- Jessie, and: As Autumn
Touch the electric fence, she commands, Swallow frogspit. Crawl under the bull’s belly. Round up the captives.
I collect them—Dottie, Chuck, Pauline, my brother— and lead them blindfold through our woods to the abandoned storage shed, guide them up rotted-out stairs to the airless attic littered with mildewed magazines, loud with somnolent bees.
She teeters on a stack of crates, nearly naked torso stained with iodine, buzzard feathers stuck in a bandanna around her head. The captives kneel. I pass a cup of purplish liquid. Lion’s blood for courage, she thunders, tossing me a wink. Eyes of fallen sky, warrior cheekbones. Never again a wink compelling as hers.
Our last day, we swam across the reservoir and sprawled on the bank. Scooping dirt to pack on mosquito bites, she found a forked stick and thrust it at me, jeering: this is what men look like down there poking it sharply between circled thumb and forefinger this is what they do to you. “You’re lying!” I cried. You just wait!
The next day, she didn’t come out, but I stole into her house and found her curled on the bed, her legs bloodied by her mother’s belt. Then she disappeared. Abandoned, I hardened against her, but after a while, I began to see her everywhere, running in the far pasture or disappearing down a school corridor, looking over her shoulder for me. [End Page 117]
approaches with its burnish and tarnish,
we watch the crows at light-fall, hundreds, maybe thousands
flocking to a communal roost, the air full of alarms, near
collisions, noisy settlings and resettlings.
Tree limbs tremble. This could be an army in tight
formation or a massing of refugees, preservation or the edge of famine,
when, on every branch of every tree, darkness descends, and silence. [End Page 118]
Judith Slater’s work appears in Prairie Schooner, Rattle, and has been chosen by Ted Kooser for his American Life in Poetry website. She lives in Buffalo, New York, where she works as a clinical psychologist.