Tweaked out on her mother’s meth,
the twelve-year-old walks
the county roads of my childhood,
sees stars in a sky crow-feather black,
finds the pack of wild dogs, the teeth
of the mottled Lab less frightening than
her uncle and his bristle-brush whiskers.
There’s little left to do here but grow
long and mean, to meet each day
like a belly meets gravel. In church,
the sleepless preacher says, Our sins
and snakes are many. The Lord is still
displeased. He prays, thunders like Moses
for deliverance and a penny serpent
for the judgment day. Next door,
the slap of the father’s hand against
his son is a crack of lightning,
and the weed they grow between
blue angel hostas feeds off their storm.
I’ve tried to escape this place—
like the horses, I can sense what’s hiding
in the tack room, curled behind
the ancient plow or wrapped around
the whips—but it’s my beginning,
and I haven’t found its end.
I tell myself Moses was a murderer
forgiven, that snakes only strike
when threatened, but when I go to the river
to relive my baptism, and my flesh is buoyed
by water, the gold strands of my hair
darken and dart out with the current,
as though they have lives of their own.
This poem was selected for Best of the Small Presses 2009.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.