Harrison Candelaria Fletcher
- Walking like weeds along Guadalupe Trail with jackets of bark and jackets of leaves their hat brims as sharp as the edge of the mesa with sand in their mouths where once there was water you watch through the dust on your screen. Solitary men beneath a burnt orange sky dragging cottonwood shadows still following home the bead on a bottle of a long-neck Coors in a bowling alley bar where the maps of their lives like the scars on their fingers from pushing deep into their pockets for change. You think they can’t see you but somehow they do and that’s what scares you the tilt of their heads the crease in their eyes the absence you feel as they wait for your face to emerge.
- You remember the first one you saw on the ditch maybe four or five on the backyard swings with two of your sisters singing “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” while your mother’s shoulders glisten with oil. She is tending her roses in the first fragile days after your father dies with all the windows just opening to spring. From the cobweb of cottonwoods behind your back fence he adds his voice to your own with a face of black ash raising fists of crinkled brown paper. Your mother gathers you up and herds you inside while the dial spins sparks from her phone. His spider eyes wink as you peek through the screen and he smiles wide yellow as if he had always known you.
- Your grandmother warns you while you play in the kitchen be careful mi ijito of what you allow in your life. Because darkness is real just like there is light and there’s no telling what might creep in. And she never laughs when she talks of El Cocoman wandering the fringes for life. Even after she says it you aren’t sure what to believe until she slips out her silver cross and kisses it.
- All the men in your family lost fathers too young and followed a calling in boxcars and highways driving too hard to drive out the sound. You don’t know if you can hear it but sometimes you do in the dust on your screen as it rises.
- He steps from the dusk with buttons like tears and cracks open his knothole mouth. Words of wet moths dribble onto the ditch burrowing deep as if they had fingers. You back into the diamonds of your chain-link fence on your way late coming from school. He extends his palm like the dried tongue of the llano and unscrews an eye made of stone. He is telling you something or offering you something from the nest of leaves wreathing his chest. But the absence inside you keeps spiraling down as you scramble to make the right side. He never sees the rose nails you buried with your mother to keep a safe space for the swings. When he steps forward toward you the spike through his sole sends tremors splitting open his seams. You never ask what he asks or see what he holds and that scar glistens for decades like rain.
- If you knew how to pray you would offer one here for the purgatory souls still following your trail after one thousand miles and one thousand dreams like the smoke from cedar incense you light like a candle to purify a past made from dust on your screen when you raised up your hand in a gesture hello or maybe goodbye like the solitary men in the ink-wash portraits you paint with stains dribbling down from the page toward an edge where you try to release them.
- Your last time on Guadalupe Trail you stand as father on the ditch looking down at the trash years collected like leaves in a nest of beer bottles and wrappers like broken teeth trying hard to smile. Just over your shoulder through the drainpipe lens a neon shimmer in a pothole puddle of bowling alley rust spots and gravel. Something like a sigh starts shaking its head to try and tell you the ashtray is cold but there still might be time to rake your fingers through matches and bone. So you kneel in the clay and touch something like warmth which feels like enough with both palms pressing down on the imprint of passage where you leave your mark with their own. Rising at last you glance back at the screen in your driftwood and denim and part the weeds leading home.
Harrison Candelaria Fletcher is the author of the award-winning Descanso For My Father: Fragments of a Life and Presentimiento: A Life in Dreams. His lyric essays, prose poems and personal essays have appeared widely in such venues as New Letters, TriQuarterly and Passages North. He teaches in the MFA Programs at Colorado State University and Vermont College of Fine Arts. http://www.harrisoncandelariafletcher.com.