Outside of it, bales were lined
in solemn procession
like pale tombs among waves
of milkweeds and skeletal dandelions,
their stems bowing beneath a soft wind,
their petals snaring on barbed wire.
I was a trespasser as I ran
through pastures pocked
with sticker burrs and stale cow shit.
The cows no longer grazed there,
as if they—smelling something metallic
in the air—sensed danger
and turned their backs
against its storm.
From the road,
the chicken shack looked abandoned,
the sagging tin-roofed shell
a bony wreck beneath its rust,
though to me it was the soft down
of a hen’s wing I imagined myself
Only it wasn’t.
There was evidence of chickens
having lived in mesh cages
and having died, strung up
on crude copper-wired hangers
jutting from the wall, suspended
above yellowed feathers and dull-iron
tools strewn about—
and the rust coated everything
like dried blood.
I was afraid of the rats,
rats that sucked the eggshells dry,
afraid of the serpent’s translucent slough
coiling around their fragile carcasses,
and how those shells and skin reflected an eerie
glow in the purple shade that chased me off
as if I were the unwanted ghost
amid all this death.
I remember spending the night
on a curled bale cradled by the itchy hay
and staring at the sky,
oceanic darkness pooling itself outward,
deeper than anything on earth,
and how my heart felt stretched
like a wishbone, and—ah!—
how it seemed to pop
as the wish flew up, connecting the stars,
while the chicken shack loomed behind me
threatening to collapse.