The Saints Go Marching

by Traci Brimhall

The landlord stirs his wife, hands her a bucket and a sponge.
He tells her it’s happened again. She tells him she dreamt

she crept into a rookery as the shadowed birds slept. She held
soft heads between her palms and pushed until their sleeping

deepened. She sings to herself as she scrubs the stairs, Lord,
how I want to be in that number… I want to tell her

I set prayers adrift, but none have reached the ear of God.
But I don’t. I listen to her clean the blood of a dead boy

from the hallway. Once, my father made me shoot the feral cat
he caught in the garden as it hissed at me from a cage.

A week before, a girl had gone missing. No one found her
in time because the river bewildered the search dogs,

and they lost her body’s smell in the water. My father said,
You may have to kill someone to save your own life.

He taught me to stroke the trigger like a lock of a lover’s hair.
Taught me I’d be more accurate if I shot between breaths.

The landlord’s wife sings the third verse, Oh when the moon
is red with blood, as she scours fingerprints from the wall.

A dog barks at something it can’t see. Wind brushes snow off
the roof. I stare at the moon, pale and unapologetically whole.

Traci Brimhall is the author of Our Lady of the Ruins (W.W. Norton), selected by Carolyn Forché for the 2011 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Rookery (Southern Illinois University Press), winner of the 2009 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award.  Her poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, Slate, Virginia Quarterly Review, New England Review, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere.  She was the 2008-09 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and currently teaches at Western Michigan University, where she is a doctoral associate and King/Chávez/Parks Fellow.