When the Village Goes Hungry

by Ashley Jeffalone

With our shrinking bodies, we invoked that ordained circle, a ring of us around the sapling. I shivered with its frozen leaves. A sister’s dry palm in my left, a sister’s wet palm in my right, the winter wind there on my throat; we sang the songs only learned at midnight, when the ordinary and the secular slept. When I’m older and sapped, I’ll lose the words. But I’ll remember how they tasted that December, half-starved—round, baked, the grit of fresh soil. Warm silt. Raw sugar. We sang low into the roots, sketched the tree rings with our paper tongues. We spoke the bark into impossible being. Our circle embraced the trunk, swelled to sway and stagger, gave us over to dizziness. My mouth tasting of dirt, I wrenched my hands and cast myself, a steward of the earth, into snowfall. Beneath me, the ice ran at my touch. Branches above me opened with fruit. I saw it with my own eyes. We moved the earth, and we’d do it again: feed the skeptics with our crop and endure their hisses. But my sisters content and my stomach full—such things felt nothing like devilry.