After the casting out we are flung
many-bodied into a ravening cloud.
We take hold of thirty acres of green cotton.
We are hunger made explicit, deathless.
The two youngest of the farmer’s children
hide in the root cellar among tubers and dirt,
and stuff their ears with corn silk
to drown out the noise of our bingeing.
The oldest son is whipped for wishing,
days earlier, the crops would die so he could play.
No death stronger than our hunger, we stay
undead, kicking in puddles of poison.
Even boot heels push us into the ground
unharmed, our imprints like seals in wax
on unopened letters to God.
You are so close.
You must play to win.
Happiness a scratch away.
Your numbers almost hit.
The tumbled Lotto balls, your angels.
The horses circle like earthbound buzzards
around your peace, which is lost by a furlong.
Tomorrow, two more tickets.
Tomorrow, you bet on the red dog.
You bet with the egg money.
You bet no one will notice
Grandma’s orange bottles are near empty.
Easy money dies hard in the mind.
The mind shuts on the idea of it
like the jaws of the sand-colored pitbull
clamped on the throat of your red dog
Until this summer, when I turned eighteen, no one looked at me.
Hair the color of maple leaves in October and milk-white skin
made the others shake their blonde heads at me,
always walking away trailing names and knife-mean laughter.
Now they call me Scarlett Fever, if they say any word at all.
I sleep with a corona of braids around my head all day
while the sun burns over their broad backs in the cotton and hay.
Then I wake and drive to the club, unraveling my hair as I go.
From the stage I can smell their sweat
under fresh soap and beer fumes. I can smell their want.
Their wives have heard of me, those pinch-faced girls
who once had contests on who could make me blush first.
They think the men come to see my albino, pink-eyed breasts
or the small lick of red flame between my legs.
Not even the men know they come for the rippled light
shaken from my hair. They covet it like stolen copper,
like the blood of their enemies, like my open mouth.
As I dance I hear a dry pine-needle rustle in my ears,
the thousand thousand voices calling my name and theirs.