for Marianne Boruch
By a Chicago lake, in a Chicago summer,
1962 or 63, and she twelve or thirteen,
I think, she’d only said that she was young,
she spent the summer with a group of girls,
sleeping in tents, studying
different kinds of pines—
White Pine, for example, five needles
in each bundle, one needle
for each letter in its name—
and from June to September, she said, they kept
the same fire going, each girl learning
when it needed dry wood or green wood—
No one could leave that spot by the lake for long.
She would understand
how my friends and I carried the man we found
together, the forty pounds of him
inside the white bag the Sheriff brought,
the white of the bag showing the way
through the dark. And the mountains,
the thin grass in the desert
like hair that had fallen out
and then like grass, Border Patrol trucks
on the far side of the mountains,
their light coming to meet his light.
On the night she made me a sandwich, brought it to me in a paper bag
in the cold under the stars before we went in to hear the others read,
she told me that I got it wrong, the story about her,
in which, the way I’d written it, she was a child with other children,
alone with them by a lake for the summer, and young as they were
they’d not only stayed alive but also kept the same fire going
for months on end. Anyway, she said, it’s implausible,
what you wrote, since actually she’d been a camp counselor,
almost an adult, and if there’d been a fire it didn’t really burn that long,
or maybe it didn’t matter the way I thought it mattered—
and maybe the point was she’s a person, not a myth.
Maybe it’s unfair to turn someone into myth,
but I thought those girls had made a deal with each other
to keep the fire going, the younger girls in charge
in the morning when it was strong, the older ones at night
when it started to die down. They did it by trading off,
is what I thought, passing the chore from one to the next like the baton
in a track relay when I was fifteen, outside the snow
coming down inaudibly and in the dry gym the only sound
the heat in my lungs until the last lap when I could pass it off
to whoever was fastest, then, Jennifer or Erica in her long, tan legs,
hair pulled back from some perfect forehead,
effortless, almost, since she knew she would win
and whatever mistakes I’d made, she would make up for them.
Look, there’s nothing there anymore. They cleared it away, the right scapula, shoulder blade, identifiable by how the thicker part at the top gives way to a thinner, triangular plate.
Fireflies coming in through the open door, and everyone is getting up from their chairs, putting their light jackets on, her quiet face moving toward me from across the room.
That afternoon the first drops of rain fell on the table where we were sitting, where a praying mantis was killing an ant, dragging it across the metalwork. We don’t have to watch this, she said, brushing them both onto a sheet of paper, then onto the bricks on the ground.
One way to remember, I’ve heard, is to build cairns where the bones are, make them out of stones or whatever you have on hand, water bottles, granola bars, so when you go back with the sheriff you can find them, though no need for it this time since it was just the one bone to go get, in the same spot where we found it in October despite the coyotes, the months of winter rain.
Because it was visible on the trail where people are walking. Because the website said it was missing from his body. Because it might belong to someone else—
Though when we got there and he took the roll of black trash bags from the pocket of his uniform, ripped one off to use, I wanted to say it looked right where it was, there on the rocks, the delicate brown leaves, right meaning both correct and fair—
Then we were at the top of the hill, before the drop down the last ridge to the car, and the bag the sheriff had was starting to rip, the edge of the bone starting to tear through; then he put it in another bag, which lasted.