The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Matt Prater

Animal Husbandry

 

I stopped yelling at him
after the gills appeared. Before that,
I had thought it was just the great cliché—
that a man, after years with a dog,

would begin to look like the dog.
Things for us had, through mutual
non-fault, not been going well.
When we first got together,

his father had just died,
and my mother had died,
and we had been sweet
one to the other; but then,

once we had been bolstered
by sweetness, and normal
creeped back in, we'd found,
by degrees that we were not

each others’ actual normalness.
So I yelled at him for fishing,
and he yelled at me for drinking,
and we pouted in our mutual corners.

And so I, after years as a widow to creeks,
should not have found it surprising
if in my mind’s eye I saw my husband
as a little green around the edges.

That he had taken to drinking
three gallons of water a day
did not concern me; he did,
of course, work with his hands.

That his hands had taken on
a certain slime and earthy pallor,
no matter how many times
he washed with charcoal soap—again,

what was I to say: I had a husband
who worked with his hands.
He became quieter and quieter; but
he had always been sweet and quiet.

When the way he approached me
in the bedroom changed: well, maybe
he had read something in a magazine
he could not bring himself to say

he had read; maybe when he did it,
he thought it was romantic; maybe
when he slowed down that way,
when his heart became as slow

as water, when his hands over me
became as cool and slow as water,
maybe that was his way of
talking over new things to me,

that he could also never admit.
When the great change came,
I found him in the bathtub.
The bath was full, covered in bubbles,

and for a moment I think he has stepped
into the other room; I think that
he has drawn it for me; I think
I will turn again and find him

with a hand on my hip
and his finger slipping
under my bra strap. But then
there is a disturbance and parting

in the water, then the sound
of an impossible rush, and in a gap
in the bubbles I find my husband
dancing in his completed form.

There is nothing to say: he is lovely,
he is agile, he is green and good
and seems, with his big baby eyes
still his big baby eyes, fulfilled.
Oddly, I am not ill-moved.
There is a large Styrofoam cooler
in the kitchen. Without panic, I fill it.
Without panic, or confusion,

or even thought, I put him in.
We take his truck. This seems right.
I put on the radio to the only station
he listens to, and we do not talk,

as we usually do not talk—and it’s okay.
I take him to the water. I put him in the water.
Then I walk away. I do not think
about what I will tell anyone;

about what I will say to his mother.
It would not surprise anyone, I think,
if I said “he disappeared”. They would know
he had disappeared; they had always known

he was the kind who was always going
to have gone and gone away. The only truly
strange part about this is that when I went back
to the truck, when I got to it to get in it and go away,

to not turn back and not remorse, I found myself
not only turning back, but turning back and taking
with me his tackle and trim in my hands:
the wriggling neon worms, the pierceable eggs,

a pack (still fresh) of cool and living worms.
Since then, since that time, I have come and come again.
I search for him, I catch him, I put him back.
It is always the final time. Always,

the yaw of the rod is heavy, and in my hands
the pulse of it—slow, low, heavy—
feels like part of my own body. I am low
and heavy, the long yaw of me engulfed in water.

I feel the minnows tease the nub of me,
and it is enticing. I put in, and pull out slow;
I change paces, speeds, angles; I wait
with slivering anticipation
for my husband’s intense advance.
I do not change speeds. I do not vary.
I know that in the final moment,
with one change or mistake

or deviation the whole thing spills early,
comes short, falls slack. So I go numb,
and being numb I am not brainless,
but my brain becomes my body.

I think with nipple, hand, knee;
I think with only my numb, unwavering
long yaw, bobbing engulfed in the water.
And then, in one sudden release, he attaches.

He is violent. He is entirely enmeshed in me.
He lashes from side to side. And in this moment
I can no longer tell who has done what to whom.
He thrashes, and I reel; he reels, and I thrash.

The stick is bent as a bow is bent,
and is as rigid and taut as an [xxx]
if I plucked the string,
it would cut me and make music.

I cannot say that I won,
but I can say that after the subsicion,
my husband lay, mouth gaping,
in my bleeding hands.

My hands were covered in his agile, glistening shine.
His skin looked like a burnished glass bottle
covered in puddles of gasoline,
green and sticky and resplendent.

He bled from his hooked jaw.
I bled from the stuck fingers
that had de-hooked his jaw.
I could, even, have killed him,

as a hawk may have killed him later.
I could have buried my teeth into him,
as a great bear. And if I had, maybe
the force of him, maybe the great him
in him, would have entered me. Maybe that
would have completed the circle of him. And I
would lie if I did not say there was a deep fire
in me that wanted to put my teeth into his side.

But I did not put my teeth into his side,
or stick a penknife between his eyes,
or clobber him to rigormortis
with a creek rock. Instead,

I took him in both hands, and dipped him
in the water, until he shook his head once,
then twice, then took to thrashing again,
and I felt him slip from me for the last time.

And I took my hands, still coated
in that creek-green goo, and rubbed
the new essence of him into my body: newly wet,
fully wet, fully and unexplainably fulfilled.

 

 

Matt Prater

Just Absolutely Great People, Folks

 

It’s mild again today. It’ll be so
again tomorrow and tomorrow.
This is not the first strange winter
in a row. But you don’t say that here,
and you don’t dare mention it’s
a strange thing of any like, since
all they’ll ever say is either pshaw,
and call you the only snowflake
in this town—or, if they do agree,
give another line from Jeremiah,
and talk about the end of Syria,
and the foul beast and his mark.
So you do not cast what are not
pearls to those who are not pigs,
and you nod when something
is said about Mexicans, some of
whom are hard working people,
and how I’m just saying that people
are different and God made us
for different purposes and the only
people that want to complain’ve never
worked a day in their lives & I’d like to see
anybody with one of Obama’s phones
pass a drug test & I’m not racist
plenty of white people’s on disability
too—that, hell, half of this town
is a methadone clinic. But then, when
you think how this is bad you think
again about the week at work before
you slip back out of long diphthongs,
with your officemate with the bag
of Trader Joe’s pomegranate seeds
that you can see between their teeth
when they talk about Amy Goodman’ll
look at you just a little longer if you say
the words outsourcing or opioids, as if
there was any answer to what’s gone on
other than every one of those rednecks’ve
got a boner for the ghost of Lester Maddox,
and you remember you’re gonna have to
keep your mouth shut there, too. Oh,
Christmas was fine, you’ll tell them,
which it was. You drove to Pigeon Forge
to Christmas Village, you’ll say. But you
might leave out you ate at Paula Deen’s
place, or that it was good; and they,
in turn, won’t ask you anything
about the wildfires whatsoever.

 

 

 

MATT PRATER's work has appeared in The American Journal of Poetry, Appalachian Heritage, The Honest Ulsterman, and The Moth, among other publications. He lives in Saltville, VA. and is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at Virginia Tech.

 

 

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