Expanding Witness

        He burns the skin off their legs
to make them walk, make them alive, their deprived

        metatarsals—skeletal as a map, its barbed lines.

Witness to removal—hands to fan the flame,
the smell of rotten veins, their exposure to lighter fluid

perceptions—the charred carcasses
puddle the margins of gravel. He grips

        one hand on hock, fetlock resting on knee.

Repeating landscape, each skeleton forms a field.
There is so much life in bones—his motive and motion to

burn the sickness—how he unravels the skein of stillness,
animating the dead, their count rising as integer tinder.

Legs expand and then contract with pressure.
For days he returns to delete the bones, their traces,

        how he buries life in his stomach, marrow and all.






After living in Barrow (AK), New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, Bret Shepard is currently a McPhee Fellow in the PhD Program at the University of Nebraska, where he also teaches writing. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Letters and Commentary, Copper Nickel, DMQ Review, Hobble Creek Review, Matter, Portland Review, and elsewhere.

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