I leave before dark. The winter splits my deer-heart at its seams, dissects the veins from my still-beating chest. I am half in shadow, halfway between wood and bone, the last of an endangered flock. Unwatched, I pass from one realm to the next.
In the shade, the half-light catches on barbed wire. Skin tangles on the fencepost, strangling the thin pulse of these diurnal hours. Thrashing in the dusk, we move between the white-tailed days, a creeping, crepuscular thing.
We track the rhythm of their movements, migration patterns through the inner woods. Pathology: winter injuries, a bleeding deer caught on a fence, lungworm, tufts of fur and blood; then leaving home to study.
Once, we found the body of a dead deer scissored in a field, its ribs sunken in the cave of its chest. Coyotes had slaughtered it days before. Its antlers spelled out ten winters. I was ten years old. I held the antlers to my head like a crown.
How a body lies fallow with the changing of seasons, the hollow of its chest still untouched. Returning in the waist-high grass, we find the bleached spine and skull resting in place, the limbs dragged off by coyotes only days before.
In high school my teacher explains the name of our capitol, a city that straddles the river cleaving the state. Etymology of Hartford: after Hertford, England. This is a locational name of Olde English origin which derives from ‘Heorot-forda,’ or the crossing place of the deer.
I am the Hunter and the Hunted, a half-hooved thing, the Horned King that hides in the underbrush. There is no god here but myself. We’ll go gamboling through the countryside ducking under branches, until we lose ourselves in the still reflections on the surface of the lake.
Listen now, wooded thing-- as a child I saw men in fur coats gut the belly of a deer. It was cold outside when they opened him up, crucified on a post in the hunting camp. Their long knives flashed until only bone and sinew were left.
Walking through the dew-wet orchard, our feet leave damp impressions in the field. The trees, whittled by beetles, are stunted in their decay. We bed down in the windblown brush, the sweet decay of apples drifting over the bones of dormice, a rabbit rib sticking like a wishbone in the grass.
The moon rises like an egg in the near-dawn sky. The crow flies at zenith. Primed like an arrow, the night spits out flame, Artemis and her foxes baying for blood. The blood moon over the hollow with its distant, indefatigable face. The rich-red of the sky and its battered yolk.
We travel all day and arrive at nightfall. For the harvest, the men cure meat on sticks. Janus the two-faced god makes a threshold of our village, pours out his offerings. I want to be of an animal, my breached chest of tendon and marrow, my skin split and hung in the smokehouse for drying.
We take off running before morning comes. Where the wintergrass grows, the loam lies undisturbed. There’s nothing around for the taking. Still, I linger in the frost. I watch the treeline at nightfall. I am waiting to dissolve into the dark. I am waiting for them to come find me.
I stepped onto the sidewalk from the darkness of the museum and the sky set itself ablaze,
the horizon shrinking exponentially as it grew. We all think we have highway vision. The headlights,
blurring, tip into the long stream of traffic. The streetlamps renounce the night to announce the day.
Here, in the oldest building in the oldest city in the second-oldest state, I spent my days searching for missing parts,
exchanging origins for the objects, tangible, I clasp in my fist. How cities aid in their own myth-making.
Late summer, a scrim of salt on the harbor, the white sails flagging as they went by, I remember last June,
in an older place still. The girl and I climbed to the top of the monument where we could see five counties.
The boy waited for me somewhere on the shore of another coast. They would both hurt me without
knowing why. I would let them break me open without resistance, waves pummeling cliffside until I opened my eyes
to the sting of pain. An afternoon leaning toward autumn, evening perched on the fencepost, settling over the terrestrial plain
while a few miles apart, their house lights blinked on and off. Slowly. Repetitively. The obelisk hovering
in the dim, shoring up the sins of our forebears-- all those pilgrims lost on stolen land, stranded on the shores of this old world.
The Sea Captain’s Wife Asks for Mercy at the End of the World
The land turns itself inside out like a socket. Where there was once wetland, water cleaves to sky. I think the sea is of one mind—when it breathes, the horizon flickers like some greater divinity stilling the waters.
So does my husband—when his ship leaves the marshes, I watch the masthead warble as the sun breaks over the bay. No, I’m not from the sacred flatland. I don’t know how to dig in the sand for mussels, slicing my palms on their coppery roughness.
I don’t scour the slate streets of this old city for mercy. At the meetinghouse, the minister says a channel in his head opened and in poured light. Behind Friendship Street, the cemetery dead float below waterline in their graves.
Their widows wring grief out of saltwater, drag the windows of their homes in mourning. The canals open and water rushes in. Here, on this not-an-island with its lighthouse flickering at the frayed edges, I tire of chasing down whales and men.
I wanted to be something empty, as open and perforated as a wound. So I became the water, the vessel which holds life inside and out. I want to understand why this place is called Providence— who is saved here, who saves themselves.
-- Eliza Browning is a student at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, where she studies English and art history. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Rust + Moth, Vagabond City Lit, Contrary Magazine and Up the Staircase Quarterly, among others. She is a poetry editor for EX/POST Magazine and reads poetry for the COUNTERCLOCK Journal.