When I gripped the electric fence
and felt the thud between my shoulder blades
I thought that the girl with downs syndrome
had punched me in the back.
My brother laughed with the sisters—
the one who ate salt, the one
who showed me her breasts while
she chewed her hair and the slow one
who always wanted to hold my hand.
Their mother was a cloud who
scrolled past once a day. We watched
video tapes where twins beckoned us
down a hallway of blood. We played
at killing a prom and ate raw hot dogs.
We peeled grapes and pretended
to plunge our fingers into a bowlful of eyes.
We were animals. If Icarus had fallen
into the adjacent cornfield
we would have caged him like a rat snake
and told him what pigs can do
to human flesh. Then we would have
let Courtney try on his wings.
When the oldest sister stood half naked
in payment of the dare to let enough
voltage to make a cow spasm
cut through my body,
and the basement shadows fell across her
as she looked away and tongued her hair
into a paintbrush tip,
the Holy Ghost didn’t come down
and slip its hands into the elastic
of my underwear. No black pool
overflowed in me. Nothing happened.
I was staring at what had to be.
Her ribs were like a parched lawn.
I’d dreamt of marrying Courtney,
not the sister in front of me,
but the one had to be fed by hand.
I’d thought that all of the tenderness
I possessed could have been used for her.
To me it was just another future
in which I was the hero.
That night I thought of all the women
in that house nude in front of me.
Like those dead twins, they met my gaze.
My shame was the shore of a lake
and I walked it, collecting the tin cans
and vertebra, driftwood and shed skins.
I poured out the kerosene of my sleep
and burned it all.
We played a game with horizon smoke
called Fire or Farmer. We played a game
in the dark called Who Touched Me?
I drew pictures of their mother with ashtrays
for hands. One sister licked her finger
and dipped it into her pile of salt.
We draped their car’s floor mats over
the electric fence and climbed in
with the cows, even Courtney.
I walked her around the cowshit,
flies exploding like land mines.
We named each cow: Fat Fuck,
Cue Ball, Dead Meat. They were worthless
to us. I named one Cop
and broke a stick across its back.
We played a game of becoming statues.
One sister was the Statue of Liberty
with a tiger lily torch, another was
Mary cradling my T-shirt, my brother
was a wobbling Heisman and Courtney,
without knowing it, was Venus of Willendorf.
Arms raised, the X of my body was Burning Man.
I didn’t move, my breath held,
as the cows chewed their own mouths
and circled slow as night watchmen.
I stood even after the others grew bored
and I lost and I won. I was learning
that one way to survive
the wilderness growing inside of me
was to stay perfectly still.
Andrew Grace’s third book Sancta was published by Ahsahta Press in early 2012. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Antioch Review, Bat City Review and Beloit Poetry Journal. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati.
This is lovely.