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Martha Park

Animal Heart

In the morning, when the sheep come to the fence, they leave circular imprints of their bodies in the frosted grass. They run to shake the ice off. When the sheep break stride and hop like rabbits, I laugh myself boneless, draping my body over the fence like laundry. At dawn, the sun pops over the mountain, illuminating all the sheep sleep-places spotting the hillside like small crop circles. We count the places they dreamed up.

In the cemetery we let the dog run. His body is a long, undulating, line, threading the headstones like a necklace behind him. We watch for the streak of his body and orient ourselves to it. Then we don’t see him anymore. We don’t see him slip out the gate, either. A different sense lets us know he’s gone—a felt absence, maybe, or the suddenly still rows of headstones. We walk the neighborhoods and then drive for hours, calling his name. It’s only after we find him, after he creeps low-bellied into the kitchen, sorry for the mess he’s made of a good morning’s run, that we cry for the litany of things that could have happened.

Before the screaming, there is the flutter of plastic on the hardwood: the rat that’s been banging through the radiators is in your bedroom, tap-dancing the glue trap across the floor. I tell you I don’t want to see it. We take the dog to the foyer and all three of us stand looking at each other. I ask if you have to kill it. When you go back inside, the screams come faster. In the foyer with me, the dog is shrieking, too, wanting in on the kill. Wanting to be with you. I hold tight to the dog’s warm body, trying not to hear your footsteps thudding from the bedroom to the back door, trying not to hear the muffled, distant hack of shovel into spine, the quiet that grows from there.

Martha Park is from Memphis, Tennessee and currently lives in Roanoke, Virginia. She is an MFA candidate at Hollins University's Jackson Center for Creative Writing, where she works as a Teaching Fellow and assistant poetry editor for the Hollins Critic.