The dead are breathing inside me now,

everything slowing to the pace of the newt
crawling across the bricks, the old cat watching,

the newt too slow for even him
as the crack in the earth opens and the roots

rise up to trip me. Fire lives in me
and the fear of fire, plague and the fear

of plague, death and the fear of death
though only it will silence me. I remember

the abandoned freight cars
standing on unused tracks, doors open.

I saw through them to the stubbled fields
beyond. The owl sitting on its fencepost late

in the day, the creek and its flowing,
the pied horse in its pasture—I was afraid

I’d lose them. If I could only do just this,
the long days filled, me longing, in pursuit

of something exquisite that eludes me, always
clumsy, never knowing the manners

of the place I have entered.

Copyright © 2023 by Maxine Scates. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 2, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.