“Now that you’re there, where everything is known, tell me:
What else lived in that house besides us?”
- Anna Akhmatova
There were stories of a town lost in the shadows of the five mountains.
Mountains that had sprouted like weeds from the flat lands of North America.
But the children did not believe them. Even if the stories walked across their dreams.
He watched her scoop the broken bird into her palms. She lifted it to her lips.
A kiss. A whisper that he could not hear.
She set the body gently back down on the earth, and walked away.
George was in love.
She kissed the little bird’s feathered cheek.
When she was a young girl her mother told her
that when the colony first came into existence they were able to communicate with the outside world by pigeons.
But eventually the birds died,
or lost their way in the treacherous mountain passes.
And the rest of the world ceased to be.
No one had told her that feathers were dirty, that even touching them was somehow wrong.
She liked how they tickled her skin.
“I love you” she whispered, and she felt what must have been apart of herself seeping through her hands into the little bird’s broken body.
She noticed the Shepherd’s boy watching her.
Six years later they were married. She gave birth to a son with hard black eyes. It was a difficult pregnancy, and no more children followed.
George loved his wife.
He loved the way she had cradled the broken bird in her hands all those years ago.
He loved her for how she held him when his father had died, and he was expected to bear the responsibilities of his family and flock.
He loved her for how she had held his son after carrying him through a treacherous pregnancy and hard winter.
That’s why he couldn’t tell her that occasionally he saw something dark
stirring inside Matthew’s eyes, and he knew something was wrong with the boy. his boy.
Matthew cut the smallest toes off of each of his father’s dogs.
He hated this small town. He hated the mountains.
He imagined ripping them up like pieces of paper.
He wanted to force his mother, father, Alena and the whole town to see the world
that he was sure existed outside of Broken Arrow.
In the night the Shepherd and the priest slaughtered the sheep.
The shepherd howled, but the priest told him that it must be done.
They were possessed. No flock under the lord’s protection would have bitten the feet of the shepherd’s dogs.
Zeus lived next door to the Shepherd’s family. He had lived next door to the Shepherd’s family, even before the time George’s father was the Shepherd.
He had heard the sheep scream in the night.
It had sounded like the screaming of women.
Twelve years ago his dog had died, and he loved it more than the Shepherd had possibly loved anything in his small and mundane life.
Or was it ten years ago?
His dog went to the market to buy milk.
His body was found stiff on the roadside.
The police officer who picked him up swore his bones were made out of driftwood.
Zeus was nearly blind, and the small town had no optometrist.
To him the dog looked like a sandy yellow blob, and he would have never found the body without the officer’s help.
But everyone in the town knew it was Zeus’s dog. He was the only animal who knew how to purchase milk.
If he drank enough beer that sandy yellow blob became the hair of his ex wife.
And sometimes the dog licked his feet when he was half asleep in front of the fire.
He got a tingle of sexual excitement.
The kind you get when you’re twelve, eleven, or even four years old. The kind you get when you first realize sex exists, and you want to press your body down on another body, or have a body pressing down on you, until it’s inside you, until it is you.
So he stopped masturbating when the dog died.
Not because he couldn’t imagine his ex wife,
who even in his imagination hated him, (because that was so real and solid it could not be denied). Who at the end of his fantasies was always so filled with longing she swallowed her pride (among other things), and begged him to “put it in her.”
He stopped masturbating.
Because, while he could imagine his wife without that sandy yellow blob, he could no longer hear the dog breathing, panting, slurping, and gnawing.
He could no longer hear the dogs organs and liquids sloshing in its
It was the soundtrack of his sexual life.
liquid against skin, skin against bone, bone against bone. Shadow against nothingness, against secrets. Against some ancient and deep thing that makes us human. That makes us poetry.
The sounds of shallow and young desire,
were contained within the mouth of his golden retriever.
When he stopped masturbating a tumor began to emerge from his forehead. It split his skull.
And he swore he was going to die.
And his neighbors, (which back then consisted of the Shepherd and his father), swore he was going to die.
And the doctors swore he was going to die.
No one knew what to do, because no one else in the small town had ever had cancer. A special committee was formed - it elected to cut Zeus’s forehead open.
Inside was his daughter Alena, curled up in a magnificent ball of pale feathers to protect herself from the rest of the world.
At first they thought she was a bird.
Maybe a giant pigeon who would reunite them with the outside world.
Some in the town celebrated. They thought they were saved
(even though they and their ancestors had never once thought that they needed saving).
Others spoke of ominous tidings, as if they were well known and had been passed down through the generations, but no one could remember hearing them before.
Both sides claimed it was an Act of the Gods.
But eventually the feathers fell away to reveal a girl.
And the outside world was forgotten once more.
Alena heard the sheep scream.
She covered her ears with her hands.
She dreamed she was a fish.
She dreamed they were all fishes.
That it never stopped raining.
George was no longer the Shepherd
and he had watched over the only flock in Broken Arrow.
He grew old over night.
His spine was beginning to split.
His wife remarked that he looked like an gnarled old oak.
But there were no oaks in Broken Arrow,
and they wondered how they knew that it wasn’t just a tree,
but something beautiful and old
that guarded the world from something more sinister.
To Alena guilt sounded like the screaming of sheep.
They followed her through her dreams.
occasionally whispering horrible things in her ears,
sometimes they only asked to be loved
but Alena didn’t know what that meant.
Matthew saw her cupping the dirt in her hands.
She was listening.
His father and the priest had slaughtered the sheep on this land.
He had heard them screaming, and they sounded like women. Like Alena.
Alena’s hair fell against her back.
She was wearing a thin shift,
but her bones betrayed her shape.
He figured he might be falling in love with her,
by the way he looked at her bones
and wanted to run his fingers against
their smooth whiteness.
But he knew what love meant.
A body pressed down on her, pushed her into the dirt, and she thought she was going to fall through the earth. Until it was inside her. Until it was her.
By the time Alena’s son was a grown man, the old Shepherd and his son were long since dead.
Zeus was hibernating in the basement.
The Shepherd’s wife had stopped cradling the dead
her hands were gnarled and overworked from writing poetry
And the outside world had remembered Broken Arrow.
It seemed to have occurred overnight,
but in all likelihood
it was a long time coming.
Alena’s son became a builder with massive hands
that seemed to enclose the sun. And in three nights he built a wall around the mountains
shutting out the light, the whirring of helicopters,
the noises of the outside world.
Zeus was deep within the belly of the earth. But even there he felt the rain begin, the rain that covered all their heads before
the women could scream.
The largest mountain in the world sits in Oklahoma.
Legend has it that its filled with water.
Children press their ears to the rocks.
Sometimes they hear the tapping of ghosts,
telling them to go away.