Back to Issue Twenty.

the gates


Remember the morning you found an owl
in the wire fence?

You weren’t alive to me yet, father,
even my fingers tasted like plums.

All that winter burned on the sill
two plastic candles, fake wax drips

that never slid down, glass flames.
Frozen sparks hovered in every window.

Another force, not taste, not desire,
dragged the shadows from our feet

so long they tangled in the low light
cast over our kitchen floor.

The shadows became marriages.
The wife’s mule became a white Corvette.

When warmth sprang blue-faced
chicories up we ripped them

over our plates. We ate. You told me
mothers usually get custody,

and she became a portrait:
two round eyes, feathered with lashes.

The world was painted last, as light,
white dots riding her irises.

Some other force, not death,
not yet, drew my hands

one into the other, turned them
into an outstretched bowl. How the body

contorts to cradle fruit as fruit
cradles its pit—hard, wormed stone

around which flesh translucent curls,
the effort to contain a miniscule abyss

while widening with intertwining veins—
Who doesn’t want to speak in tongues

of this. Plastic candles wait for their season
in a box. The face waits for dust in its frame.

The wife dismounted her white mule
young, a bough of cherries staining her dress

with the evidence of arrows. It isn’t death.
It’s just tugging each feather

from barbed wire all morning,
fingers numb with cold,

holding its body like a baby under the tail
while you work the second wing free.

Your trash bag full of owl.
The taxidermist shaking his head.

Gabrielle Bates is a writer and artist from Birmingham, Alabama, currently living in Seattle, where she works at Open Books: A Poem Emporium and serves on the editorial board of the Seattle ReviewPoetry Northwest, and Broadsided Press. Her work appears or is forthcoming in PoetryBest of the Net, the Missouri Review Poem of the Week, Alaska Quarterly ReviewWashington SquareBlack Warrior ReviewPassages North, and Guernica, among other journals. She is the recipient of fellowships and scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Hugo House, and the University of Washington. Find her at or on twitter: @GabrielleBates.

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