After Birth

By Devon Walker-Figueroa

Reed, who’s got one strike left   before he gets
   life, tells me afterbirth is what the cougars are after.
“Lambing season,” he says, “plus, placenta’s a delicacy
         to a cat.” I try to explain how
 
intent they were, how their intentions appeared
        to involve me, but Reed won’t hear
a word. My    mother takes me at my word & won’t
  let me leave the house. So I learn to regret
     my story, sit indoors       for weeks, watching
 
for hunters, only to find what’s hunted: the gray
        diggers interring green
walnuts at the feet of the tree    they fell from. Now
all I can think of is blood, how we first feed
                                              on it without knowing
 
we feed on it or that it possesses   a plan all its own. Every girl
                 I know has started, nicknamed it
Florence or Flo or the Red Badge   of Courage. It’ll be years
   for me. When a doctor finally says      I’ve fallen so far
                                 off the growth chart he’s worried
 
I won’t find my way back,     I’m fourteen
                           & can still go out shirtless
without causing a stir. “Eat more butter,” he says, but I don’t
        yet believe      what I eat will help me hate
 
        my body any less. Reed doesn’t hate
his kids. He loves them      too much is the story. People tell me
        to avoid him, but I don’t. His flock grazes
the fields I drag      my shadow over & I    have nothing
    better to do than gaze at the perpetual       feeding, mumbling
Exodus under my breath,    some passage      about bearing
 
                            false witness. & somehow I think I know
licentious. My parents     haven’t known each other in years
        & no one wants    to know me either. A tree falls
                 in the woods. Consensus leaves    us cold, etc.
 
Green Eggs and Ham,       I really dislike that kid’s book, with all
    its I-would-nots & could-nots on boats & in woods,
all its reds & its greens inter-         mingled, muck of inks
      you should never swallow. A doctor hands me
 
           a copy, says, “eat up” & pulls a polyester curtain
between us. I’m three & can’t yet read
                 any word on my own    but “God.” He reaches
his hand, gloved         green, inside my mother & says,
   “what about this weather we are
                                 having?” Just between us,
 
I warn the story’s      star not to touch
                  its plate, but in the end it’ll do
   what the good Dr.’s scripted. I throw
                               the book. My mother stops singing
beneath a stream of steaming
                    water, a red-black mass dehiscing
at her feet. “Find    your father,”
 
she commands, so I run
                      through yellow meadows, yelling
   his name, his name, which the hills give back
to me, though he can’t        hear them from the other side
                           of this state. On the other
 
    side of this state, my mother
                          finds her first horse. It is 1980, decade
of the single-wide & no-children-in-the-
                          picture. Just a mare called Chianti
        who dies one year
before I’m born. Her heart, size of a child’s    globe, fails
 
while foaling, something involving      a length of decayed
               intestine & great        pain. My parents take
great pains to save        her, but the foal will lose
                        her         the instant             the air
 
enters his chest. In Egyptian hieroglyphs, “I” can be rendered
     as a single reed & “meadow” as a row of three
reeds bound by a flatline   of horizon. I know little,
                              even now, though enough
             to say my name & know it isn’t
 
mine, but just       an inadvertent testament
      to my mother’s love of horses & “good
breeding.” In an ancient Seventeen
               Magazine, a British teenager of means
straddles a dappled pure-
 
         bred bearing my name. 17, the age I am
when my interior starts giving up
        the way it’s meant to,          with blood,
& thanks       only to pregnant mares held
       captive, their urine stolen for the green
       tablets I’m made to swallow. & though I feel
like a martyr outgrowing      martyrdom when it happens,
 
      a sacrifice of sorts is still
                    taking place inside me. I admit I’m kind
      of a poser sometimes,    like when I convince my best
friend Ann I’ve started,     when in fact I’ve only used
               my mother’s lipstick          to tint my underpants
      the right shade of red. I’m the first
 
     to admit I’ve begun     to forget my mother’s
writing as it appears      in Arabian Horse World, some piece
         on giving         birth & up & tricking a strange
mare into caring for a foal            not hers by painting it up,
    by daubing         it down, in the afterbirth of her still-
             born. What more could one ask for?
 
My mother once rubbed moonshine on my gums to numb the pain
appearing inside me. Moonshine,      the name given the foal
       dressed in after-       birth & therefore breathing.

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