher’s tail coat.

Even had a Bible flapping in the wind.

Wrapping arms around Mama

Till Pappy come round the bend in the old post road.

At Mama Silva’s – A Soledad City Story

 

At the tail end of the night
Concrete gets too gritty on your back
And fog blinds the alleys south of Spring Street.
So you creak to your feet
Wrap your greasy blanket round your shoulders
And you slump off to Mama Silva’s.

Catty corner from the mission
Next to the barred up liquor store
She’s open all the time.
Crackheads and knife fights and
Sirens in the the night —
Mama Silva just goes on.

Light from her window full of flowers
Washes down the puddles on the street.
Blue beads clatter at her doorways
And you shiver when you walk on through
Because you’ve been this way before.

Anyhow you shrug off that blanket
Just like a snake shedding skin and you
Step into her forest:
Herbs and incense and heads on the wall
Hanging ferns and the black Virgin
On her table full of candles and the little silver bowl.

You slide into warmth and coffee
And her voice like honey on a not morning.
Scents of cinnamon and juniper
Rustle of wings and whispers in her corners
Sing you off to sleep again. So
When Mama Silva takes her price
You never feel the pain.

 

© 2017 Jean McKinney

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