Tall Grass by Amanda Crum

As the town bakes we
take turns riding on the handlebars, weak breeze
ruffling hair like a fatherly hand. Everything here
is predictable, plotted on a map. Even the bullies
with their cigarettes tucked behind greasy ears,
we see them coming a mile away. They are expected–
if not wanted–
guests. My friends want out and I guess
I do, too. Here is the dirt lot where
I took my first punch, taste of pennies
when I licked my lips. There is the
tree we all used to climb, eyes cocked to the West,
elm leaves shivering across the sun. Under
the weight of that train whistle we slept, heads
heavy on pillows full of ghosts.

We set out early, unable to cheat the mercury.
Sweat beads, drawing mosquitoes; lives are challenged;
stories are told in the safety of moonlight as
cigarette cherries burn and wane. I watch my friends
as they sleep and when the light begins to creep in
on little cat’s feet I steal away to prolong the quiet.
There she is, a sweet doe on the tracks, a symbol
of the innocence we’re all bleeding out. A warning.

With blisters worn on heels and toes we move, drawn
to the tall grass beside the tracks. Here, scarlet ribbons
tell a story. There, a single empty shoe kicks a lump
into my throat. He’s there, unseeing eyes turned up
to the hail that’s begun to fall like ash after a disaster. He’s real,
as real as the dirt lot where I took my first punch and the
tree we’ve all climbed a thousand times. I want to take it
all back, the journey and the destination, because I know
that when I get home everything will be different. Smaller.
I think of the doe and her thoughtful eyes, heart stuttering
beneath a silken chest, and what I would have done to protect her,
to keep her blood off the tracks.

Amanda Crum is an artist and writer whose work can be found in publications such as SQ Magazine, Blue Moon Art and Literary Review, and Dark Eclipse. Her first chapbook of horror poetry, The Madness In Our Marrow, made the shortlist for a Bram Stoker Award in 2015. She currently lives in Kentucky with her husband and two children and feeds a healthy obsession with horror movies in her spare time.

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