Joseph Haeberle, Steam (Artist Website)
Photograph, Nikon D750

Through heavy eyes and smoke I wade
across the gravel yard up Mill Creek Road,
the boys sitting on the gate of the Bronco, semi-autos
nestled in the crooks of their arms like bouquets.
Ale—the dog in heat—wedged between,
above the hounds who have been taking turns
sinking into her backside.
Chris from the general store rings me up
for apples and cheese on the daybreak highway
to the ranch—cigarettes now and then—though
tonight instead of handing me change
he folds my fingers around a 9mm
and I aim for the setting blaze—hitting low,
striking hillside hide, dust popping, backlit golden
by another day, done—
the punch to my palms pushes me
half an inch deeper into the ground.
When the night gathers enough cold to harden
the welts from recoil and mosquitoes,
I unload hewn splinters of wood
in the sheets of black hung behind the fire,
finding myself pulled up against an ATV,
wrapped in long denim legs and the heels
of cowboy boots digging into me
like I drive the bay mare into a lope
along the rail. He grabs hold of my face
as if roping reins weren't short enough, pushing
anything I try to say to either side
of my tongue, his thumb
settling into my left ear, warm water
thoughts—a softer mouth, slower breath,
softer, softer still—dripping
from the right, running
down my neck into
onto dust,
soaking up red.

Hillary Berg