Octavio Quintanilla


Octavio Quintanilla


Octavio Quintanilla is the author of the poetry collection, If I Go Missing (Slough Press, 2014). His work has appeared in SalamanderRHINOAlaska  Quarterly ReviewSouthwestern American LiteratureThe Texas Observer, and elsewhere. He is a CantoMundo Fellow and holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Texas. He is the regional editor for Texas Books in Review and  teaches Literature and Creative Writing in the M.A./M.F.A. program at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas.


Dream Transient

……After reading Bolaño


……….I‘m in one of Borges’ dreams. He chases me like a dog. I try to dream of the word
……….labyrinth. Borges doesn’t let me. He tells me it’s impossible to give it shape. In his
……….dream I’m not allowed to dream. He said.

……….I dream I see through my grandfather’s eyes. I see a man folding dollar bills into his
……….wallet. I see a paper gun. I see the shawl of a woman, and a woman without a shawl. I see
……….grief as a spider. I see beer bottles. I see a man falling off a horse. I see a cactus.
………. He was blind.

……….My daughter tells me she had a dream about me. I sketched a house made of cardboard.
……….Then I preached inside the house. Then there was a mob. Someone ran me out of town. I
……….found a river. I crossed the river. I found a woman. The woman was her mother. I loved
……….her mother. Then I woke up. I told my daughter I had a dream about her.

……….I dream my ex-lover dreams about me. We hold hands. We kiss. We have a black child.
……….He calls me by another man’s name. His mother tells me I’m worthless. She makes the
……….child disappear. We’re alone. My hands and feet are tied. She whips me with the wet
……….backbone of adultery. I try to remember her name so she may stop. Andrea. Samantha.


[I carry my destiny like a corpse]

I carry my destiny like a corpse
of someone I’ve known
all my life.
A faithful pet.
A true enemy.
Heavy like a bad deed
I have not yet committed.

Today I have no words,
no silence, no images to release
like frightened birds
out of their cages.

I think of the word “forgiveness”
and I can’t force it to forgive.
Can’t say, “Forgiveness is like…”
No simile.
No metaphor.
Just talk.

If you find beauty in this,
then you know the human heart
is made of words.


Agua, Name for Water

Like a mad woman, the morning light passes
underneath my window,
dragging a rope with all the things that died
the night before.
If I were to get out of bed and look,
I’d see my father’s angry fist
the day the white boss gave him less
than what he’d earned.
I’d see the yellow school bus and the kid
I punched in the face for making fun
of the way I pronounced water.
I’d just arrived from a country where words
sound the way they look
on a page.
If I look out the window,
I’d see Ms. Barnes asking me to read
Shakespeare in front of the class.
I thought I was a tough guy so I refused.
I wrote a poem instead.
And If I look out this window,
I’ll see that poem, clinging to the skirts
of all the women who could never call me
by my true name.
They gave me nicknames that never tasted
as sweet as the name my father gave me.
Truth was, it took too much heart
to pronounce three syllables
that could not promise eternity.
This is how love works.
All the unpaid overtime.
My hand wakes on your thigh,
and now I must think about this day
that enters our lives like birth.
Though you’re next to me, and I could wake you,
and I could whisper in your ear how I came
so close in my dream to drowning,
I reach for my phone and text you:
I’m the son without sons.


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