Cattle Graveyard

         By Margaret Abigail Flowers

There are bones scattered in the grasses,
gray and faded, hidden between scrubs
and pricker bushes.
The summer air is thick in my throat
as I dig for bone treasures, a jaw,
a femur. I’ll find an intact spine,
vertebrae still hanging together like a silver bracelet.

The coyotes live in a cluster of trees across the field,
restless as they wait for the next cattle death
from old age, fever, infection in the lungs.

The last one to die was Railey, and she’s
over by the oasis, her hide stretched thin over bones
picked clean by the buzzards circling
like puppets on wires above my head.
Their shadows on the ground before me are hallucinogens,
and I stumble toward thick-boned skulls to mount on my bedroom wall.

Once, I believed they came here to die,
knew to lay down with their late kin;
I know now the rancher and his boy drag the carcasses
far from the barn and main house
to keep the coyotes at bay.

My father tells me the cattle mourn their dead,
the deep lowing in their throats a cry for the ones
who fell behind, who couldn’t make it to greener pastures.
We gather their bones in silence
after years of sun bleached them clean,
because this stretch of pasture is as close
to touching death as children can get,
collecting ghosts of beasts long gone
still chained to their bones.