In a tangle of bluestem, the fireflies stormed their prayers
against the barn siding, the fields lit as though burning,
night loud with cicadas shouting their accusations, pokeberry
stains across the porch steps, deposited by birds,
smearing the bottoms of our sandals a black purple
like the bog croaking at the periphery of pasture
we could feel against our bare arms, a stranger’s breath.
Then morning, faintest wind, the day yawning open
against the sky’s sheepish grin, an endless lawn to mow
in heat that shivers green in awareness of itself
like an adolescent, the scent of manure and my mother
at the kitchen window, her fury burning through the back of my hair,
like the brushpile near the creekbed. How July was penance
for some crime that had taken place in the womb, before
knowledge, in a forgotten childhood of school and bedtime
and barefeet padding the hallway, how July was where I chained myself
to absence, my body becoming smoke that hovered above
the slaughtering sheds, their metal roofs singed with old fires,
their chimney’s slatted and slattern and barely hinged, their axes rusting
but for the leather handles that fit close to the skin of the palm, held near,
ready for the surrendering neck of the wood.
Meghan Sterling has had work appear in Rattle, Rust & Moth, SWIMM, The Night Heron Barks, Cider Press Review, Inflectionist Review, Sky Island Journal, Westchester Review, Pine Hills Review, Mom Egg Review, and many others. She is Associate Poetry Editor of the Maine Review and winner of Sweet Literary’s 2021 annual poetry contest. Her collection, These Few Seeds, is published by Terrapin Books.