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Octavio Quintanilla



Take care of them. If they want water,

            Dump them in the river. If they crave

Freedom, let them loose among rattlesnakes.

            If they want to breathe, let them breathe dust.


Let the desert mouse nest in their white bones.

Give them shelter with your greed. With your rape.


The road kill is a sign you’re almost home.

            Point to it and show them who they are.

Their life’s a documentary, a newscast. 


            But for you, everything is possible.

You’re the map that leads them astray,

            Priest leading a funeral procession.


Load this cargo. Shackle them with promises,

            Backaches that keep them from killing you.




November. The devil’s keys

dangle from its neck.

The dry leaves we step on

look like small hands

missing thumb and index finger.


Men in other countries feel its dampness,

see its black stain like a shawl on chickens

scurrying to their coops.

These men have no land 

and the land of others remains quiet and pale

like a face adrift in a casket.


Here, the night dies of cirrhosis.

Two months and your dogs still wait for you

as if waiting for daybreak.

Your mother brings me soup

on Sundays and fills my forehead with kisses.

Once she brought me a handful of snow

and left her pulse in the embers to keep me warm.

I’ll survive, I said,

and when she said your name,

her tongue turned to foam. 


In other countries, the dry cough

that rises from the hearts of women has no choice

but to hang itself.

Through holes in the walls,

the women watch their men fold

goodbyes like pieces of paper.


The men promise to return,

but even their names will be erased

by the drizzle falling on the pavement.


Their women will never sell their babies.

Babies sucking their thumbs.

Babies so small you could carry them in purses.




Winter, to celebrate the birth

of Jesus, my brothers buy a pig,

sometimes a goat,

and sacrifice it in the name

of good times. The youngest one,

who has a love affair with guns,

shoots it in the forehead, and the pig

often too large to be disheartened

by the bullet, takes a step back

and charges forward to welcome

the second shot.

Now the boys stretch it on a table

and their knives begin to cut

into fatty tissue, pulling at the flesh

and at the coarse hair that peels

as easy as a shirt.

After the skinning is done,

my brothers,

and friends who came to watch and talk,

stand around the animal

and smoke cigarettes as they wipe their knives

along the sides of their legs.

They’re young as they stand here,

trying to reclaim a ritual

they could’ve lost

the day their father left his country

to give them a new one.

Their knives learn to open flesh

as their eyes keep watch for what’s hidden

in the belly’s chamber.

They keep finding the root

that refuses to be cut.

Maybe their sons, too, one day,

will learn to use a knife to see,

to feel they belong somewhere.

For now, someone will say

a joke in Spanish,

and someone will repeat

parts of it in English,

and laughter will scatter along the fields

like a flock of hungry wrens.

-from If I Go Missing, (Slough Press) selected by Spring 2023 Guest Editor, Gerard Robledo

Octavio Quintanilla is the author of the poetry collection, If I Go Missing (Slough Press, 2014) and served as the 2018-2020 Poet Laureate of San Antonio, TX. His poetry, fiction, translations, and photography have appeared, or are forthcoming, in journals such as Salamander, RHINO, Alaska Quarterly Review, Pilgrimage, Green Mountains Review, Southwestern American Literature, The Texas Observer, Existere: A Journal of Art & Literature, and elsewhere. His Frontextos (visual poems) have been published in Poetry Northwest, Gold Wake Live, Newfound, Chachalaca Review, Chair Poetry Evenings, Red Wedge, The Museum of Americana, About Place Journal, The American Journal of Poetry, The Windward Review, Tapestry, Twisted Vine Literary Arts Journal, & The Langdon Review of the Arts in Texas.   
Octavio’s visual work has been exhibited at the Southwest School of Art, Presa House Gallery, Equinox Gallery, UTRGV-Brownsville, the Weslaco Museum, Aanna Reyes Gallery in San Antonio, TX, Our Lady of the Lake University, AllState Almaguer art space in Mission, El Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos, The Walker’s Gallery in San Marcos, TX, and in the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center / Black Box Theater in Austin, TX.  He holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Texas and is the regional editor for Texas Books in Review and poetry editor for The Journal of Latina Critical Feminism & for Voices de la Luna: A Quarterly Literature & Arts Magazine. Octavio teaches Literature and Creative Writing in the M.A./M.F.A. program at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas.  

Instagram @writeroctavioquintanilla
Twitter @OctQuintanilla

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