Once upon a time my grandfather took my father into the gun room and beat him with a belt, until my father slumped, crying, into the worn leather of his secondhand shoes. I don't know why this happened. My aunt told me about it, quietly, as one would speak of state secrets. Authority sharpens his buckles on the knife edges of the unseen. Authority looks out the window between rifles and sees a broad Alabama field of cotton sinking beneath the late afternoon sun. Authority puts his belt back on and pulls a beer from the fridge. And, late at night, authority wanders through the yard, insomniac, wondering why even fireflies avoid meeting his eyes.
We don't take credit for the man killing his family. That was his doing. We just did what we always do: hung on his windows, whispered in his ears, dug his garden. We spoke of Afghanistan and car bombs. We discussed children he'd shot, albeit accidentally, goddammit, as he liked to say. We nodded in agreement, but offered other perspectives. Nudged him along, you know? We talked of that one time outside the village, the one he didn't want to talk about. We pointed, quietly, to explosions on the news. We told jokes about severed limbs. We dangled Oxycontin over his fence. We tied little red threads on his fingers. We told bedtime stories about rape. And when the moment came, that wild blooded moment, we scrambled out, away, on to the next house. Our work's never done.
They tell of me when it suits them, when it's helpful, when they want to stoke fear. They speak of my long, pointed beak, my scream, my razor teeth. I see the stars they paint on barns to ward me off, and I stay away, but mostly out of politeness. The thing is, I'm old now. I don't have energy to chase small children or snatch babies from bassinets. My reptilian joints are stiff, my metallic feathers matted. I like hearing the stories, though. I'm at once less, and more, than my tale.
is an associate professor of English at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. Her work has appeared in Slice Magazine, Muse /A Journal, Forage Poetry Journal, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Creative Nonfiction, The Atlantic, The Ilanot Review, Silk Road Review, Zone 3, Eyedrum Periodically, 3QR
and other publications. She's also the author of Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), The Village (Aldrich Press-Kelsay Books), Making (Origami Poems Project), and Curiosities (Unsolicited Press).