In Santiago Atitlan
by Erin Murphy


There is a slow creaking like bedsprings
or a swing, and then the dock
folds in on itself like a v
with me at the center, and the bodies
pour into the lake's muddy, sucking bottom.
I wave my passport above water
as if making a bid, thinking,
if it's ruined, I will be pinned
under this dock forever.

______________***

Like bedsprings, I say
because we're in bed now
where the phrase worst experience
buoys our intimacies.

______________***

It isn't easy to say help
in any language.

______________***

You were in New York City.
The men who wanted your wallet
were armed. You ran from them,
past the crowds on 125th Street,
past the cop on the corner,
past anyone who might
mistake you for someone in need.

______________***

I could tell you about
the time my mother-
who always wanted to be a writer-
rode fifteen floors
in an elevator with a man
who held a poised switchblade
in one hand, a bag of peanuts
in the other. The next day
she called in sick and lay
on the sofa, her knees pulled
tight to her chest. Puzzled amusement
is how she described
his expression when she told me
to put it in a story.
I was writing stories then.

***

With an expression of puzzled amusement,
he offered her a peanut.

I want to kill you, he said
with a look of puzzled amusement.

______________***

In Santiago Atitlan
there were no ambulances,
no lawsuits, no papers waiving
all rights and blame.
We had two hours until
the next boat back so I wandered
the town like any other tourist,
my clothes a stiff reminder
of what had happened,
my hair a dried, crusty parody
of itself. We gringos passed each other
in the calles, and this time
there was more than blonde hair
and pale skin to link us:
markings, poultices of mud
on our faces and hands.
In a leather tienda a man
told me he'd tried to catch me
as I went down but missed.

______________***

I could tell you about the time
my brother, two years old,
fell from the second-story window,
gripping the tiny Superman figurine
I'd stepped on earlier that day.
The chest was dented in
as if he were taking a deep breath.
I kept it to myself. Telling the story
now my brother always mentions

the doll whose injuries were worse
than his own.

______________***

It's only a subtle departure
from the truth, I tell myself,
like my mother's certain wisdoms
that have taken on meanings
of their own: you can cut yourself
more easily with a dull razor;
never lying means never
having to remember what you've said.

______________***

Perhaps the bottom of the lake
didn't suck me in at all.
Perhaps it was more like
a cushion, softer even
than this mattress. And maybe,
just maybe, there was something beautiful
about the islands of mud on my body,
as if I'd been waiting for it
to happen so that years later, you-
or someone else, would draw me close.






Copyright © 2022 by Red River Review. First Rights Reserved. All other rights revert to the authors.
No work may be reproduced or republished without the express written consent of the author.