The Inheritance of Daughters
The box arrived first-class and sat through
three long days of casseroles and condolences
before my curiosity broke its seal.
We’d put her in the ground the previous Thursday,
I’d been dreaming Montana ever since
(worn weary each night with the cry of cattle,
the slick glisten of slaughter, the bloody stench
of offal left hours in the sun).
Inside the box: tin-type, carte de visite, twice refracted
in albumen, the men with laughing eyes and
messy bow-ties, clever dogs dancing
to Victrola records in 1910.
They buried the women underneath, bound
in one careful little packet. South Dakota
this time, my mouth dry, refrigerator
humming like flies, the inscription, mother’s family.
Braided girl near a neatly strung carcass, ribs
Butterflied open, core scraped clean. Serious girl
in rounded frame, spider bite breasts, thick ankles:
Fifteen and pregnant, I recalled.
Twenty and bruised, I’d heard from a cousin.
Thirty and abandoned, or so the rumor goes.
There with the prairie thumbed open
like a Bible’s thick pages, her skin was my skin
barn-roughened, brindled by appraising stares,
(skirts pushed up, bare thighs and cold hands).
We were sick, grandmother and I, kneeling
on the hardscrabble dirt, fists tangled in short, bare grass
knowing exactly what that sickness meant.