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Sue Swartz


Outside Tapatio’s Bar

Jennings County, Indiana

Because they were unstable as water;
because they were serpents by the road;

because their pink knuckles were stiff with boredom
and a skull hit hard enough will crackle like lightning;

because you were a stranger on a beery night—
they approached you outside Tapatio’s Bar.

Because your arms made firm by the assembly line
longed for a bit of Monday night celebration;

because your kin were 3,000 miles away, and you
no longer felt a stranger beside the sloping curb;

because the faint whirr of Midwestern steel trains
in the distance reminded you of laughter—

you invited the men home where they robbed
and beat you—wetback—until their knuckles

were satisfied; then wrapped you—just another spic
in sheets torn from your own bed as more men

appeared (quite a catch you’ve got there, boys!)
in time for a motorcade through fog-soaked hollows.

Your toes and ankles were twisted to breaking,
and naked you were dumped into the humid woods.

For days I have considered your circumstance,
Rogelio Aguilar, and how the mechanics of death

are the same everywhere: the body peels away
from its chores, the mind from its preoccupations.

The dying is more complicated. Will we find grace
in that unknown and eternal land, the taste of home

effaced from our bloodied mouths?  I imagine
a plea going up from your pummeled bones

into the night—a plea to be known. Answered
by a stranger, witness and unwilling confidant,

a stranger who dialed 911 in the dim light
of his drunkenness, because he remembered

when he stood, gawky and resigned, a boy
before a shrieking mother bird, bloodied jay

in his upturned palm, muttering apologies about
his cat. His cat. His cherished cat gone bad.

Because those tiny bones still rest in his fruited yard,
because the cries still caress him, because he feared

the judgment of morning—he drove back into town
with a dime. Thus you did not die that night.

Thus were you delivered unto your kin across
the shifting border… and soon after, you left

the constriction of America behind forever,
though what drew close that night remains there,

in the spidery tire marks outside Tapatio’s Bar.



Sue Swartz works, writes, ballroom dances, and makes trouble in Bloomington, Indiana. Her words have appeared in Cutthroat, Smartish Pace, Isotope, Drash, and Jewish Currents. She has just finished her first complete poetry manuscript.
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