The Farmer’s Daughter

by Melissa Benton Barker

What happens first is he kisses you, licks your neck, then your tit, then he’s like a snake charmer calling up something slick and flickering, a lit coil sparked alive inside you. Joined now, you breathe together then buckle, then he’s gone, and something dries up like the tide drawing in, you’re dry like bone littered with pine needle, crackling. Hammer and batten down the hatches. There’s something new here and it needs everything. A lodging, a burrowing, a hollowing out until you hold a new planet, a whole world turning on its axis within you, the unwanted multitudes are multiplying, you place your hand on your own belly and it rumbles hard against your palm and digs in deeper. Your father and mother call you down for dinner. She smells like ground beef and talcum powder and your father, he’s always been a quiet man of knuckle and bruise. You sit with them like you should but you can’t stand to hear them chew. You wish they’d turn the light off. You’ve gone feral. You prefer to eat alone, in the dark, tiny morsels touch your lips over and over because what’s born inside you can’t tolerate much at once but then again it never gets enough, it’s voracious, it’s famished, like a black hole it will swallow everything, until it stops.

You didn’t tell it to stop, just like you didn’t call it forth, you didn’t ask for it, you never ask for anything. You couldn’t wish it away hard enough if you wanted to, that magic was lost in your bloodline long ago. The stillness, you tell yourself, isn’t your fault. The black blood comes first in daylight, stains the sheets from your childhood, patterned with princesses once pink now rust. Your window is open, curtains pulled apart to reveal the merciless sky of Ohio, a blue dome shredded by cirrus, and always, so much corn, corn standing tall at the periphery of your father’s property, cloaked in the withered husks of autumn, like a warlock’s circle parted for a true-green lawn, meanwhile your mother’s thirsty browning mums clamor at the pink brick along with a seasonal display of shellacked gourds. You manage to pull the blind down on it all. Dusk falls. You lurch to the bathroom and wait. Your parents come and go but don’t look for you, your actions and your absences are no longer strange to them, you’ve been there/not there so long. 

You lower your body into the empty bath. It holds you like an egg. Your body cracks and your self seeps out, you watch from above as your body is strung out on the rack but not you, not you, you’re dangling from the pink light that frames the bathroom mirror, a dozen polka-dot light bulbs, you comb your hair and apply lip gloss and make fish lips. You’re a girl, you’re a daughter. You’re not the one in the bathtub with screams stuffed like wet rags down her throat, the girl who eats herself inside out with silence, who so desperately needs some help right about now but does not want to be a bother.

And then, after such long pain, she comes, a perfect curl peeled out of you, purple-blue, and already breathless, here but never here, arrived but already gone, revered in stillness more than you will ever be loved in life. Oh how oh hollow moon: you will be damned for this. Bend low, girl, and clean yourself up, then stand and carry the burden.