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WOMAN WITH THE SEVERED ARM
At dawn she leaves the house in her field coat,
the skinny hound on the porch follows.
_______The fog is thick but we know the way.
At the lake the hound trails a scent along the bank.
The woman casts her line into quiet water.
_______I use my right hand to point to the sky. To a hawk or the crows pursuing.
_______The left hand was always the uncertain brother.
As a girl she was adventuresome; with both arms
she climbed the sprawling live oak, sat alone in its branches.
Every spring she captured a hummingbird in the house,
held the tiny beating bird in her hands. Released it into sky.
_______The left arm was gone in the winter. The next summer I went every day to the lake.
_______I’d throw the key to the bottom. Dive down to find it.
With men, as with putting the plates away, the woman measures her time.
In the span of one particularly rich late autumn, she both found and lost someone
_______I felt the season quicken. And him with it.
_______To make him stay, I would have taken his footprints in the snow
_______and delivered them beneath my bed.
She wades through waist-high grasses, singing
to a red horse who waits shyly at the edge of the field.
_______A man and a horse are brothers.
Either he’ll take the apple from her hand or he won’t.
_______The arm with the apple is all. I don’t aim to catch you, shy one, so don’t fear
_______that I hide the bridle behind my back.
The woman is a weathervane.
Because she can point only in a singular direction, she is not a deceiver.
_______I am not a deceiver.
_______When I am in the lake I am not on the shore.
The red horse closely watches the woman across the fence.
Either he’ll venture to take the apple from her hand or he won’t.
_______I am not a deceiver. I have only the one hand. And it’s open.
BLOOD ON YOUR SADDLE
Jericho. ___I return in winter
to the cruelest acreage I know in Alabama.
Mother_ I say. Speak his name.___ Robert.
Your twin_ the other half of_ the bivalve shell of your heart.
That winter his eyes changed to gray.
___________At Jericho the lake was almost frozen. Alone
___________in a ditch along the highway we found a litter
___________of stray puppies.__ To die of hunger was too cruel.
___________We agreed to give them the gift of a quick death.
___________It was the bone stump of winter_ night rushing in
___________as we tied them in a potato sack to drown them.
___________But we had no gloves_ and the knot I tied
___________wasn’t strong enough. _They cried_ they
___________clawed wildly at the icy brim.
___________until the last one __then walked home
___________down the_ lane into the freezing slash pines
___________not meeting the other’s mirrored face.
___________Neither of us was strong enough to console the other.
Speak his name.
shot himself at Jericho
the following November. The blackbirds flew
from the branches where they roosted
in the winter tree of his heart.
Hours later you came like an archeologist
to clean up the remains. _Shard of bone.
A fine mist of blood on fallen leaves.
An empty styrofoam coffee cup from Hardee’s drive-thru.
Its bitten rim marked where his lips had been.
Out of eight children _you alone survived
the ghost of childhood._ Haunted still
a black mare in solitary pasture
burning across the hunger fields
of winter_ your coal-black mane in flames
setting fire to the land as you leave.
Ansel Elkins is a winner of the 2011 “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize. She is a recent graduate of the UNC-Greensboro M.F.A. program in creative writing. Poems appear or are forthcoming in The 22, The American Scholar, The Believer, Boston Review, MississippiReview, Ninth Letter, The Southern Review, and Third Coast.