The soldier who stopped my father's truck
at the Chiapas border crossing in 1983
might have worked for that man
or been him a tentacle in fresh olive green
smooth leather boots laced tight
machine gun casual on his shoulder
while my father asked ¿Pa' que buscan Uds.?
What are you looking for?
and the soldier curled the two soft bananas
in the glovebox in his clean young hand
crushed them fast and hard, fleshpulpskin, purred
Rios Montt has a prepared statement
a public relations strategy when
the federales come to get him
His dark suit is crisp his modest shirt
gleams white and clean, nowhere
does his tailored surface show
the least smudge of mud, ragged breath
saliva, skin, viscera of Mayan-Ixil
no sawed flesh or unsucked milk oozed
against his careful nails and pressed jacket.
Outside the courtroom families
of the dead, the disappeared, have washed
the stains out of the road, off the steps of the church
collected the tiny finger bones, wrenched
femurs, broken skulls, sung each bone
to sleep for thirty years and now
listen with open eyes, the women's black braids
patient crowns threaded with malachite
and forget-me-not blue, woven with
colors of the mountain quetzál.
The man whose clean hands wrote the orders
whose lips over and over formed the word exterminación
says I prefer to remain silent.
Used by permission.
Nancy C. Otter teaches humanities at a public middle school in Hartford, Connecticut. Her poems have appeared in Helix and Naugatuck River Review. This spring, a poem from her Harriet Tubman series will appear in the Wallace Stevens Journal.
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