Late Autumn

Christina Collins

It swings gently from the raised bucket of the tractor,
naked, clean-shorn.

Tufts of wool still lanolin-sticky
clinging like dandelion-blond babies to

the prongs of the barbed-wire fence squaring off the yard,
the ground shaved bare as a sheep’s belly,

ribbons of mushroom-brown clay exposed
and then covered again with a thin layer of straw.

The sunset bleeds down the blades of the long knives
lined up on the sawhorse next to the tractor.

The sheep hangs, a plump pink-white plumb bob
dipping its red-ringed nostrils to the earth.

When the wind shifts and the crows fly out of the cottonwoods
the biggest man takes one of the long knives,

slaps the sheep’s belly with his free hand,
offers a few words that make the men nearest him chuckle.

He spits on the straw and flicks back his knifed hand,
flicks forward his knifed hand

and the sheep’s belly splits open neatly, thick glistening gut
spilling neatly into the dull steel tub.

In the big house on top of the hill
the women have gathered.

They are rolling dough and singing Lutheran hymns.

Occasionally a scrap of harmony
flakes off from the sturdy bulk of their hosanna.

Down in the yard, the men shuffle their feet along the straw
to keep mud from freezing in the tread of their boots.

Breath clouds their faces; a breath of smoke from the tractor
clouds the carcass.

The crows chatter,
resettle in the cottonwood branches.

Christina Collins is a writer and visual artist currently living in Minneapolis. She is the author of Conspiracy of Beauty (Gertrude Press), and a founding editor of Lockjaw Magazine.