No One Was Born Here
Across the white highway, dogs drift unmoored
Silver-tipped seagrass, but no cactus. An offing
of shopping plazas, their harsh light and low roofs.
That's the way with drought; first dissent,
a worm belief that one place could be another.
I bet it feels good to twist a head of cotton
clean from the stem's fat and browning boll.
I bet it feels good to stand in irrigated rows.
Most people smile around town. Big, too.
We're so pleased to meet you. But we met last week.
Days, gone with a handshake. The thing about dogs is
they actually need us. Otherwise they're half animals,
scabbed raw with mange, scared of the noonday sun.
As for me, I came here to keep my mouth shut.
Did I mention the dust?
Grackles, to Be Sure
An isosceles of birds arrange themselves.
Two in the yard, one in the lowest branch
of a cedar weed. The first looks up at the second;
the second and third, at each other.
Rat crows. Their aurora borealis bodies.
Their oil spill down and glint. I hear
they eat trash. I hear they nest in trash.
On my way to the bridge I see them and stop.
Not one of them looks at me. All I can think is
I want one to look at me.
We're On a Need to Know Basis
The kid is riding his bike, Fibonacci spiral in a cracked
and cement lot. It's hot. I'm in one of the parked cars, idling.
I don't know where to go. A man with a star inked on his neck
crosses the street toward us. Five points and American blue.
He's alone, the kid. He knows better. Drink water, but don't
drink the water here, his mother could have said. Above us, birds
charge the west along abacus wires strung tight to-what?
We are not held by this sky. No one counts our living sins.
We Want What We've Been Given
When the rains come, the dog curls in the steel tub.
The window glass brays, Not today. Not today.
Dust to mud; we bury sod and expect New England.
My grace is sufficient, Brother Slade reminds me.
He and I take off our shoes and stand stooped, washing.
He is tall for a Bible man and with red hair. The air
is almost oceanic. I do not trust him. Everything dies,
I tell him a lover I once had said that every night.
He stands to bend backward, his hand on his hip,
his eyes open straight to the sun. He does not respond.
I loved him, I say again. I loved.
The Quick and the Dead
The fire ant, his red dirt turret; my bare hands.
The fire ant, his sugar load. The moonlight in pieces
on little backs, slipping through the world's split
then gone and, just like that, a hot place is getting
cold. I have nothing worth return. On the walk
a cigarette stub lottery, floss toothpicks, scutch
grass fighting to spread. Fried wings chewed
to the tendon, left to decompose. This is today.
A war must be over, for all the damned noise.
Listen to Rebecca Gayle Howell read “No One Was Born Here”
Enjoy these poems? Subscribe to the Oxford American.