Fire at the edges of my nipples, and you
walk into the room like
banjos playing soft in the woods, to a Yankee.
Terrified of shadows because death is
always hidden at the corners of them, shift my eyes and
swear something moved at the edge of my vision
We twist words into yarn, spin it with abandon,
knit ourselves shawls and sweaters and blankets to
keep out the cold,
pleads and begs like an old
beagle, whines and howls and
melts at the doorstep in defeat.
Embers grow under my feet, I
watch the full moon creep across the
sky, empty of stars,
wait out the loneliness and
clench my fist around
one last piece of coal.
That year I got to be an expert
at pulling the belts from the pants
of dead white soldiers.
I’d bring home ten, twenty in a night–
the women would divide them by firelight,
see if any would fit the men
or the children in their lives.
The rest they scrapped,
made into bootlaces and purse strings
ties for the shelters and,
when we were starving, stew.
It got to be a hobby of mine
to slip the belts from living mens’ pants,
hand them back with a grin.
It got to where they called me along–
I’d rifle through the pants
then slide the belts off last,
the bodies a comforting presence
the bodies cold and unchanging.
It got to be an intimate dance:
me leaning in close
going through pockets
smelling the meat of them
wondering what the next step might be
after their belts come off–
whether I would undress them fully, and
dance with them, and
who these men were before,
me wondering why they had no place
that they were going to.
The sleek thief through tall grass, her
bellyfur wet with night dew. The
moon draws in the clouds, her
yellow teeth emerge from drawn lips.
She breathes in scents,
lets them fall over her tongue like language.
reeking from a long ways off, she
soon finds the
chicken house, absent its dogs;
once inside, a sense of settling-
she might have lived here, if fate had said so-
even as she takes the hen from the lowest roost
even as the captured hen begins the death screams-
the other chickens stay silent.
What you remember most is the mud.
The deep boot-sucking mud, the
shallow slip-and-fall-on-your-butt mud. The
tire-spinning mud and
crop-drowning mud. The
manure-mixed mud. The
splatter on your truck mud. The kind of
mud that turns your rolling green hills into a
feedlot kind of mud. The way the
livestock take on this sunken look, with their
feet and legs coated, with their
eyes and noses coated. The
cattle turn the whole fence line into mud. The
hens track the mud into the nests and
smear it all over their eggs. The
hogs lie down in it and roll in it and
turn every piece of bare ground into a wet pit of mud.
Then there is the death and the
half-way-between-death atrocities. The
nasty way everything will
fight for its life, or at least everything
you’re pretty sure you never wanted to survive in the first place: the
deformed heads and too-small bodies; extra limbs on chicks;
fully-formed embryos still moving and peeping in the
batch of eggs you threw into the compost, thinking they were all dead. The
calf with the prolapsed uterus that you had to
shoot because you couldn’t fix it and
couldn’t afford to have the vet out. Well, that you had to have a
neighbor come and shoot because you couldn’t do it. The way the
piglets in a litter will tear each other apart,
ripped ears and scarred faces, just to have the most
drinks from a mommas teats. The day you forgot to put a
nest box out for your rabbit and she
kindled all over the cage wire, eight pink dead kits.
does not even begin to
explain the madness.
Begone, Snake-Oil Salesman.
My body has lain in the clear running spring
in these very mountains, and has
risen, the effervescence settling over my skin
and me now the serpent
from which you stole your oil,
once my oil, all at once my oil.
Beneath my tongue I feel the venom,
I rise again with no limbs, only
belly muscle after belly muscle after belly muscle
writhing in water,
the slide of dense belly
against jagged rocks, soft orchardgrass, a wayward dungbeetle,
I writhe my way to you
and deliver my venom in one thick glob of spit
straight into your eyes.
I eat fish eggs raw from the creek, pretend they are
caviar, pick black trumpets from beneath the
spread of toothed oak leaves and–as they
fry up in cast iron, in lard from wild hogs–pretend they are
truffles. I scratch bark from willow trees, imagine that it is
aspirin, steal honey from bees and hope it might replace
antibiotics. My ailments place me among the
animals, and we all suffer in silence. I breathe in time with my solitude.
I imagine that my pounding head beats its blood-aches in
rhythm with my heart, feel the nerves tingle in toes and fingertips like
buzzes of the electric fence, felt vicariously through blades of grass, and
I pretend I am a little lightning storm. The blinding nauseous
pain moves my legs under me, even as they
stiffen with the cold morning dew.
Parasitized along with the foxes and the deer and the mice, evenings around the fire I itch
spiderbites, antbites, beestings, pick embedded ticks out of my flesh and crush them under
rocks, apply honey or salt to the wounds, bandage with cobwebs or mullein leaves. I
drink a hot tea of wild blackberry leaves, mints, pineapple weed. I heat rocks beside the
fire to place beside my sleeping bag at night. I imagine a
time when I won’t hurt all the time, and reality
slips into a dream.