Everything is a prayer, out here in the flatlands.
Billboards made mirror in the night rains. Moon
ballooning over the interstate. Rest stop bodegas
with the proud posture of chapels, creaking in the heat.
Cornfields & copperheads & the tumult
of my own claws chattering against asphalt.
I am enthralled with travel’s gospel.
With the way my body hums when it moves.
If you could see me now, you would not see me at all.
You would find smoke pluming from an empty bed.
You would find my shadow like a sundial
loping across the earth. You would find my silhouette
lingering in silos & attics where I paused only to doze
or eat or consult the atlas, before passing through,
as I once passed through you. A footprint. A trace.
A trick of the eye.
Again I lumber into the prairie grass,
though bluebirds badger my rafters,
protecting their nests from even
my hushed voice, whispering
a song you taught me when we first met.
You said then to befriend the birds,
the spiders, the mosquitoes even,
but my hands, big as they are, are bound
to find them. It’s why I come here, to pray
beneath the storm clouds.
It’s why you should come home Fox.
If not, who will stop me from bartering your favorite quilt
for a jug of backwoods whiskey, or trade
the box you held shut with a smooth river
stone for dusty records
I have no means of playing?
Who will stop me from offering up this leaning frame,
that you have passed through, slept in, and left?
I am hungry
I am a bullet
I am a sign of rapture — a two-headed birth, blood from the faucet
I am fog-built
I am searchlight
I am nothing when not in motion,
I am fed on new earth
I am a wild animal bowing to my nature
I am tuliping open, ears sharpening to points against alien sky
You are the last door I closed
You are still on my teeth, even now, as the train belays me west
You are phantom, no longer in your body
You are in my body
You are the boxcars, rattling like tin cans
You are Orion & the bow & the arrow that finds me beleaguered in the dark
You are more than yourself
You are the myth of you
You are smudging around the edges
You are quicksand
You are the tollbooth, static in the midst of movement, ever-witnessing speed
You are my shadow
You are the cannon that the cannonball of me once called home before I flew
Steady yourself. Let quiet settle
on your tongue, or hummingbird
into familiar song. If you must,
let what you remember of her
paws fill the hollow of your hand
and warm you. The vast sky
has no use for your sad bones
leaning into it. The dirt no
interest in you repeating: fox,
fox, fox. Handmade candles
and offerings of flame will go
unnoticed. Fox is gone, night
skips shamelessly after day,
elsewhere things are far worse.
Foxes have many tricks for throwing hunters off course.
We tightrope along fence rails & dry ridges where wind
tugs the thread of our scent & unravels it.
We cloak ourselves in sheep, perfumed in the flock.
We retrace our own steps, then leap sideways,
& the hunters follow the straight path to ruin.
We build masks. Coat ourselves in soot & milkweed.
Burn our maps. Burn our luggage. Burn our paw prints slick.
At dusk, we find track dogs asleep & crawl into their mouths
& possess them & bark false orders to the pack.
We shape shift into hunters’ wives & lie with them.
We jam muskets with goose bones. With cake flour. With wax.
Whittle the barrels into flutes so the rifles, when fired, sing
so sweet the hunters & their dogs waltz amongst the trees —
onetwothree, onetwothree — until they’ve forgotten us,
& their names, & the path home
which is the one thing a fox never, never forgets.
A lake is only a lake until you touch it, then it becomes a lake
thinking itself a fox, criss-crossing between fence posts,
shaking water from its fur. I know I’m not floating, not really
a barn even, if original intention has anything to do with it.
Owls prowl my rafters now, and drop pellets of mouse bone
to the floor below. Not much else to see, unless you look up
at those same rafters at night, into the calmest, darkest lake.
A lake is only a lake until you leave it for the landlock. Then it becomes ice;
static & held as if afraid movement will give it away.
A lover is only a lover until left. Everyone knows
distance is sweet amber, yellowing from sap to stone. Everyone knows
a lake is a lover is a barn is a clock gone still.
If I return & find you changed, I’ll swear off your name.
I’ll drown your letters in the lake, one by one. Forgive me —
I know it is cruel to demand this of you. Forgive me —
but we all must keep our promises. Even those we never knew we made.
A haunting does not hold
when you wander too far from the host
return to where you imagine you left me
to discover I was never there
a floating barn more
movement than not
you know nothing of lakes
of the forests I was made
of the greater beasts than you
I’ve allowed to wander through me
stretch their wings and nest
brood and howl and stomp
leave their bones and leap
from me a new shape
call me what you will
whatever simple name suits you
leave my letters in a lake
or swallow them to feed yourself
but I’ll not forgive you
for making demands
of what you do
not care to understand
A month into hitching, I saw two boys spit-roasting a hare by the tollbooth. They’d lit the fire in a stray hubcap & stoked it with prairie grass, until flame reared up like a spooked mare. I joined them, sharing walnuts I’d stashed in a snuff tin.
I asked how long they’d been stalled for a ride. “Ain’t so bad,” said one. “Just been banked here fifteen years.” He turned the rabbit on its spit & I noticed his hands: rag-wrapped, both thumbs gone. The other boy’s too, thumbless, his blood clotting hot through cotton.
The road’s wily like that — setting lures to trick you into keeping transient for good. Using food or company as bait. Lucky I noticed before eating. I won’t gnaw my leg from a trap. When I return to you, I intend to come back whole.
Devour what you will:
every sparrow, turkey,
and farmer’s hen. Devour
the farmer, the farmer’s
phantom, then the phantom
I named you. Devour all prey
feathered and foolish
enough to cross your path.
Devour every flame
that warms, every nest,
for a moment, you find
yourself in. Devour
every promise I have
promised, and not.
Devour any burden of me
you continue to carry.
Still I’ll exist,
unable to forget
the name you called out
while asleep, and at peace.
Your shadow floats over me. A squall near breaking.
Held breath. Nails tucked in the lining of my skin.
My muscle remembers your hands’ geometry.
Scrap-wood ladders. Pounce between lofts. O,
I slept inside your body. Gulped down like water.
Dust shuddering my throat. O thunderstorm swell.
You cradled me like a pup as lightning scattered me
into you. Rain bloomed your musk airborne. I imagine
your architect dropping to his knees as you rose,
walking shoeless into the plains at the taste of you.
Here, in train cars & pickup beds weary with metal
I slip back into your slat board light. Yearn for splinters.
I forget most everything these days, and wander out to the pasture, then back,
then out again. The weather inconsequential. Storms move through me,
but the haunting never sticks. I find myself further and further away,
leaning over a hole I’ve dug, or will fill with damp earth.
I try to make a list of all the things you would do with your mouth,
cruel or otherwise, all you would shake from your fur
after weeks away. I can’t remember anymore
whether you were truly a fox, or a fallen tree, or a mountain
goat, or a column of orange light balanced through the gut of me. I can’t remember
why this place is so silent. Has every creature left, or were they never here?