all the red looks the same: the sand, dirt, tar giving way
to darkness. the weepy bleed of rust. large steel crosses.
cattle gather in black shadows. rain spills through Kansas like a gift.
at the rest stop, a coyote devolves into carrion. what noble
brutality. what new cruelty I must learn here. geckos—husks in corners
of my closets. a dead kitten sleeps on the asphalt of a busy intersection.
steers: branded and burned. once, there was beauty and it was a wolf.
it howled at the red rock, found a mule deer’s leg in the desert.
named it bone. named it meal. named it gift for everyone I love.
once, my love was a willow tree. once, it rained and the sky tore to blue.
once, my parents called it a drought but it quickly became a fire. smoke
choked the air. the sun-hurt earth. when I drove across the plateau,
the sky opened up and screamed. what a sweet sound, its expanse.
rock formations dotting the horizon like grey tumors. the dark
was so dark that every light became the sun hurtling at me. I drove
until trains curled around me in circles. until the earth was something
else entirely—every cattle ranch: a religion, a small prize for god.
every jackrabbit and snake and sand-stained tire. I can’t leave a penny
on the ground. even if it’s tails up. I choose the bad luck and name it mine.
I keep it in my pocket until I sink into dust. when I open a rusted cemetery
gate in a town of one hundred people, mounds of dirt rise to meet me.
a wooden cross splinters with rot. a stray cat sings a song for the dead.
Sara Ryan is the author of the chapbooks Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned (Porkbelly Press) and Excellent Evidence of Human Activity (The Cupboard Pamphlet). She was the winner of the 2018 Grist Pro Forma Contest, and her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Pleiades, DIAGRAM, Booth, Prairie Schooner, Hunger Mountain and others. She is currently pursuing her PhD at Texas Tech University.