The sermon done, I straggled past the barn,
sun hawking blood through haze. Burnt noonlight scorched
dead yellow grass and seeded clover — storm
fast, gray brains above me soldered. My thoughts forking,
I stalked past thickets to a freckled culvert
that older children liked to laze and wander
in. But fleeing water, they’d sought cover
from bruise-razed contusions of the thunder-
heads that rumbled over. Long hidden
rivers whispered through fraught limbs and spires.
Cross gulch, I stumbled where stray paths had bidden –
leapt meadows, swaying like blond hair on fire.
So back through checkered shade and summer moss
I raced toward a crumbled hunting blind,
wind-tossed, ransacked by weather. Stunned across
the upstart crops, I ran off hard to find
no grown-ups coming from the late church supper.
I searched dense columns of the ripened ears,
which glistened higher than my silken top;
I listened to each grass-blade bend, career,
and warble with the cricks. The wind unrolled
electric wire — I tripped across the blighted
earth, lashed back and forth by forces, holding
quick. One cross-cracked, bat-flight blink of lightning
fell. Its snapshot dappled every tongue it crazed:
the chapel bells, the windmills each went whirling.
A tall boy blocked my way, spit in my face,
and told me that my momma was a whore.
His brother, stronger, pummeled me until
I sprawled out in the field. The first one took
his member out and felt me up and spilled
his stuff. All I remember then, I shook
away and clawed and yelled for help, for grace
or mercy. But the third and youngest boy
still beating off, the others held my face
and made me open up my mouth, annoyed
he took so long. I bit a hand down hard;
I lunged. The oldest promised he would plow
me good and have his way. The others started
pushing me, spread-eagled, in a furrow,
level. That’s when the heavens broke. The sky
had tunneled black: up-sucked high winds were prizing
trees, and closer, clothes hung out went flying;
a silo lofted from the flat horizon —
air flush with dust and lashing grains. I scrapped
and rushed across a cusp, scum slashing grips —
I twisted loose and off from where they grabbed
my wrist and dashed past slush at last and slipped
through labyrinths of maize, through spears and spare
dark rows. Came to the outlines of a building
just past the river’s drowning shoulder where
I heard the chatter of the neighbor children.
But when I followed, they made sure to pass
until the voices were the river’s own.
A piece of straw had pierced through solid glass –
tree-caught, a plowshare like a guillotine hung down.
The gale had finished and the clouds were frayed.
I smoothed my flowered dress, though one long stitch
still dragged; brushed off what grime I could and prayed;
undid the latch. I braced for daddy’s switch.
“Thank god that you’re intact,” my momma said.
“You’re dirty,” daddy sniffed between two swigs.
“I sheltered in some thorns. I thought I’s dead,”
I hemmed, accounting for my blemished figure.
My daddy whip-tugged off his leather belt.
I bent my backside to display my bottom;
he whacked me till I swelled with rigid welts.
The soil now smelled fertile, wet, and rotten.