Back to Issue Twenty-Eight.

Instead of the Women

Finalist for the 2019 Gregory Djanikian Scholars Program

we talk, mostly, about him—mostly, we talk

about the powder-sugar whiplash he induced

in us, as though—despite years of the dog

licking our hands—we find ourselves nonetheless

surprised by the rows & rows of teeth

in his mouth. Yet upon the kitchen sill

we position his virtues so the light can pass through

each one: he was good, good at drawing, traversing, as

lightly as a doe, the base of South Mountain. That’s how,

mostly, the town told him to the journalists & investigators—

as graceful prey, or else a good, quiet man who took

his meals at some of the better homes in town. Skinny &

stray & sweet, they took him in, the Cleavers & Smiths

& Goldens. Alice in particular sought to raise him

though she wasn’t his mother. A real nature lover James

told a reporter, telling how once he’d sketched two

rattlesnakes for seven hours as they copulated. Like the

caduceus, the physician’s emblem, the reporter wrote. Yes, two

snakes, and in the flooding May rains of 1988, after he’d shot

two women, he barreled down a creek in a one-foot-deep

metal vat made for mixing concrete, at which point the dairy

farmer’s wife, Esther, called out to him, and when he’d come

ashore, and she’d asked, Can I trust you? he replied, Well,

ma’am. I’d rather do you good than harm. She could’ve

named him Moses, the way he’d slide by, but he didn’t

have clothes appropriate for church, so while she & her sons

worshipped, he stayed to milk the cows. Sweet & stray & asking

Mr. Cleaver for a cup of coffee, and before the police pressed

his face to the gravel—long before he delivered a plea of mute

to the Montgomery County court—Mr. Cleaver took him

along the Carlisle Pike to a shoe store for a new pair

because his old ones, he told Esther, hurt him.


[But tell me as I am telling you—would it surprise you to know I am not from this town, though I am from a similar one, inhabited by similar people, its same silence torn by .22-caliber rifles, or else similar semi-automatic weapons, its shotgun houses stowing similar dogs in whose gums are kept similar rows of teeth? And tell me, would it surprise you, or, would it surprise me to find in your mouth, or mine, those same teeth? Irrigated by silence. We are all reporters, we are all biting our bullets. So if, say, you held them to the late spring light filtering through the kitchen window, would the enamel catch? Would it shine through?]


Though mostly we talk about the women, in 1988,

to describe them as lesbians, or rather, to describe

why he shot them. We talk, mostly, about him

because our shock at his actions forgives us

our inaction. The women, alone together

hiked the Rocky Knob Trail, and, under an oak,

copulated, as—across the creek, belly-down in bramble,

his finger pressing the rifle’s trigger as lightly

as lips—he watched, and perhaps, a year earlier, watching

the two copulating snakes, pencil in hand, he sought

on paper to correct them. To sterilize them. Seven

bullets into spring air. He shot them and it

surprised them. He shot them, and neither

woman expected to see her blood. No one

expects to see their blood. The woman who

didn’t bleed to death later explained how she’d

surprised her late partner with dark chocolate, how

they’d been eating it minutes before the bullets

bit down on their skulls & spines & necks.

Sweet, and the weather forgiving, and how

they’d been talking about that topic

we mostly talk about in the seclusion

of someone we love—that is, the future

and how to be, by it, the least surprised.



Where Are My Horses

Finalist for the 2019 Gregory Djanikian Scholars Program
Previously appeared in The Cincinnati Review

The house was burning. The house has always
been burning. My great grandmother, drunk, a cigarette between her fingers,
my great grandmother drunk, asleep, her fingers loosened, the cigarette
on the carpet, the carpet like a closely cropped field, and then not at all, a field
of poppies ravenous and breeding that shrill orange color, closer to scarlet,
carpeting the walls. A house fire, a self-immolation. A wild fire
in a house, and she slept until she slept. And then, a great granddaughter
sleeps, drunk, with a baby in its crib and a cigarette in her loosened fingers,
and maybe it was wood this time, not carpet, maybe it was a fire of a different
shade, a smokier or a violet, bluish orange. But a house fire, and the baby slept
and the baby was gone and the mother as good as gone. And then my house, its
                           fire, a long fire. For years smoldering, drought-fed, it trickled
from the eaves as red dirt, thickened in rows like stalagmites marking the perimeter
of the house — trees of it, not the burning but the burn itself. A different breed of fire, but
fire: hot dust like ash in the lungs, the blistering field of concrete. The horses in the barn
below the house, the dust in their ears, the hard, empty echo of metal-soled
hooves against concrete, restless. Maybe the horses knew it first, as animals
always do, but somebody — my mother, or my father — had the good sense late one
evening to get me out. And so a window was opened, and then shut; my bare
feet slick against the shingles, I edged along the eaves between the creeping
plumes, and jumped, and the concrete caught me, and the sound was
less hollow, and I ran for the barn, and I let them out. And
                           now, I ask, to where, and why
                           did I not go with them.

hannah perrin king

Hannah Perrin King’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Cincinnati ReviewThrush Poetry JournalThe Missouri Review and Best New Poets, among others. She was a Tin House Summer Workshop Scholar, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and was the winner of AWP’s Kurt Brown Prize. She’s currently a senior affiliate editor at Alaska Quarterly Review.


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