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Megan Merchant lives in the tall pines of Prescott, AZ with her husband and two children. She is the author of three books with Glass Lyre Press, Gravel Ghosts (2016), The Dark’s Humming (2015 Lyrebird Award Winner, 2017), Grief Flowers (2018); and of four chapbooks, and a children’s book, These Words I Shaped for You (Philomel Books). Her latest book, Before the Fevered Snow, was released in April 2020 with Stillhouse Press. 

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Fields of magnolia and sulfur. Fields of brick.

        Soft fur. Somewhere there is a horse leaning


into shade, the dream of apples and mint

        cantering the air. A fallow of light. Damp


honey and mold. Streaks of this world pressed to skin.

        I wash my hands under the pump, cold. Let the stains


bleed into a wood bucket. Paint under my nails.

        Indigo. Soil. Take a picture,


a friend urged, of her death bed hands. For when she

        is gone. Satin. Pinched laughter. Bone.


They molded parts of me. The dog’s fur holds the last stroke.

        A map of tuft, a canvas of ash.


to the songs I’ve learned to play badly, to friends who phone

at 3 am because the rain is a trigger, their fingers sore from cutting


the hands out of every magazine, gluing them to the walls.

I’ve come to love the loud flowers on my neighbor’s scarf, her hair


buried as seeds underneath, her small dog—pupils dark,

like a pond in the distance we could almost row, but don’t,


to circles under eyes—what if the rest of skin announced

such loneliness, to the ravens who shake the trees, the records so


scratched the needle skips and seals words between—

was my mother dancing to this in her kitchen, while I played at her feet,


was she holding a dreamscape of horses grazing to get her

through—I hold stones with healing properties, a limp feather, ache,


to the metronome of fear, to the neighbor who takes an ad

out looking for someone to fix his cuckoo clock, to those still trying


to set time right so they can show up to the party, the meeting,

the class, life like a kind of soup made from scraps, add salt,


to the dream I had where I was laying on his chest and wanted

nothing, to waking and wanting only that. 


I edge the doorway with salt,

Plant baby teeth in a bed with sage

use the tip of a nail to prick a field of starlings along my shin.


I have come to learn that every yes has teeth,

and apologies are not lined with bone.


At daybreak, we travel the opposite direction

and drive until funnels of green stretch

into rows of tidy houses, basements buried except for

windows made only for seeing out.


I ask if you are done with anger. You stop to buy seedless

watermelon from a roadside farmer, then play the radio too loud.


Before it grows dark,

you ask what use is a hammer 

to a field of corn whose stalks already bend

like broken fingers, by which I know

you mean yes.


I am raising a militia of sunflowers,


lining them in front of my porch,

where I know light is sparse,


but these days call for chances

some other version of me would


cringe as reckless. It is no longer

enough to say love, crease a page with


that jujitsu—months ago I plunged

avocado pits into glasses of water


that dinged, eventually their hard

shapes split, and the held-seed softened,


but refused to unfurl. I wanted only

to give my hands a thing to bury.


My left breast, I tell the nurse on the phone.

One lump hard, not unlike the small stones

my son treasures into his pockets


while hiking. The other soft. The earth is

an oblate spheroid. I am reminded of this during

distance learning that has become


the epicenter of our house. It’s easier to recall

facts when they are chained to an experience.

I download a star chat to find


Andromeda after the clinician tells me there’s

a backlog of woman that have been waiting

months for imaging. I am placed at


the end of this invisible line. On Mother’s Day,

we are without a grave or marker to visit,

so, we speak little of the tumor that grew


in her brain, instead pile stones for a

slingshot, measure the arc of each fling.

I do not know if it was coded,


or chemical, or how long my mother carried the spec

before it swelled and barbed. I snap tendrils

that wound our wrought iron fence,


brittled during years of direct sun. We call this

cleanup a reclamation, forgetful that we are

borrowing this space.


I’m high risk, I tell the nurse as she logs

my specifications. Height. Weight.

The history that swims in my blood.


I use my mother’s maiden name as password.

She reads it back slowly, as if pulling the

margins of each letter clean.

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