Alkaline, how the air hangs as they descend. Like blood to taste, a central void they fill in me. That summer I precipitate, edgy as my father’s calves. Yearlings grown long-legged and rangy. No longer seeking soft chucks beneath chins. I whisper them sometimes into sleep. Still, they trample all that’s green here, scuttle only at the sky, the widening toxic turquoise bands.
Thirteen and promised nothing. I wake alone, grind my nails down to nubs. Learn the smear and curl of a land I own. The sin of days when I fold myself paper, leave the fields to their fallow and rot. Nights that expand, fill the shapes as I prune them, the curled-close warmth of family ghosts.
No one minds now whether I absorb minerals. If I turn the taps and coat my tongue copper. Sink in whole wasted tubs of it, soften ma’s slips leftover in drawers. I’ve aged in metal since they left. Practice patience each full moon, wait for them to stake their claim. I’ve been told they are choosy. That they seek out the young. Prefer long hair, unremarkable lives. That in the end they’ll want only the perfect, the smooth and sinless, clean and cured.
Come August, I bloom strange curves on my chest. Sleep in small doses on new-marked sheets. Ma warned me once. Taught me how to beat out rust that furls beneath me as I sleep. I dream of tongues and a language like roads, crossing over again in my mind. I practice turning my voice to music. Its many tones draw dogs like prey, attract insects angry with heat. In fields the calves swallow me, a fist’s many muscles. They learn to follow the way I call them. I could call them down into the gulch, leave them for their thirst that is my own.
Now each night I lay a sheet. A note addressed to the ones who’ve gone. And when they descend, I will be ready. My face a polished stone, emptying into a space ahead. My hands that have plowed and turned the fields, have left some mark on a planet behind.
Shannon Cuthbert is a writer and artist living in Brooklyn. Her poems have been nominated for three Pushcarts, and have appeared in journals including Hamilton Stone Review, Ligeia Magazine, and The Oddville Press. Her work is forthcoming in Thimble Literary Magazine, Across the Margin, and Unearthed, among others.
The Ekphrastic Review
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