I Am the One Who Finds the Slender Bones Left Behind
Clippers holstered, the generator’s throat
cut, soft shadows lean from cottonwoods,
corral boards. The sheep, shorn and ridiculous,
mill about. Here and there a runnel of blood,
so rich and bright against the pink, the white.
Women hurry out loaves and roasts and pies.
Men sprawl on wool sacks, sit ankle-crossed
on tailgates. They stretch and smoke, take easy
sips of the day’s first strong drink. They are gods
in diminishment, and all their labors
will be forgotten. Quiet now, quiet
as the supper-hour light, the barn owl veers
over the field and in darkness disappears.
You have to line everything up out in the front field.
Combines swathers cab-tractors & whatever else is worth anything.
Then the ditchers square-bailers hayrakes.
Machinery you might as well pull over to the county museum.
When is it even open?
No one you know has ever been inside.
You imagine a glass case of single-shot Winchesters.
A windlass & a hundred feet of hemp rope.
A calico dress.
The shoulders so small you don’t even believe your dreams.
You have to haul what’s inside out too.
Headboards china hutches dining room tables.
People walk up & down the long rows.
If anyone hears the wind ripping at the seams of things they don’t say so.
They don’t say anything.
Joe Wilkins was born and raised on the Big Dry of eastern Montana and now lives in the foothills of the Coast Range of Oregon. He is the author of a novel, Fall Back Down When I Die, praised as “remarkable and unforgettable” in a starred review at Booklist. A finalist for the First Novel Award from the Center for Fiction and the Pacific Northwest Book Award, Fall Back Down When I Die won the High Plains Book Award and has now been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, and German. Wilkins is also the author of a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers, andfour collections of poetry, including Thieve and When We Were Birds. His second novel, The Entire Sky, is slated for publication in 2024 with Little, Brown. Wilkins directs the creative writing program at Linfield University and is a member of the low-residency MFA faculty at Eastern Oregon University.