What hides beneath skin over any body – that of water? flesh? This morning

a white dress of fog spread smooth across an empty bed, then crept

between long crisscrossed legs of locusts, blood-

rust in wan tines of light beside whispering Caldwell Creek.

I heard a tick-ticking. Felt my heart constrict, a wide leather strap girding

the mare’s girth. Another blood-daubed tissue, tossed in a wad under the sink.

She shakes her head inches from dirt, flicks an ear, swishes long black strands

to release a storm of motes. Hand at rest on a velvet flank. Hand like a moth

troubling someone’s pale column of neck.

White rabbit whose claws have grown so long they curl through

wire mesh he stands on – motherless, colorless – , his red eye rimmed pink

follows me back and forth across the hutch. Hello?

As a child, my squeaky gums broke open for molars. Years later, to let jaw shards

surface, after jack-hammer surgery, my restless tongue teasing nubbins to spit.

Index finger nattering a scab’s edge, lifting it to leave the hole gluey like meat.

He says something’s trying to get out – ants or threads. As soon as it’s crusted,

it needs to be picked. Scars with scars under ooze. Sticky fingers, black

crescents beneath nails. Drifts of tissues, stained

snow, feathers scattered across the clean cream envelope I lost, in which a letter

explaining everything lies folded.

My mother’s mouth moved to shape words near the dirty beige plastic at her chin,

though no sounds fell out. A spring, the twisted cord, kept her tethered

close, flowers splashed across walls. Busy pointers, nails testing

ragged skin. Her head bobbled, a dashboard dog’s. By the time she’d hung

up, she’d torn off another translucent flap, a fat red drop wobbling on her thumb.

Hello? I said, holding a block to my ear. Hello? Hoping to hear a breath.

Sturdy, my legs like trunks to straddle hospital sheets, vagina split wide and

wider. In time, I’ve freed four creatures this way, blue and wet then pinking up,

though one never took a needed breath.

Something’s ticking inside the wall.

Is it any surprise I’m so polished by day, the nacre layers having built for years

around the sand, the seed, the hole?

There are two things I lied about:

The scuffed patch on my spine, scraped raw from the braided rug, spread-

eagled at the foot of that woodstove chugging smoke. Something unspoken was lying

on that floor too, as we watched clouds drift past windows until dark

when we buttoned up and carried our chafed selves to dinner. I’m not proud; it was over

after we’d left the colony, choosing to slide back into other lives,

but I’m sorry.

The cat, though, is another story. I knew those tiny worms

weren’t crawling from her anus, not tapeworm but larval, poking

from a wound in her haunch where a mess of filth and matted fur had opened

a gash. She’d never let me brush her, lived under stairs in this new way

for a few weeks, maggots writhing from her side, alive but being eaten. Tell me:

what kind of monster am I?