My dog’s ribs knock against each other like tin cans, and she runs loud clanky z’s through the field. I hit the dewberry bushes with my fishing pole because cottonmouths like to hide beneath them in dark places so warm and sweet.
The sign on the fence says No Trespassing, but there’s a secret pond back there, which means it’s just me and my dog and the snapping turtles biting on ragged edges of sky. I fish for bream with spitballs made of bread or else for catfish with chunks of cheddar cheese and I sit on the dirt-edge of the universe, listening to all of it at once.
I bring in two rainbow bream and one large-mouth bass and I carry them home in a five-gallon bucket. My father gives me his knife and I slit the smallest one, its gills still opening and closing, along the belly. Black, oily blood and a whole treasure chest of guts spill out into my hands—pieces shaped like lumpy ropes and polished stones and tiny golden ears. I push my thumbs into the wound and spread the ribs apart, ripping out whatever’s left inside, and then I hack at the fish until the one eyeball still looking at me clouds over and its flesh is no longer white but stained brown with blood. Flies everywhere, my hands slippery with bile, and my father thinks that I am the most amazing thing. Blood spattered on my cheek, a glob of mucous caught in my hair, and my father pretends, just for this moment, that I am no longer a girl.
My mother is the face looking in through the window. The shadows in the yard while we sleep. The grass growing thick where the septic lines run. The dead armadillo, or just the shell I mean, the soft insides baked to mush and swarming with ants. She is the compost pile: the potato skins and the lettuce leaves. The knuckled ends of carrots, the eggshells like shatters of skin. She is the garter snakes in the leaves beneath the deck. The scorpions curled up in the cells of the bricks. The swollen black spots on the maple leaves. The eggs twitching inside. The worms raining down from the trees.
She is the space behind her hands. She is the blank page in a book. She is the roots of her hair. She is the spoon I leave in the sink. She is the space beneath the door. She is the copperhead coiled up on the street.
She is the empty shells from my father’s shotgun.
She is the empty shells crushed up in the driveway.
She is the empty shells of the cicadas still clinging to the rails of the fence. Watch them rock in the breeze. Crunch them between your fingers; grind them to shimmery dust—she’s that.