The three of us have begun keeping score,
that the harvest is through
that the oldest goats are slaughtered
their hides salting in the greenhouse.
The days short enough that the farmhouse starts cold and
visitor that I am
hefting an ax is no chore.
My arms full at the door
I see transparencies of myself in the double glass
storm window, as sweatered
and American and convinced of oncoming warmth
as the plaid November catalogues arriving
with their two names and this address, pernicious.
The winter cribbage tally sheet has those names
and me abbreviated, the thing of my name:
M | T | Mtn.
When I drive up 93 toward the farm,
toward the lake that hides the land around it,
the Mission Mountain range cracks the sky open.
I park in the driveway
beneath grey so white it squeezes in
through spindle gaps in branches—
so close and unyielding
that the two father pines and the many maples
and the ornamental landscape trees do not life it up,
but wear that sky as a heavy collapse
caught in a moment of pause
from within the path to be devastated.
We three eat food and are in love. This is the easy way to say
there are stores beneath the floor.
Potatoes and shallots,
hard-necked garlic streaked purple,
jars beside jars, themselves
each staving globes of suction.
Preservation, a guardian hunger.
In the evening I whisper to the boiled beet,
like a naked organ in my flushed hand:
You are ground blood,
you are new born,
you have never been nothing—
thawfruit seedflower greenstart rootbulb handpull shedscrub mouthsweet
At the holiday table I say my gratitude
is a warm day and I am somewhat secret.
I go to stand beside the electric fence around the goats that are left
and—animal—I ache to grab the charged wire,
saliva iron in my mouth.
Later I am put to bed between the two and we buck and roll
in the heat of not fucking and the sweat of the guests,
how they know I belong to something but don’t know the to-whoms.
Still out by the grazed absence field,
I remember being photographed
holding the tawny goat when he was a kid.
His horn nubs burned down to the skull, to the not-grow.
They climb their doghouse shed, the goats.
Once, they got out and climbed my car.
I undo the power to the fence. I climb the shed like a kid.
A rash of lichen barnacled to the roof of sloping 1x4s.
Sea dollars, if I give little white-capped hills to aquatic imagination— jellyfish dried, flattened, and pressed within an atlas.
Lichen the color of lamb’s ear, but not the softness.
The page of a book left in a steamy bathroom.
Lichen like the squamous moon,
lichen like magazine photographs
over fertile tributaries
as they dry.
The newest colonies
only half of my smallest fingernail—a baby’s breath of green
branching like tiny coral in the rooftop sea.
I am fascinated by the simplest rules:
that a full flush is all only ever luck,
that three of a kind is exponentially more valuable than a pair,
that the same turned card lives differently between us.
And the speed of a run and double run and double double run—
coal black coal train stowaway run away.
An afternoon that Tracy goes to town
Margaret and I read The Thistles in Sweeden
to each other, taking turns,
and find it altogether too close to this home.
The story-woman wept
when she tore down the curtains,
but the real one just pinned them level.
The story-woman had a child
in her body and was made satisfied by it.
This one spent the growing season
with an abdomen of no baby, of “nobody’s there.”
Sorrow in the no-child.
And crying in the rows of tomato pearls
beneath a broad-brimmed hat.
When these conversations were so not mine to feel about—
just held out my comfort hands in the field and,
dazed from the summer sun,
watched a bee bumble drunkenly among the blades of grass.
What fills the vacuum space when one is displaced
by a much smaller thing?
The avalanche moves in me.
Iconography as it stands:
bison cut into wood : claim jumper claim jumper
dog-eared bedside : one million baby names
county line | rail line : place where you surround something
egg in the hen house : city pigeon, a pencil through its neck and still alive
ledger : the dank erotics of a lover’s gym clothes on the Sunday morning floor
February : shame muscles flexing in my mother’s tight jaw
I think about you a lot now.
You know this, in some way,
even if you never come to exist.
I think about the insufferable things we ask of children.
How I was born to make my mother happy,
to make her into a mother
unlike her own—one whom we would not watch drown herself.
One who would not orphan her teenage daughter.
[Give me these pronouns for now, I need them.
It is always a her, it is always a doubling.]
And how I made myself secret.
The way 50 degree dusk will forever have me
walking home from middle school
how I was so unhappy then,
how I lived outside my body,
how I planned never to touch anyone.
When I thought about dying a lot, I was captivated by
self-immolating monks and Jains sweeping that uphill sidewalk
so as not to foot-crush a single worm beneath a leaf.
The Jain death of rice then water then slow no-hunger hallucination.
I thought, I will keep this in my chest only.
And the other way I think about you— in phone call.
And in this thought, even now,
you are my grin. You, small nothing.
I imagine it is Margaret on the phone,
so glad and afraid.
Or Tracy, or both of them, on speaker and I have a right thing to say.
I imagine you as their voices cracking because
the wait has been a breaking too.
New abdomen growing.
Holding you when you are real, if you are real,
saying you were the second stripe on a test that meant
more life in their house.
Once you are the “somebody’s there,” hold on hold on in there.
I will step away from the dinner table to take the call.
I will step into the pantry, my own stores.
I will walk out to the shed, I will climb on top of my own car.
I will let the cards fall. I will turn the power back on.
I will paint the room, I will build the crib.
I will love you hard, I don’t have to say it.
Will you grow here,
far enough out of town that the first time you hear a siren
it is a cowling caged-animal cry, bending through the hills?
Will you have a name for me?
Will you leave home angry?
What part of you will be kept secret?
Listen, little somebody,
your mule is nothing stubborn.
It is the weary task for you,
that which will carry your weight
across unsteady ground
with certain hooves.
Believe that the bald-faced moon won’t bluff,
that every drought has a brother monsoon,
that no shame is worth hiding, it is theirs not yours.
I had gone to my mother’s house alone, adult,
to clean some things.
Before my walk to the uphill train station,
I let the door of the garage close for what seemed
instinctively, if uncertainly,
to be the last time.
And in that slow mechanical shutting
a sigh was breathed between us,
our warm cavities equal in musty near-October.
Appendix of a home,
kites on the rafter shelf
steeped in fumes of impatient idling.
That exhaustion, held in beams,
yielded soft with rot.
When the omnipotent gear began its overhead lurch
dust took on the breath smell of the dirt it had been,
of spreading mulch over the dead dog,
of closing the day's half used gallon of varnish,
of car wax and Round-Up and fertilizer
put in their places
for a tidiness that is Mother's Day.
Will you do this with me?
Shall we love them together?
You can call me the thing of my name,
and I can be small life
and you can be large life in their house.
Something I have never seen before.
This game half un-played.
I will stay in the guestroom if you’ll have me.
I will walk through walls to your crying sound.
Smallest smallest thing,
the avalanche asleep in you.
“Scavenger” was originally published in High Ground Coward and is reprinted here with the permission of University of Iowa Press.
ALICIA MOUNTAIN is the author of the collection High Ground Coward (University of Iowa Press), which won the Iowa Poetry Prize, and the chapbook Thin Fire (BOAAT Press). She is a lesbian poet, critic, and educator based in Denver and New York. Keep up with hermat aliciamountain.com and @HiGroundCoward.