Word For/ Word: A Journal of new writing

Kristin Kostick

Process of Elimination

When I shot him square in the back
his torso snapped backwards, the sky closed

its fist. All morning, over shots of rye,
me or him. me or him. In my bedsheets,

field mice fed on dead flecks of skin,
and the gunpowder under my fingernails

swirled through a hundred dusty towns
miniaturized beneath my nail. Flip it up, see them:

women and children crying together in the night,
embracing against the onslaughts and pye dogs

burrowing their snouts in the blown-off shoes
and open mouths of the dead.

In those thorny, war-torn worlds, too,
a smaller me shoots him, over and over,

at the high-noon stake-out, or from the window
of his bedroom as, blindly, he makes love

or I leave my boots at the door to sneak up
while he shaves in the foggy mirror, and the straight-razor

clinks into the sink as the bullet goes
straight in, his reflection

splintering in the glass as wild horses
splinter across the prairies,

and I wander from one demolished town
to another, pressing my face into the mange

of the howling mutts and the mothers' breasts,
equivalent pillows for the damned,

how we love each other then
on our ways out, fissuring off

into the dilated pupils of the dogs'
close-up eyes, those other caves, other skies

as the wild horse slams its hooves toward the horizon,
forgets everything. I forget everything,

blood in the dirt, and the ground itself
channels the sounds of far-off trains

into the fallen man's ear.
In the canyons, ghosts everywhere

follow me, trying desperately to be seen, moons
inch invisibly alongside the day.

In the cleft of my eyelid, a broken horse
twitches in its sleep,

then wakes and bolts suddenly into the hills
reappearing later at the camp as a dead man,

wanting to be fed, hungry mice tucked into his cheeks.
Deeper still in the mice's mouths, rows of me

fold neatly together as handkerchiefs
before a funeral. When I hear the shot,

it happens so fast, my spine buckles
backwards, in the distance a horse breaks

its own bones to rid itself of its rider,
both of them fall to the ground, barely feeling

the earth rise up, just the dreadful thud,
the sensation of something leaving us.