In the barn’s orange blush she is bending to milk the cow when her father takes her from behind.
Not to scream. Not to turn her head. It is the first while on her period. His penis—
an iron-hot poker prodding her aching tunnel. He cums quickly, crying out like an angry child. The cow’s milk spreads like ghost fingers across the barn floor. She thinks of his juices mixing with hers, making a pink, sickly ooze that will stain.
His scream in her ear. He’s seen his bloody prick.
Five knuckles to her neck. Her clothes torn.
I give you ‘til sunup. Then I release the dogs.
She flees into the forest.
She is naked.
First, only blackness. Branches breaking. Breath.
Twigs reach to jab exposed flesh. Eyes of strange, nocturnal creatures follow. Heading into tangled mass of vegetation, she strikes an erratic path with no destination. Only away. She could be running in circles. She could soon run out on the meadow by the barn where he is waiting, pants down in moonlight, unnerved cock still red with disgrace. The dogs at his side, with honed teeth.
No question of her crime. Crime of being.
She nearly stops at the thought. But the trees are growing thicker, taller. She is going deeper.
No man—not even the cobbler, whom she loves—ever went as far in as she goes now into the forest.
There is wind on skin. There is the moon, it’s mercurial shine. Dirt underfoot. Her steps slowing. Her breath also slowing.
Sounds grow louder and more varied. The nightingale’s trill. The gossip of rodents. The crunching of twigs. In air the sleepy, heady scent of growing things. Faintly familiar. Recalling childhood, her long-dead mother.
It is here in the forest’s dense secrecy she knows she is meant to die.
When she is too tired to lift her feet, she stops to feed on berries, which glow wine in starlight. She drinks from a midnight pool. Her reflection startles her—red hair surrounding pale face like a Christmas wreath, nipples rigid and pink as the noses of barn mice.
She falls asleep, one hand dipped in silvery water.
Ripples go out from the tips of her fingers, where tiny fish come to nibble.
The sun mounts the trees, thawing stiff breasts, sore sex.
At surface, where her fingers still dangle, the water is tepid. She waves her hand. The fish scatter and dart deep to where it is cool and black. She cups the liquid, drinks greedily, then steps into the pool to bathe. Mineral green on her skin is like the cobbler’s caresses, the memory of which is already dimming.
Here…at last, I belong.
The sound of her own voice startles the still air. Bushes near the pool tremble as the stink of some hostile creature rises up, a warning.
Far off, the sound of dogs barking.
Deeper in. Where the trees are black from root to leaf. Where there is no sky.
Days and nights pass. She no longer eats only berries but hunts for rats and mice, snapping their necks, gnawing their flesh while they are still warm and almost alive. Their blood crusts to her fingers, like the red that still barely trickles down her legs, faint stains appearing on the piles of leaves she lays on at night to sleep.
Wakening to ants and beetles swarming over her,
as if her body were a log or a corpse.
Breath making vapors in early air.
The moment she stops walking upright, falling spider-like
to the loam. Creeping forward on all fours, body coated in soil—
an animal, with the animals.
No longer does she see her reflection as she laps as a deer
from pools of fetid water in the forest’s heart.
The air turns. Frost on the branches,
tiny white hairs.
Fevered dreams. Conjuring light on the barn floor as she bows once again beneath the cow. Then the blaze explodes. Her father pushes back inside, taken
by his own blind, brute fire.
How the cobbler’s hands turned to tree bark as he softly sandpapered her skin.
To touch and be touched. To be refined, not reduced
at the foot of one ancient black tree.
Roots reaching into earth, deeper than any man has ever dug and retrieved. Deep to cleave.
At water, bone—