/em j parsley

three bodies and the memory of a fourth while the earth turns slowly

and when you pivot, as a creaking garden gate
in late fall, know that you’ll have to swing
back and remember—but not yet. see first:
the silver rifle nestled
in the dewy grass;
your nails encrusted with
the deer’s blood; you gnawing
at your fingers and tasting
—iron: biting at the golden teddy bear charm, expelling his stale air—
a still-dying doe as she shifts
into something useful for you. turn

on that weight and look—no, not at that. look:
the bloated calf’s corpse you pulled
through a snowy field loosened
your fingers’ numb grip on
the back hooves. you slipped
on mudslush, the wind kicked
from your lungs, you were
—closing your eyes, throat, fist around the charm’s ruby heart—
breathless for a week. remember

when you face it—no, not just yet. remember:
the cornsnake, tortured by the neighborhood
boys, wrapped in tape and spray painted
gold, and how you sat with her for hours,
soaking her bound body in soapy water until the tape
sloughed from the scales and she
could breathe again, and you
—would steal his lungs, if you could—
—would shove the charm down his throat—
—would see how he likes the helpless cry of choking silence coming from his own lips—

fed her mice even though you love
mice because she is gentle in her consumption.

and here’s the measure of the weight

—the weight—of turning on your heel
to look it in the eye as it asks
you to live—yes, live
the stiff knuckles working
through your rat’s nest hair and
his clinging breath on your ear that pushes
across your jaw, past your cheek, seeps
into your body, the only one you have, through
the eardrums and nostrils and teeth and the little golden
bear with the ruby for a heart, imprinted
in your palm by the pressure from your thumb—
this also is full and leaking what is his. you are too young
to understand that his hands shouldn’t move
like that and you shouldn’t breathe like that. you did not
know until you laid next to a sleeping woman for the first
time that breath is supposed to be an equal give
and take and not a series of syncopated
seizures where your lungs try to escape with
the memory that they were once wings. step

just inches away from that face and remember
his hands because you must, but
also remember your palm on the dying doe,

which was mercy. do not forget mercy,
and do not forget the spot where your heel twisted
into the dirt as you turned, where your lungs
re-learned the steady and even affair
of a resting breath, where you crushed
the little bear, wrenched the ruby from its core, set
it on your tongue, and felt its weight throughout.

Em J Parsley is an MFA candidate at the University of Texas at El Paso and an assistant editor at Juke Joint Magazine. Their work has appeared or is upcoming in The New Southern Fugitives, Vagabond City Lit, The Saint Ann’s Review, Every Day Fiction, and various other publications. When not in El Paso they take care of chickens in rural Kentucky.