Letter written in a raven’s fist
BY ASH BOWEN
Braven Hand, whose beak-like nose earned him the nickname of “Raven,” was hanged for the murder of his lover, Pattismith Oakes, in Tinsman, Arkansas in 1887. Letters written to Oakes’ family were later found to be forgeries that Hand had written in an effort to prove that she was still alive. Inexplicably, many of the letters speak of her being held against her will.
I’ve made myself into a sea my husband cannot
pilot. The nights he paddles across my body, I turn my stomach
into a storm of rocks rising from the waters. I clabber
my mouth with milk before he comes to kiss, ignore
the figs he brings for me to freshen the bite
of my breath. Ten times he’s capsized our bed searching
for a son but I’ve drowned every seed he’s put inside of me.
Whenever he leaves, I cast my fingers over the lands
I’ve found hidden in his maps—countries smaller than my hands
but close enough to row to. Each time he returns,
he finds me huddled before the shore—staring
past the ships that slap against the fence, the ocean
he’s somehow boarded up.
Another Kind of Beast
BY ASH BOWEN
This land is another kind of beast.
And when I can’t sleep, I walk
with it, past Birmingham,
where they put Buddy Moss’ lady
down. This land has feet
like small animals. When cold, it leaves
the prints of a deer, when hungry,
the tracks of a girl. When the land
can’t sleep, I walk with it
where it wants to go. Past
the old kill yards where the wind
shakes the slaughterhouse
chains. Where a steer bucked
loose and sliced them boys
and they hosed the blood
out with all the rest. The Lord
saith this world is the killing
floor now. Down here,
tombstones grow on their own.
Their letters move
like quiet through the clover, go
house to house until they find
their namesakes sleeping in our homes.