Sarah Fawn Montgomery
When Mama says the word is final,
pulls her lips into a flat, thin line
like a fault, plates grating, erupting temper,
she says, “Because I said so,”
and it means no more back talking,
and the argument is dead
like the electrocuted cow we saw
on the prairie after a thunderstorm,
eyes glossy, tongue silent and frothy,
or the deer on the side of the road
crushed under the wheels of some kid
that didn’t listen to his wise Pa
and drove too fast on a Friday night.
Mama crosses her arms, kills the request,
or the question, or the earnest plea,
and goes back to canning peaches
or shelling peas, snapping them clean
with her strong, calloused hands.
She turns her back and opens the oven,
yeast and steam hitting us hot in the face.
No one says a word—we know it’s done—
but we can’t help but think of when Mama
lops the head off a clean white chicken,
tries to silence it with a single slice,
but it runs the yard a while anyway,
spurting blood and flapping.
Or the snakes we spy in dusty fields,
the ones Mama takes a hoe to,
whacking their long bodies right in two,
hushing their hiss, their rattle, protest, nag.
Except she can’t turn her back on them,
because even snakes freshly killed can sass,
and the dying or dead still possess the reflex
to open wide and like a mouthy child, bite
one last time, venomous at the shush.