by Chera Hammons

I found myself on hands and knees
in the kitchen, cleaning as if it were all I knew,
an unbothered Bessie in a field of fences
unaware of my own stomachs.
The tags in my ears drooped
like wet sheets, and milk skinned
until it was skimmed.
I lived on grass and water
and thought all were of my kind.

I did not think about it until there was a dry year,
the year the fires tried to burn us all on our feet.
Guided by the charred posts
we walked miles with covered faces,
before men on horses who allowed us to hold
onto our lowing calves
while we were driven at the edges
and the copper pots clanged.

How could we tell who sought to save us,
or who wanted to drive us to our deaths?
Let me tell you, once I was wise
I bellowed through those
gray alloys of catastrophe as fast as I could,
though I was breathing ash.
I took the first gate that called when the lips opened
from the road to a bare patch of ground.

After the tragedy
the days were the same.
I was nowhere unusual
and I was nosing aching plants.
I didn't pay much attention
to what I was chewing in my cud.

Before I realized it I was making butter again,
and sweeping, and all the old things,
never a hair’s breadth late to table,
placid in my expectations and
waiting for boots to sound the hand-scraped pine.

Which of us was born not wanting to please?
It takes more than past disasters
to change the way a woman fears.

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