Stone Telling

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by Erika Peterson

My family made coffee in the morning
    and washed our dishes at night.
We worked for our money and spent it in joy.
We argued sometimes,
And held each other's hands.

When the water came, we were washed away and forgotten.
Just debris now -- the dead and the living alike.

When you've been thrown away, you see things differently.


The mud spoke to me,
The suffocating river,
The sludge that buries
    trash and dogs,
    bicycles and children.
They're all the same there,
Dead, dirty and hidden.

The mud ate them and it spoke to me.

Promises were made
Between me and the mean weeds.
The chickweed in the cracks of the pavement
Bargained with me.
The deadnettle made me an offer.

God help me, I did not refuse.


I know who owns the empty places.
I know who lives in the spaces between
    in the dry weeds
    in the stunted trees
In the cloverleaves
Between highway and street.

I sit at the roots of the water tupelo
In the wasted places.
The cottonmouth passes me by.

I sit at the roots of the sweetgum
     the swamp hickory
     the soapberry tree.
The crossvine twines around me.

I grow.


Twisting knotting doubling back
The water moccasin bites its tail
Mud puppies roil in the ditch
Catfish barbels drag me down.

I've been down before
I come back changed
The roots of the cypress
Drink me in
When I rain back down
     I don't know myself.


cicada screams
grasshopper creaks
strident breath
drowning thoughts

louder and louder
the bird-voiced treefrog
louder and louder
the narrowmouth toad
that is their song
murdering sleep

it's my song now
in the spring I wake up
and crawl from the mud
to cry out the truth

now you

     will hear it.

Erika Peterson lives with her family in the woods of southern Illinois. She's a serial hobbyist: her current fad is hybridizing daylilies. Her short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons.

Photography: adapted from Louisiana Morning by Jim Dollar.