Before Darkness: A Trilogy / sergio ortiz


We decided to hunt for butterflies
on the other side of the fence,
between old statues of father,
in overgrown grass,
the place he kept his untamed calf.

Rolling towards the pit,
(where civets churn out musk,
and the sky gives way to night)
was father’s code to play,
the list of sanctions
too long for me to write.

We put our catch in glass jars,
pushed, touched, and joked
in such a way as not to break
my father’s code. But in the end
you kissed another man.


They rested on the shoulders
of statues. He said they perfumed
summer with a kind of musk.

We took the beautiful ones
out of the jar, pierced with a pin
and let them dry. The ministry
of their wings kept us awake.

We disappeared to the other side
of the fence where father
kept the untamed calf. He unbuttoned
my pants. I didn’t care, father had been dead
for years, dead and all I wanted
was another kiss.


Father’s code was the magnet:
his classical order, control, synthesis, rules.

I was ten and a half
on the day of the magnet,
his untamed calf.
He was half a year older
and never quite faithful.

Aunt Enriqueta would read us
stories of houses that made noises,
—padam padam padam—
dogs’ eyeballs slit
with half a razor.
It was rainbows on butterfly wings
and the scent of musk
we found in a kiss
and I do believe in you and you in me.
We’ve been together for half a century.
Now, give this old man one last kiss.

Half a statue was what was left,
half a pasture, half a fence.


Sergio Ortiz grew up in Chicago, studied English literature in Puerto Rico, and philosophy at World University. He has worked as an ESL teacher, with the elderly blind, and as a chef. His work has appeared in over forty literary journals, including The Battered Suitcase, Salt River Review, and Yellow Medicine.