The National Poetry Review

Amber Flora Thomas


I swore I wouldn’t be an animal again, but I clawed at my brother on the porch steps,
lining up my breaths between each word. Bullets healed out of my hide as I looked
from him to the tree line south where he said mom made him
bury them alive. “Maybe the hole wasn’t deep enough.”

The animal swung her hind quarters and pulled her lips off her teeth,
nickering by the porch until I got her to the feeding trough.
She ate undeterred in the early afternoon shade.

My brother rubbed his fists after swelling tears, a cowlick of sun-scorched hair
stood up on his crown. He didn’t know how to be an animal. He leaned on the shovel
and he told me he could still hear them crying underground

Lightening tore into me then. I saddled my animal
and got away. I rode her on the fire roads to Salmon Creek,
clucking if a branch shimmied or a twig snapped so she’d stay; so I could stay
mounted and unstartled, riding.

Three days later, I went to dig them up but couldn’t find the grave.
It was every time I looked at Mom, I’d dig them up, seeing
something secret and awful in her eyes.

We got so far away it was dark by the time I reached our driveway.
I hopped down and walked her the rest of the way. My animal had worked hard,
foam gathered at her licks, waters and salts greasing the saddle. I knew
I’d run something out of her. She was thirsty.
She was hungry. I fed her an apple from my bag.

Mom shifted her eyes on the dark porch, but I saw the red mouths
opening under her coat and felt who had followed her out of the woods;
she wore their preening glaze in her pace.
Where had I been, she wanted to know.
Where had the horse carried me?

AMBER FLORA THOMAS is the author of three collections of poetry, including Eye of Water, which won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, The Rabbits Could Sing, and most recently, Red Channel in the Rupture. A recipient of the Dylan Thomas American Poet Prize, the Richard Peterson Prize, and the Ann Stanford Prize, her poetry has appeared in Tin House, The New England Review, Callaloo, Orion Magazine, Saranac Review, and Alaska Quarterly Review, as well as Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, and numerous other journals and anthologies. Currently, she is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina.

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