Conor Scruton lives in Bowling Green, Ky., where he studies literature and works as a graduate assistant at Western Kentucky University. He also interviews poets for Red Paint Hill Poetry Journal. His work has appeared in Appalachian Heritage, Off the Coast, New Mexico Review, and others.
The mother sticks a double-threaded needle
in the eraser of a wooden pencil,
her daughter’s friends captive to the ritual
about to take place. Hold still—
she puts the barely-pubescent hand skinny
knuckles-down on the kitchen table.
Then she dangles the pencil from the thread,
her thumb and index finger unmoving,
and the girls bite lips, their eyes wide to see
if a promise of babies will bubble
from veins in their friend’s wrist—what path
the divining rod will trace. Up-and-down
for a boy, side-to-side for a girl.
They all lean to one side or the other,
Like they could wish a well
to spring up somewhere new, she thinks,
or pull water from the earth on a string
clasped fast between fingers—like the fearful
pangs that strike young bellies couldn’t
matter less to those who have pinned their futures
at the bottom of a pendulum swing.
And they say our teeth are shorter, too,
our tails whitetipped, our ears
folded over from natural selection
and years of nibbling them
in wooded clearings, in parked cars.
We get gentler as offspring
come along (they say) but there are so many
other traits that fall away
in the spiral of ourselves: a hand
slides a belt out of its loop (softer
than before), whiskers press
to an eyelid, pupils widen to catch a memory
out of moonlight. And returning
to wide grasslands of our undomestic grandfathers
in books, preserved in ink
next to their sneering skulls,
we remember how much smaller they were
than the world (and think of how we are
bit into each other hardtoothed
as a trap, everything
so close we try to forget
what to clasp or why, how
to claw back the spaces
we can’t even see between us).