If it was a competition
then I lost before it began
but I didn’t mind
because Richard was older than me,
more confident, and I was shy.
He’d been to college, I hadn’t
but because of the war he’d enlisted
and so had I and we wound up
on the same Air Force base.
Sunday night youth group
at the Baptist Church.
Glenna was the prettiest
of the highschool girls
and the most open to flirtation.
I was attracted but hesitant;
Richard less so. He had a fiancé
in San Diego but San Diego
was four hundred miles away
and Glenna was in Merced.
He didn’t describe what they did
together and I didn’t ask
although he knew that I knew
that they’d become lovers.
It wasn’t a long-lasting affair.
Richard’s enlistment was up
and he headed back to San Diego
to finish college
and marry his fiancé.
Glenna and I became friends.
She seemed older than she had
when I first met her
but she was fun to be with
and I got to know her parents
and enjoy the time I spent with her.
But we never made love together.
Perhaps I was too shy or perhaps
I needed a friend more than I needed
a sexual adventure. Life’s a here
and gone thing for a lonesome G.I.
Discoveries: Veracruz, Mexico, 2018
Those with Perla María watch her place
the short-handled shovel she’s been using
beside her open pack and tug her jeans
over what once was a youthfully sexy figure.
“Cuántos más?”—“How many more?” Not a question
that seeks an answer. But “Demasiados”—too many—
Joaquín murmurs. As though fondling
sacred jewels he lays two portions
of a broken skull and a splintered piece
of collarbone on a ragged piece of bedsheet.
Eyes half-closed, lips torqued downwards,
Perla María reaches towards it, then lets her hands
drop into her lap. “Just those, nothing more?”
“It was a shallow grave,” Joaquín pronounces professorially.
“Shallow because others are under it,” María del Carmen
grunts. A big woman, wide-hipped, big breasted,
sturdy despite three husbands, motherhood,
sixty years of work, she hands Joaquín a moldy piece
of paliacate they’d found beside the skull pieces.
“Campesino,” Joaquín murmurs. “Young,
don’t you think?” “They’re all young!”
Perla María snaps. Then, almost inaudibly,
“Salvador was seventeen.” María del Carmen’s fingers
seek the younger woman’s shoulder. “Si quiere..?”
but Perla María shakes her head. “We need
to go on.” Lips tightly together she forces
a smile. “Like Joaquín says, we can rescue
them from nowhereland. Rescue ourselves—”
“From not knowing,” María del Carmen murmurs,
Forcing smile of her own. Joaquín nods,
glances at his watch and picking up his shovel
suggests, “We’ll dig a little deeper,
maybe find another body further down.”
Her desire, her deepest desire,
was to have a gun, kill someone.
Narcos. Police. “You can’t trust either,”
her husband admonished. “Those who protest
become victims themselves.”
“Then I’ll take them with me!”
But she’d never fired a gun,
never owned one. The police laughed
when she demanded they do something.
One of them suggested they’d be glad
to do something sexual. Mexican justice!
In the marketplace she burst into tears.
“I can’t stand it! I hate it! I wish
I was dead!” she told the woman
who tried to comfort her, “you don’t—!”
then saw pain in the woman’s eyes.
“My daughter,” the woman murmured,
“two years ago.” “And you haven’t—?”
“We’ve found others,” the woman
shook her head, “by digging.”
Perla María still fantasizes having
a gun, killing someone. Narcos.
Police. But the digging helps.
Fosas clandestinas. Unmarked graves.
Hundreds of them. With the others,
each of them thinking The next one?
Maybe the next body will be Joselito’s?
Olga’s? Agustín’s? she marks the locations,
breathes in the smells, shares being
parent of a victim. Shares doubt
that there exists a God who cares.
Robert Joe Stout is a Mexico City College graduate who works as an freelance journalist in Oaxaca, Mexico. His poetry has appeared in over 200 journals and magazines, including The Beloit Poetry Journal, Slant, offcourse, The New York Times and Poem.