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Avery M. Guess
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No Peace

In December 1986, Carlos Paz Jr., an 18-year-old high school student, shot his mother, father, and 10-year-old sister to death in their Miami Lakes, FL, home. We were friends.

Your last name means peace.

*

December and the streets are slick with rain that won’t stop.
December and you try to buy a handgun.
When you are turned away, you buy a rifle. Any gun will do.
December and the floors of your home are thick with blood.

*

The jacarandas, cabbage palms, and gumbo limbos
          heave outside in the dense air. No break
from growing. The teeming tourists are angry—
their beach dreams rain delayed.  On TV, the newscaster
says the words family, murdered,
                                                        Miami Lakes, looking, Carlos Paz, call,
                                                                                                                            suspect.
I defend you to the cool room. I’m alone,
and I hear no reply.
Even the trees outside are quiet.

*

It’s 1986, and I’m well-acquainted with anger,
but my dreams of death were forged in fire:
my mother in her bed or my father in his van.

*

Carlos, I think the last time I saw you
was at our piano teacher’s house.
                                                                       Your sister,
Alina, a limp doll asleep in your lap,
             the scene evoked: a reversed pietà.

*

You are now the age your mom and dad
             were when you killed them.
At night, in prison, do you dream
             of being shot by children you’ll never have?

*

Or maybe the last time we spoke
was at the party you threw
—your parents and sister out of town
or out for the night, all of us drinking,
scent of a joint wafting in from outside.

We sat on the couch, smoked cigarettes,
while a record played Phil Collins’
“In the Air Tonight.” You told me
he wrote it after his friend drowned
while someone stood by and watched.

*

I remember hearing that you killed your sister
             so she wouldn’t have to live with what you’d done.

*

My father’s van caught fire
soon after I dreamt it would.
He wasn’t hurt, but it scared
me enough that I went back
to only dreaming of escape.

*

Were you certain you could kill when you bought the rifle
or as you pulled the trigger that first time?

And who was first? Your father, the real target of your rage,
or your mother who stood by, or the sister

                                                                you wanted to protect?
And how did it feel, knowing you murdered the man

whose name you carry? The woman who gave birth to you?
The sister who looked up to you?

*

It is just another rainy Friday in December, and the Paz family is hosting a tree-trimming party.  Carlos and Alina play a Christmas duet on the piano in the living room and everyone applauds. The guests all comment on how handsome Carlos has become, ask him about school and his girlfriend. His future plans. They pat Alina on her head, talk about what a great beauty she’ll be and how smart she is, just like her mother. They ask the family if they will travel during the holiday or stay home. The guests gather their raincoats and umbrellas, head out to their cars. The family of four stands just outside the front door, arms linked round each other, waving goodbye.

*

That was the night you killed them.

*

I know from experience
             the walls of townhouses are thick.
No one ever heard my screams,
             or if they did, they ignored them.
I wonder if your neighbors heard
             or ignored what happened
all those years you said you were abused.

*

Carlos,
                            You were eighteen.
                                                                   Why didn’t you just leave?

Before the Hospitalization

I felt like I was flatlining. Only my heart
was still beating its terrible rhythm—
that thump like an unbalanced
washing machine and no one near
to rearrange the soaked fabrics
held within its steel drum. I felt
flat as Stanley, but I was still fat.
Skirts hung off my waist
like circus tents, and no one could
mail me to that far-away land
where depression wouldn’t follow.
I’d been flattened beneath
the weight of my father’s visits
to my bed, the brush my mother
wielded before school, the failures
I’d racked up. A life made of sinking
the eight ball on the first shot.
I was flat as a flounder at the bottom
of the Atlantic I swam in as a child.
My smile, the only camouflage
I owned, lay submerged, unable
to rise to the surface of my face.

Walking South Beach after Hurricane David, 1979

Sunbaked place of burial and resurrection. Seaweed strewn shoreline glinting with inflated iridescent bladders and trailing tentacles of washed-up Portuguese men-o-war. Scrubbed clean of tourists on this sun blotted September day. Beach snarled with flotsam, sea tangle, razor sharp shells of crabs. Salt water stung palm trees snapped in half. Driftwood daggered in the blonde grit. The stench of rot looming. And seagulls feasting on fish flung from the ocean’s gut, their twisted bodies and unblinking eyes stunned at the sudden fury of home.


Avery M. Guess (@averymguess) received a 2015 NEA Fellowship for Poetry. She’s a PhD student at USD and assistant editor for poetry at South Dakota Review. Recent publications include poems in diode, Rogue Agent, Glass, Tinderbox, and Rust + Moth, and creative non-fiction in Entropy and The Manifest-Station. Her chapbook, The Patient Admits, is out from dancing girl press, and her full-length collection of poetry, The Truth Is, will be published in April 2019 by Black Lawrence Press. Avery’s website is averymguess.com.


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