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Peace Be With Us
Traci Brimhall

-Brazil, 1965

That was the year the chickens drowned in the flood,
the year I dreamt of empty coffins and went mute,
when the bodies washing up on the riverbank
with burnt soles and welted backs were called suicides,
and no one told the children any different.
They wanted to throw the ruined hens off the dock
to see if piranhas would eat them.
Everyone thinks that’s the day I stopped speaking,
but they’re wrong. I understood that children grow excited
when they’re hungry and new to cruelty.
We washed the lice from their hair with kerosene
and killed the dogs that bit my daughter. I don’t know why
she was asked to suffer or why I was asked to watch.
She lost her hand and walked with a limp,
but I kept dreaming she was shot down by soldiers.
In dreams, I heard her pounding inside a coffin,
but when I lifted the lid, I found another smaller coffin,
and another, and another, until it was so small
I couldn’t pry it open, but I heard my daughter weeping,
and I couldn’t stop the knocking, so I swallowed it.
When the children buried the dogs, they blamed us
for their wildness, so I let them toss the chickens into the river,
thinking the dead don’t mind what becomes of them.
I could absolve them later. I watched what they did—
saw their face brighten when the water came alive—
and washed them clean. Some days God requires
too much of us. It wasn’t until the next day after pulling
another body with absent eyes and blackened feet
out of the river that I was struck dumb. I couldn’t help myself.
I found a hole in the corpse’s throat and thought
There. The coffin is there, and this time I can open it.
The body didn’t turn toward me when I pushed
my finger in and pulled out a wet curl of down.
I opened its mouth and saw white feathers.
Dozens of them. This was the world
I was commanded to love.