Dry Lake, Nevada, 1983
Ice in the rim of the water barrel. Sky so thin, the mountains rip holes in it. The dry lake in shadow; the mountains tipped white.
When they set off bombs underground I feel the ground hitch.
A couple acres away there’s a trailer with no door. A woman and five kids live in it. They block the door with plywood at night. Sometimes I hear a cat crying on the other side.
Me and Nina used to pick a direction and walk out that way straight into the lake. Once we found an old mattress, a bucket, beer cans. The mattress was bleached by the sun, with imprints.
Another time we found a snake skull, followed by six vertebrae. The skull weighed nothing.
When my horse died we had to tractor a hole, then push her into it. Her legs stuck up. My stepdad jumped in the hole, folded her legs to her belly. Her mouth hung open, and I saw her teeth. They were yellow, with brown stains near the top.
The wind blows all the time.
I can’t see shit outside. The dark has texture: grains, phantom lights. Sky so thin the stars rip holes through it. I know the lake is out there, empty and silent.
Dust storms are white.
My mom lost another one. They break off at the gumline. She takes horse penicillin for the infection. I ask her if it hurts. She says, “Yep.”
I startled a coyote from her nest. A moment frozen: her narrow snout, the bright, brief eye.
Some kids drove their truck into the lake last night. They were drunk, they thought the road continued but it was only the moon, shining off clay flats. The lake is dry. They didn’t swim; they flew.
Autumn Watts is a recent MFA graduate of Cornell, where she now teaches. Her fiction has appeared in Indiana Review, Mode, and Portland Review.
This is her first published poem. (9/2005)