Watched her swish those hips,
sixteen, all firecracker sass
even in fast-food polyester,
a plastic visor loose-gripped
in fingertips, all twitch
and tambourine sizzle.
Watched her walk cracked
sidewalks late that night,
body popping into focus
under streetlight spotlights,
sashaying into shadows, lost
in her own spite for a missed ride.
Never thought to watch
for a car trailing her, one block
back with only parking lights
and the flare of a cigarette
when the driver took another drag,
blew smoke out into the night.
Never thought that once
that body was out of sight,
was quickstepping through
the one dark block, buildings
there abandoned, that rough
hands could snatch such fire.
Had nothing to report
when her mama wailed
alongside a mute patrol car,
no flashing lights, as the officer
talked of girls stepping out
sure she’d be home by sunrise.
Chain of Evidence
The detective wears dress shoes. Comes down from the state capital in an unmarked car. Shoes polished high, out of place on the muddy shoulder of a gravel road that peters out at the back of Sullivan’s orchard.
I keep my head down. Look from those high-dollar shoes to the scuffed boots of my dad and the sheriff. State cop’s got flecks of mud now, a few bent blades of grass stuck to the mirrored surface of his city shoes.
When the sheriff gets done with his telling, they want me to talk, to say it all again, how the man with the gun and the clown mask asked for our names, our ages. How that voice, low and rough, punched through the shock of it all. How after I answered first, he told me to run, and I ran. How when I got to the trees and turned, Matty was just gone, same as the man. How I never heard a car, never heard a shot.
I keep to myself how long I stood there, gasping in the reek of apples rotting on the ground weeks after the harvest, my guts heaving, puke hitting my dirty tennis shoes.
Chain of Evidence
Three counties west of the scene, a child given to fits of imagination, sullen moods, what her grandmother calls the emotional shakes, draws a masked man, a gun, a tilted bike, and grass so green her mother finds it a bit obscene. The drawing repeats every night for a week, only the mask changing, growing larger, wilder, puffing smoke.
Where does she get these ideas? Her mother dismisses the drift of paper covering the floor, urges her daughter to go outside and play.
Late winter afternoon—
a roadside ditch, slick
with snowmelt and sleet,
cradles the body.
Called last November,
we’d spent weeks searching
fields and fencerow brambles,
found nothing more than a scrap
of weathered blue cloth,
a set of tire tracks by the river.
Nothing to give a family caught
between grief and hope.
Now, a farmer’s dog raises the alarm,
the new sun just warm enough
to prompt decay, to bring the flies,
revelation. The sheriff’s deputy arrives
and calls it in, can tell from the clothes,
the hair, the size of the child.
The news hits us broadside, flattens
our talk of tilling gardens, coffee mugs
and summer catalogues drifting
to the oak tabletop. We flick our eyes
in the direction of the music teacher,
the youth group leader, the middle-aged man
still living with his widowed mother
and we pray all evidence points
to someone passing through.