Mary Armstrong



When he felt the punch of the bullet,

he pulled to the left on the wheel,

skidded across lanes, hit the concrete

divider and rode it for a hundred yards.

His Candy Apple Red car scraped the wall,

left a line of paint behind him

like an arrow for Exit.  Now, blood

pumps from a hole below his left ear,

splatters the window, colors his diamond

stud earring ruby. It is Monday, 5:00 A.M.


Fifteen minutes away, a woman

makes a bed, smoothes blankets

in the same hurried way she smoothes

her hair.  She has learned to be fast,

to keep up with the street.

On the wall by her head, amusement

park banners and sprays of dried flowers

circle a picture of the Holy Virgin.

Its frame is as round as O sound

the woman will make when she learns

that the dying was quick.


Reporters want statements: something short

from the family. Her voice cracks over

stern English words. “Hard working,”

she says. “Conscientious.” His brothers sit

next to her on the bed and nod. “Oh yes,”

they say, “he was one hell of a driver.”


Later, she will cry. She will ask

his brothers how this could happen.

Their faces will tighten

on her question.  “Hey,” they will say.

“This is the way it is. If you don’t want

to be shot, stay the fuck off the freeway,

the streets the alleys, the driveways.

Stay in your room under the picture

of the Holy Virgin, lock the doors

and the windows. Wait until the blood

is powder in your veins and prayers click

on your tongue like misfires. And then,

when you come out, hold your arms up

over your head and walk backward, away

from this place, as if you were dancing:

as if that is all you intended to do.