Only to hoot, to speak flitting blade in the dark, mouth
able to sound verb for thing, him chicken eat. Not know
gallop but for sound, stud but for knotting haunches,
tipping its body, arching its head toward dirt. Chewing
hay under a ranch that, bean-juice skin tight as saddle
leather, neck stiff as a coffee can—as lanterns go out,
stud fed and tied to post—Mangled piles up some hay,
rests his bones for the long day of pounding tent stakes.
— — —
Ringmaster swigs moonshine from jar, stomps camp,
looking for LuLu’s pudgy round face. Mangled wakes,
remembers the switching, musky soil, the stud’s hooves
sucking mud, LuLu moaning in the night. Stock of spade,
thud of stakes drove in the dirt; the performers sagging
in their bones, their breath spent breaking in frost-thick
dawn, the trees swaying barer as the day wears on, wind
carrying the red and yellow leaves across the fields. After
the act, LuLu writes letters for Mangled, that he trots
stud into the show, bullwhip in one hand, bridle the other.
— — —
She did not write about a scar that runs down his cheek,
or the clown he stabbed near Tulsa. LuLu writes about
his new square-toed boots and the creased-up Levi’s he
bought at a mercantile in Lawrence, Kansas. She writes
about his haircuts, how if he could, he would write letters
himself, but signed with his throwing hand. Sometimes she
reads him Westerns and Sgt. Rock comic books—she lies
about what the stories say—that his skillet face ain’t so flat.
— — —
Him horse ride, LuLu throw with knife, fire cook meat. Him
audience laugh make, headdress wear. Him horse smell
snout, hooves scrape rock out, horse-apple chew hand.
— — —
Sundays LuLu and Mangled go to the Baptist church before the start
of the show. They sing hymns, sometimes they walk down
to the river with the congregation and watch the preacher dunk
the pudgy babies into the bright-sparked current, Mangled
thinks about the creek-bed soil, LuLu in her Sunday dress,
her face painted blush, lips bright, glossy, shined for the show.