“Jane Doe #1”

by Don Thompson

Nothing more elemental that’s not stone

than vineyards.  So it seems

on June afternoons

well into the sun’s auto-alchemy—

turning water and its own light

into flame, moscato, sweet sapphire.

Such fertile soil under a sun

that would parch it to hardpan

without water—

the one uncertainty.

But water can be imported (pricey)

along with low-wage vineyard workers.

A Dorothea Lange black and white shows

some campesino’s camera-shy grin half-hidden

behind a staggering bunch of grapes

big as golf balls.

Those grapes matter, not him.

Nor the corpse

dumped near vines early in ‘78

and not discovered until harvest.

Nothing more elemental than bones.


No one has atoned for her,

post-pubescent and buck-toothed

with remnants of auburn hair…

Jack Ripper’s last victim, aka Ginger,

could’ve been a redhead.

Also Rita Hayworth, sad Rita,

Michelangelo’s Sistine Eve,

that sui generis recluse of Amherst

or those Pre-Raphaelite stunners.

On this girl, though, this plain Jane,

you’d see no such lush abundance.

And even Lizzie Siddal’s hair

(not all-that)

had to be augmented

to suit Rossetti’s fetish—

though redder than ever

in her grave

with his poems loose in her bony hands.


Maybe this Jane’s hands, missing,

went home clamped in a coyote’s teeth

for her little ones to gnaw

and then bat back and forth

for fun.

Maybe the killer, thinking fingerprints

and wanting her to be

no one forever,

severed them with a serious pocket knife,

tossed them into the nearby canal.

Who knows?  Maybe

her hands crawled off on their own,

aimless tarantulas,

or reached out at last to grasp

those hands that turned out to be

within reach after all.


Doll-sized underwear, faint pink

faded to the color of dirt;

sieved and fragile as cobwebs,

left behind to finish disintegrating—

somehow of no interest

to pre-DNA cops.

Who kept her necklaces at least,

bless them, medals

to invoke clichéd St. Christopher

or Mary, arms open wide

to pray for us.

Dona nobis pacem.

As if.

But possibly fake silver

that would’ve turned her throat green,

beseeching a more personal saint—

Vitalis, for instance, devoted

to those who labor day-by-day

in someone else’s vineyard.

Also patron of prostitutes.

Or Jude with his flaming head

and useless cudgel

that should’ve cracked her attacker’s skull—

Jude of lost causes,

of every hopeless case.


Perhaps her unburied bones pity us,

still interred in our bodies,

not yet risen

from the sepulcher of this life

into fresh air, somewhere

none of our kind ever haunts.

Pure white, rain-washed simplicity—

almost sanctified,

compared to the flesh morass.

One bone separated from another

to signify an end

of convoluted human relationships:

femur here, humerus over there,

skull set free at last

to wander like a rolling stone.


Don Thompson has been publishing poetry for over fifty years, including a dozen or so books and chapbooks. A San Joaquin Almanac won the Eric Hoffer Award for 2021 in the chapbook category. For more info and links to publishers, visit his website at www.don-e-thompson.com.