Jan/Feb 2024  •   Spotlight


by Maya Stahler

Rock art by Tim Christensen

Rock art by Tim Christensen


I let the baby I'm watching
put the loose lizard tail
between her lips and suck

out the drop of blood
probably tastes sour so
she shoots it back down

a sidewalk comet to the dead
ants she crushed with her toes
that stink the way dead ants stink

I scoop her up and we walk
her belly is warm with food and I
imagine how it would feel

to squeeze her into myself
to birth her out violet again and then hold
her like this over the barn bridge

she is trying to whistle I think
and I point at leaves and call
each one a star she calls them rats

we laugh and I pet her eyelashes
til I get one for a wish
she pulls at my hair as we reach

the barbed wire push
near the way-way back
where the fallow fields

are stripped and the old
silo stands tall and red
it's the one where we take

the dying sows before they
croak wheezing and fat
they step over their dead mothers'

carcasses before they drop
and get folded under shallow
moss like quiet sleeping logs

the baby laughs when I tell
her this story and she is pointing
at everything and calling it a

rat like: tree-rat, flower-rat,
truck-rat, me-rat, pebble-rat
and we reach the best fir

its needles a rusting of the sun
high up I once saw a branch
in the shape of a heart and

I swear it was blood and feathered
maybe I didn't but I set the girl
down anyways and climb to the

first limb and wave down at her
she is small, small enough to be
crushed if I stomped her hard

with my bare feet under this tree but I don't
see the heart branch and so we leave
retracing the line we made in the dirt

I eye the silo and tell the baby to listen
for a broken bleating an oink-like sound
we don't hear anything but slow slaps of chops

and when we return I set her on the country
lawn and teach her the word lemonade
le-mo-nade like juiced le-mons for us

as I pick the grasses and let slips of them
flutter back to the earth before they drop
she falls over when she tries to stand

and I let her bruise her face on the
hidden rocks of the ground and wail
until she is violet