It was a country road, turning on too-fast tires
and no power-steering—that old ‘76 Ford,
with rust above its wheels and dragging a muffler,
with crumbs on the seat and eight-track ribbon
unwound into mounds, tucked
under the dirty bench seat
beside candy wrappers;

dust clouds kicked-up and made a gritty fog.
Headlights flashed to catch some surface
but snagged trees and disappeared
into the empty spaces instead.
The beams flickered, then,
like on a movie screen.
That haunted house strobing turned
slow, slowed time

I saw a body hanging limp
from low branches–
a dark figure lit from behind
like revelation hanging, swinging, silhouetted
then suddenly bright
colored, fiery red in a burst of flesh.

In a moment,
it was made real and dripping,
then just a part of the darkness again
in an instant.

I thought it dripped its gore
into silvery buckets,
nearly full to their brims.

I screamed,
then clapped a hand over my mouth,
but he slapped me anyway—he slapped me so hard
my teeth tore my cheek.
It shredded
into hanging skin I would toy-with, wiggle.

My mouth was bloody
and filled with a dull ache
I called survival back then.

They said it was a deer,
trussed to drain,
pinned like a heavy butterfly,
exposing the meat for hands–
its stomach flayed,
muscle cleaned to cook.
It wasn’t a man.

They said it, and I heard
when the ringing in my ears stopped,
when my ears popped like mercy.
They said it
when I’d calmed down and was silent,
again, like I should be.
It was a creature turned meat,
and certainly not a man–
certainly not a man hanging there
from a tree.

Now, hush.