the odds

In a college textbook I read sterile paragraphs about failing hearts, heavy lungs, dying brains—all the things that deliver their poison quietly. In the state prison the ceiling is cold and there is the metallic taste of a helpless death that no one is going to save you from. Along the route to church, nearly memorized, water flows between tangled grass and over the chalk-white bones of yesterday’s roadkill. I climb the upper half of a telephone pole, refill the water buckets, chain the gates closed. In the barn, gather leftover hay from yesterday to replace what has been used. Dust spirals from every itchy armful and mingles with the earth. There is a dirty, splintered rhythm to this that stays comfortable when everything else has lost its balance. In my mind, I stay lazy and contemplative on the roof of the barn instead of walking back to the house. On the stairs, somewhere between the floor of heaven and the ceiling of hell—what are the odds? It echoes like an electric shock through the shuddering air, lighter than any music, and never fades.

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