And I am still here: the house
holds up under warring clouds and sun.
My bedroom is square and white and the hall stairs
rasp and chirr. The cellar ghost cries in my woodpiles,
the sacks of grain. Maybe what it needs now
is some fat, some salt. Not my meager keening
or blood. But something from the pantry
perhaps. My cans of oily chilies,
my pearly mayonnaise.
Outside it’s a different matter. Tourists come with cameras
past here, up the ribbon roads. They want the pictographs.
The waterhorse on the hill, the scorpion. The white rock revealed,
bone under green. Constellations of spears and stars and great
hunched beasts graze forever on nutrient plains. They want
to keep them somehow, pull them to their bodies like wild quilts.
In ways, I understand. But what it takes to do that I’m not sure.
To think of it, I don’t know what possession means.
It seems to me impossible, human and small.
The closest I’ve been to it was my first husband,
who I breathed and could not shake. He left in the rain one day
and disappeared. His students milled nervously in a university lab.
But he left me a cross I am grateful for even today: morning fever
spiked with bluing on the backs of hands. The emergence of twin
calcifications at the shoulder blades. Soon with more training
and strength I will fly with old airships out over the sea.
They said that to see it was to be assured
of one of two very disparate things.
One: a lucky fortune would befall your father
and make him rich. Or two: your livestock
would catch a north wind and fall sick.
Without belief, each thing seemed likely as bad fire,
tearing trains off mountains and reaming through white ice.
Somehow in my young head each too
had a reckless beauty like a distant, dreamed-of mouth.
Those years day broke fast and lit the slimy reeds in the slough.
This was the time to most often see the animal,
in that first bright hour, its great
spiked head thrust down in sharp grass.
At first it might appear like one of the fat, appling trees
brought in seed by trappers up our broken road.
Until it moved, and the barrel of its ribs sighed apart.
It reeked, too, of rotten silvers and grain.
That summer James swore he saw it in the clearing by the fort.
Confused, young enough to assign fat demons into being,
he ran back burst and slipping to the empty house.
Though no one spoke of it, his father had gone east for some days
with a girl, her hands in his hair as he drove down the valley
high on sex. For three days James ate only garden things
and wiped tomatoes from his chin with his sleeve.
He slept curled in a living room chair, feet jammed, praying for cats.
After that day their farm turned from one thing
to another, from west to east. From blonde to rust.
Those of us who knew him then just watched.
We had no eyes.
She held up as long as she could in the house.
But her mother was spinning, full of rage.
And though Agnes had loved her all her life she saw
that her mother was lost somehow, already dead.
It occurred to her suddenly: leave or end up brainless in weeds.
Agnes remembered the moment. A crop plane cut the sky
dropping poison buckshot and neighbor chickens ran.
Her mother watched her pack, saying Witches
can’t cross water you know. She referred to the river
the road out of town perched over, rusting,
daring the minimal gird. Your legs will fuse together.
You’ll dry up and burn.
She took a series of cleaning jobs
leaving pillowettes of wood char and bees
in the hemmings of drapes. Because she had changed herself,
had bent her path, and pledged protection instead of harm.
She saw that humans could not detect the dangers in front of them.
Now maybe that’s what they needed, to be able to live each day.
But they seemed plucked and defenseless in their buffed skins.
Perhaps it was more about her smashing her own skin
than it was about a love for people and their mess.
Hers were small gestures anyhow, spills in the rain.
But it came surely from childhood, her ache for clean.
See, she had never been certain
that nothing had followed her over the river that day
when she had left her first home for the next settlement, barely a town.
And as she grew older in her own house on the mountain, even then.
She found things in the garden, in the tines of her fence.
There were bones in the winter and square teeth
in the spring. She belled wire in her windows,
scattered ash on the stoop. She tried not to waste the hours
she could easily spend trying to determine
what lived with her around the edges of the clearing,
breathing nitrogen behind her shed. Her Fetch.
Her holiday Friend.
Linda Wojtowick grew up in Montana. She now live in Portland, Oregon, where she can easily indulge her cinematic obsessions without restraint. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has most recently appeared in Abramelin, Sooth Swarm, Calamus Journal, Visitant, and Noble/Gas Quarterly.