HOW TO READ THE SIGNSHe was only a boySKINWALKER
when the father slipped him
out of his hip pocket
and then cracked open
the corrugated roof at last
to swaddle the delicate shell
of his son, unspooling him
into that almost-empty silo
to level their poisoned grain.
The boy learned how to speak
to the wheat that would scour
his scoop-shovel clean,
learned how to shovel
a pulse of sweat and wheat
into a hymn for his father
and how to read the signs
in the grain being augered
for the hammer mill below,
the signs of owls perching
overhead and hawking up
pellets of tiny bones and hair
and waiting for the boy to stir
that poison into the air
and curl up dead.
With time the boy grew
to know the sting of salt
from working like a man
until the work grew slack.
His father reappeared
to pry the silo's ribs apart
to turn loose a landslide
of billowing poisonous dust,
of kernels big as buckshot,
to free the man who stepped out
into the hard sunlight.
The owls fell to the ground.
Under layers of fur and scabby hideALMANAC MAGIC
grind the legendary bones
fleshed out with tribal myth.
A boogieman of sorts, it is said,
or maybe just a brown bear
nosing its way out of proportion.
Hoist the beast up then
strip off its robes: you have yourself
a man bloodied and more
than a little raw, an approximate
though still inaccurate likeness.
That Navajo girl, lost
outside the Four Corners
whose braids whitened
at its invisible touch,
she believes. What's been told
is that something has arisen
from carcasses littering the desert.
Bits of hair, feather, gristle, skin
stitched together by breath
restless and gathered in a vessel
for the spirit to travel the dark in.
What's been told may in fact
be your everlasting shadow,
its rattle a pulse in the ear,
the alleged brush of fingertips
reminding the bones,
they once were wings.
for John WoodBelieve in the bounty of drought,
of fire and locust. Count on
jackrabbit luck to grow your seed
and the tip of a dipper for rain.
If the man in the moon is late arising,
and your wife swells with your future,
she'll be craving clay and kneeling down
to eat the dirt from the root cellar.
But know your future will grow up
to leave you, to follow the magpie
with its song of honey and foil
from city lights alive in its eyes.
You stay to plow through days of sod and rock
and pray the rusty dray outlasts the harvest.
Let the wild oat drill into your hands
crooked from handles of hayforks and shovels.
Read your future in the cracks of this land,
in the bumble of tumbleweed and the stir of the hive.
Now listen for wind to shush your wheat asleep
and the scythe as it whispers its name to the sheaves.
a l l e n b r a d e n
l a k e w o o d, w a s h i n g t o n
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