Farm work steals bones. Johnny’s ring finger
to a cultivator. Aunt Susan’s big toe to a potato
planter. Last fall a combine gobbled Grandpa Harry’s leg
from the knee down. Everyone in the family insists
the bones are ours. Nurses fuss and refuse at first,
until we threaten a lawyer. We bring them all home.
Stored in a cedar chest lined with a red wool blanket.
We organize the skeletons by date, by the cost of the work
we were doing before the accident. Building a barn’s
worth more than tossing hay bales. Drilling a well’s a prize
compared to moving an outhouse, even if the privy’s full.
The day Mom was kicked in the head milking Mildred—
a cantankerous guernsey we should’ve shot for pot roast—
her eyes rolled back, flashing like fish just beneath the surface
of consciousness. Her brain swelled, and they cut a hole
in the skull to relieve pressure. I imagined the deep lake
of her cortex, how I’d drop a line in the augered circle,
like ice-fishing, trying to catch something golden
to mount and put in a case, another relic to pray to,
so we could be blessed by what is taken from us.
Todd Davis is the author of six collections of poetry, most recently Native Species and Winterkill (both from Michigan State). He teaches environmental studies at Pennsylvania State University’s Altoona College.