Killing Floor
by BJ Buckley
Auburn Witness Poetry Prize 2019 Honorable Mention
First published in Volume 52.3 of the Southern Humanities Review

             Oaxaca, Mexico; El Mozote, Salvador

          … and we were making sugar skulls in Margarita’s tiny kitchen,
her cocina, everything sticky, fingers, hair, and the flies so thick
you breathed them in and choked and the bees drunk on sweetness
and we were all laughing, naming the bony heads after
each other, after Mr. Costas-Garzon who owned the Panederia and
who was bald and had no teeth, after the neighbor who gossiped,
after ourselves, the dog, el gato, la pajarita, after each other’s
boyfriends, dead relatives we knew only from bad photographs
or family stories—“My uncle, may he rest in peace, who was
guilty of infamy!”
—and Margarita rolled her actress eyes and
we were all laughing, Lola was making little bread loaf coffins
squeezing the frosting out of tubes to decorate our sculptures
calling us artistas del muerte, etching teeth with toothpicks
lipsticking grins with her own lipstick red red red red Passion
de Carmen
while Tio Tomas worked on the patio making his wooden
puppets dance jerkily—“El Tango de Calaveras!” “La Samba!”
“Break Dancing!”
he’d shout when they got tangled and clattered
in a heap and we were all laughing so hard our stomachs hurt you’d
have thought we’d have known, that we’d have heard beyond the awful
mariachi music on the tinny radio the cries the crying behind the cars
backfiring from bad gasoline and Faño singing, “I’m a fat man, gordo,
gordo, I don’t care”
in the shower and all of us laughing because he
couldn’t know we heard him, and Lola saying “Make a fat skull next
the rain you’d have thought we could have heard the machine guns
in the rain, the parents the men first then the women a churchyard
a sanctuario and nothing nothing ever safe again from the artists of
death we were laughing while they gunned the children down on a
dirt floor finished hard and red with a mixture of milk clay sugar
lamb’s blood little children none of them older than Faño none of them
older than twelve or fourteen and then the bulldozers or maybe only
men with shovels filling the room with dirt as high as the windows
tumbling the adobe walls “The walls this day between the worlds
are open, the gates are open, and mothers will give their babies
little skulls made of sugar to suck to keep them from crying

did the older ones think that if they gave the little ones something
to suck, a breast a finger a piece of cloth to keep them from
crying that perhaps there would be a chance the men would forget
them? “to forget them, to forget the dead, that is a sin,” Lola is
saying, “a sin, and besides, if you don’t pay attention on their day
they bother you all year, they give you dreams, they make you
wash your red dress in with your slips and underwear so everything
comes out pink and the wash water’s the color of blood, aiyee,
you don’t want to forget the dead!
” the blood the tiny bones breaking
the tangle of little bodies little puppets with slack strings up out of
the earth “tonight it will be wonderful” the neighbor who gossips is
saying, she’s invited herself in and already she is eating, “so wonderful,
no crying, no sadness, everyone rejoicing because our dead are with us

under the delicate camel hair brushes of the archeologists a piece of cloth
a skirt with ruffles pink as icing the skulls the skulls so small so white
they might be made of sugar our dead are with us and how shall they
hear us when we call them when we are all drinking too much cerveza
and eating tortillas and laughing and singing and nobody knows
their names?

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