The Herd
Tina Barr

They sound like rain; hooves tamp and wade,
grass a thousand strings drawn across horn,
a passing of dozens, beyond the four taut
barbed wires, below the poplars in the dread
shadow. One frisks, lifting its hooves,
in the lee of its mother. Mostly blacks
and browns, but in the flow one white
and brown faced, a speckled calf.
Many ears are moving forward and back;
tasseled tails lash.  The ears of the run-over
possum are like small pouches cut from black
leather. Its long face is marked with dark
almonds around shut eyes, a curled claw
under its belly, its tail an early fern.  Someone
from the herd of cars slammed the little body;
the meanness in me wants the orange flatbed
to slam into a standing cow one day, and lie
in a hospital bed, seeing the needle’s
arc to fifty. Up in quarry land, you can see
the rock outcrop even this far away, where
Farley went with his friends, eighteen, out
on a lark, walking miles overland, fishing out
the reservoir, and, approaching, smelled
something bad.  Inside the lee of rocks,
heard the tails of rattlers: festooning granite,
a lasso, a festival of yellows, tans and blacks. 
Close up, the scales look like bark. 
They never went back. I know people like that,
turned rattler; I can feel it, the slink in the voice,
the curling up of feelings. They are late
to meet me; they talk wedding plans for months,
never invite me. I know now, to listen for it,
not rain, but an edge, like a rock shifting in
a voice, to drag us into their own dread. 

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