her face is lined now
gorgeous spiral of empty
roads, mouth to nothing
brief redbud, her face
is so lined
brow muddled hard
pawing the earth-flesh
who finds years of dirt
now her face is lined
her phone brightens with
want. her own face
rain shines and unshines
in that open circle
a blizzard dazzles the acre
wet straw leaves itself
in the bent selves
and her face is lined
and a mottled dog
whimpers. its small body
a log of longing, its eyes
deep fruit darkened
and her face is lined
and dark-gold pennies
find their corners
to settle. even in houses
of the poor
End of the heat months.
You roll white papers in your thick
Instead of sleep I will go to the room
which bite tails and yell.
sets in the grooves of the self and alters.
What lives in the pit of the lake,
Outside the house
they trade cruelty for cruelty.
To be awake,
sad animal in the eyes,
cracks. Million looks
out from the cut
body. All the nails are bitten.
All the apples
bitten. Lizards move their white
Without you it will be
like the house of the last moment
when no one is watching.
House of the brink of death,
With you I am without
I want to apprentice myself to something,
but only longing has posts.
I want to open the door, but it is open.
With a faulty engine I drove a dun truck
Past a faltered town’s houses gone empty.
Hours whistled with distance. Leaves wrecked
Their red-violet and gold.
On unnamed grass stretches
Cows watched their long private dusk.
Most of the prairie was
Stripped to farmland in the days of dust.
Then I found the prairie’s real mouth.
Bare breakable grasses.
Eyes were stars
Shook too hard.
Jade grass shot through: mandarin,
I walked so far into the prairie I could not see the
Truck. I walked into the prairie when I did not belong
To myself. I’d stopped being real when I was
Buffalo shit, two weeks old, hardened.
Darkblond grasses and some smudge
Old fences, rain-lightened,
Bordered the prairie.
A two-lane highway ran through
Where the prairie remained and was
Where machines rocked and rutted
West on the thin road into spectacular
And then dusk blue-caught the grasses
And night curled over the straggled yards
And now I lived here where I didn’t belong. I thought
About cold and its names. Being wracked,
Huddled and stalled.
One October I came to the prairie
And its absence.
Surrounded the house.
Dust hovered and shook
This tree nameless
Flared deep as the bones
Leaves were crimson flails
Where the prairie was gone. The
Rooster rushed the coop-door, eyes
I came to the prairie and knew
No one. The prairie was mostly
Gone except for where you could
Walk. The prairie kept inhuman
I failed myself then I came to the
It made sense to go where I did not
Where the prairie and clear stars made careless
Dialogues. I came to the prairie in Missouri,
Which means They-Who-Have-Dugout-
Canoes. In a language no one now
I came to the prairie as a once-built
Cabinet called person that sagged open when
No one was looking.
But I was
Last season the air steeped in
Heat and limp fireflies and then
Fall came sharpening and glaring and
Rained on stunned trees.
burr & red spine of the flower: burr
& grate: teeth of the lizard: flower
teeth: I live in the south which is
not mine to tear down: I live in a half-
white body whose long arms are mine
to cast dramatically about: or is
anything I tear down mine to tear
down: or is everything torn-down
mine, burr & red spine of the lizard
flower: I am a lazy girl who won’t learn
the names of the fruits:
what my father worked for to give me
I dream about giving away
Shamala Gallagher is a poet and essayist with recent work in Poetry, Poetry Daily, Black Warrior Review, The Missouri Review, West Branch, The Offing, and The Rumpus. She is the author of a chapbook, I Learned the Language of Barbs and Sparks No One Spoke (dancing girl press, 2015). A graduate of the Michener Center for Writers, she has received fellowships from Kundiman, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Vermont Studio Center. She lives in Athens, GA, where she is pursuing a PhD at the University of Georgia.
This originally appeared on August 20, 2017