Feature image by Odilon Redon. Vision, c. 1883. Charcoal on paper.



Cousin, I am not mad.
I know this is not the country for them,
but I had not seen the elk

until I had, standing
unbothered in the county road,
rack like a live oak,
rack like a car,
its muzzle the color of a crow hopping down
bleached sedge in winter.

Must I remember
such things as they are? A thousand whitetails
flit through my dreams,
but the elk, the elk
just stands.


Soon after, blood in the well.
some said,
but the water came up red.
I held my tongue forty days
and nights,
forty raps to my hand with a ruler.

I sent up prayers
for the horses in Uncle’s fields,
and when the water cleared, I drew a big
clean breath, whispered the Apostle’s Creed
to an empty pulpit.

of course, after I crushed
thirty-three eggs
in their nests,
after I knocked the broom handle
on the barn door five times,
five times a day,

for five weeks. And the elk,
it stood there

Behind it, the barn in flames,
wreathed by darting sparrows.


Cousin, I have had a premonition.
A field shorn for winter, a hundred

fawn-colored bucks,
throats slit and blackening the grass.

The blank witness of the sky
like a mouth slackened in sleep,
and at the edges, dark pines

whispering what they had seen
in a language I’ll never know.


At Mother’s request
I will say I never saw it, brown and real
as a dog, quiet as any doe

grazing in the backyard.

And yet I had,
coming back from Uncle’s,
beautyberry spilling from the shoulders
as if to pave the road
the deep violet of the sea.

I’d seen its eyes,
their oval pupils, dumb slash
of eyelashes, female in excess.

My heart became wings beating
blood to my ears.

Rustling in the eaves,
sparrows lit
in pairs to their nests

in the barn before it burned.


And their song
which has fallen silent
before October’s combines,
hay, and clay red as the body,

as the underside of the carcass
strung up and cooling

above the bucket
in Uncle’s yard.

Kate Gaskin

Kate Gaskin's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Tar River Poetry, Bellevue Literary Review, Radar Poetry, Raleigh Review, Sugar House Review, and The Fourth River among others. She grew up in Alabama and now lives in the Panhandle of Florida with her husband and son.