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when commanded, she reluctantly spits it 
back out 
             slick and glistening 
her mouth 
             having gleaned the gravel
                         of its grit  

her two-year molars oft packed 
            with chewed-on chalk  

                    the telltale smudge pasteling her chin 

this summer we ripped up 
             the grass and replaced it 
                          with nothing  

this hard drought, our broken 

in the temptation   

of our dirt backyard no matter 
how many rocks she stuffs 
           into her cheeks  

           they do not soften into bread 
                                                  or water  



when there was nothing to eat
in the desert 
           we scraped up the earth itself
and were nourished 

we believed it was 


the wilting chokecherries drop stone fruit 
                        on the property line 

not even they can survive
            this heat 

I drag a hose to water deep  

to soak down their roots 
                           to save them 

back inside the house 
I hear the water grumbling 
through the pipes and can’t believe  

 I am allowed to just  

          let it spill out 
                                                      like this 

  one day it will run dry              my son  

           dreams that in the graveyard 
he can’t stop his sister from cramming 
                            tombstones in her mouth  

we’ve had her tested for what minerals 
she is missing, what toxic ones 
she’s taken in               we have to quiz her
hold up modeling clay and paints 

 do we eat this               do we eat this   


inside this desert once 
we planted an oasis          filled 
its fountains with water  

now inside of this oasis is 
                                   another desert 
            about to break 


our backyard  

            these stunted junipers 
shedding oranging needles
that crackle underfoot 
            when we try to trace back 
                       our steps  

to a pocket of restful green  

                    this should be no wilderness  

           to be lost in  

in the irrigated park across the street 
                                               we steer clear 
of the pebble-sided water fountain 
           she likes to lick  


                        and now we have wandered  

too far  

           into the desert                    have broken open 
all the rocks            sucked out all the water  

like marrow from a bone        do we eat  

            this          we demand 
of the desert
            swallowing the field 

do we eat this                    we demand of the sea 

devouring the shore               do we    


eat this                    her little teeth  

are jagged from chewing stone  

soon they will fall away and 
perfect new ones 
            will rise up 

by then I dream 
spoons of applesauce and soup 
will pass smoothly 
                                     through her lips  

and behind us the sprinklers 
will spray across
everything          even  

the glass patio door  

our yard greening 
over the lines we dug up and then 
            buried again  

and when I catch a glimpse 
of something foreign inside
her mouth 

              I will find in there  

 the entire world 



Bethany Schultz Hurst is the author of Miss Lost Nation (Anhinga), winner of the Anhinga Poetry Prize and finalist for the 2016 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. She is an associate professor at Idaho State University. 



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