I’m worthless at sharpening a chainsaw. Even with a vise and a good file. My cuts smoke and pull hard to the left. I thin the property. The County says we need papers for our spring water. Tests and permits. The State says get a lawyer. The stumps I leave behind are shaped like tire chocks. Not even the drunkest ghost will stop to tie his shoe on them. When the pipeline’s surveyors trespass I slash their tires. I paint my face and disappear into the woods. I fire rock salt through the trees. We tell the deputy we haven’t seen shit. The moon’s behind on its rent. It hasn’t opened its mail in a year. As soon as the rain comes we’ll burn our brush in the field. There are so many arguments against us. And no map to carry the runoff of our voices. Not a line not a name not a legend.
The night dries out in the still hours of the ravine. I sit in the kitchen with the lights off and the windows open. Too late to go to bed. Too early to get ready for work. Tracy came over after dinner and said Janet was back in jail. Skipped on her parole officer and stole some groceries. We looked at our feet and kicked the gravel for a while. Someone at work will say they saw this coming. The alder shadows spread into the cups and bowls. The houses the outbuildings the barns. They crouch on their haunches and groan. They are old men at a funeral waiting to see who will speak first.
Today is like yesterday. The courthouse fills up. We wait to be called before the judge. We learn of each other’s crimes. We answer questions. The judge laughs at a woman. She stole a 3-pack of boys’ underwear from K-Mart. The electrician left his girlfriend’s kids in the back of his car. He had to make a quick deposit at the bank. He left the windows cracked. But not enough for a hand to get in. He was only gone a few minutes. I drank too much and pissed against a bank’s picture window. This was after my friend hanged himself. Maybe it was the same bank. Bodies became things they were never supposed to be. I agree to pick up trash on the side of the highway. I go back to work moving boxes around in a walk-in freezer. Sometimes I turn out the lights and harmonize with the compressor. Someday we’ll colonize the moon. I wonder if it will have pioneer graveyards filled with the names of children. The ones who died at birth or never grew old enough to speak.
No Bond, No Levy
They closed all the country schools that summer. Ours was beyond the pavement where the gravel begins. Roads with numbers instead of names. They said we could keep any book we wanted from the library. That night the fire department burned it down for practice. We sat on the tailgate and watched. It was like reversing the footage of a horse rising to its feet. Come September we got bussed into town. I fought every kid who laughed at my green rubber boots. I am home now and it is low tide. I haven’t spoken aloud in two days. Black water falls apart against the jetty. Like the long ash of my grandmother’s cigarettes. How doomed to the obvious water makes me feel. How seen-through I’ve become. The ocean so unlike us. It only lives in the present tense. When I was nine I rebuilt the carburetor in my dirt bike. I forgot to repack a tiny spring into a chamber of its aluminum heart. Muddy smoke followed me. My name became fouled. I cleaned it with gas and a rag. I held it wide open until the piston warped. Until nothing looked the same.
Michael McGriff is the author of several books, including Eternal Sentences, which was selected by Billy Collins as the winner of the 2021 Miller Williams Prize and will be published by the University of Arkansas Press in 2021. He teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Idaho.