Keller’s Daughters

By Ming Holden


Tarantulas creep as silently as owls fly, hairy brown legs on the white dirt road. Sage and mustard grow outside the window unchecked, climbing the fence.  The hay is losing bits of itself to the ground.  My dog Dugan, his long fur stuck with all manner of burrs, carries a squirrel in his mouth.  He brings it to the door and sets it down in front of him, only his eyes watching in that slightly concerned retriever way, and I see its little body heaving with silent gasps, its eyes shut and fur tousled, wet with slobber. I suppress the urge to kick Dugan; that would only be doing what he is doing, inflicting pain on an animal without killing it, and I don’t want to kill my dog.  Still the little tired body of the squirrel pants, a blue jay hops along, a great vulture’s wings darkly low to the ground near the cottonwoods.  Want the squirrel out of its misery but then think of Father once describing a king snake and a rattler in the embrace of death, a four-hour intense struggle.  Who’s to say it isn’t beyond pain now?  If a series of spring grasses aren’t flashing in its minute brain?

The pump starts to hum.  The antelope startle and I hear the hoof thumps of their skitters and starts.  I’m still mad at my dog but I can’t do the killing myself. To get close, to carry it to and fro and watch its labored breathing while unable to escape?  Just finish the job.  A yellowish chicken barrels past the barn, its wings pointed back, its head and neck leaning forward.  I laugh, then see the other dog in hot pursuit and yell at her to stop and she does.  The weak squirrel noses the pavement, its small legs splayed, its belly sinking into the blocks.  In Father’s collection there’s an old movie about a scientist who saves the head of his wife after a fatal crash and revives it in his laboratory.  He leaves and her eyes flutter open, her head is connected to all manner of tubes, she moans Let me die Let me die.  My dog lays his head over the squirrel, his jowls draping down over its body.  He catches one each day.


I tell myself it is only because they look alike, my ex and my father, but my daydreams feature one or the other interchangeably.  In another dimension I take him by the hand into Pattibakes and we get chocolate cupcakes. I tell him to smell the air, the kind of heat that breathes. The thistles are dry and something in the smell gets me in a way nothing else does.  What to do with all this solo driving? This liquid between my legs?

It seems the wise thing, to devote energy to the moment at hand. If I am taking a shower and singing, to not sing and imagine someone else is hearing my voice. To simply bring my mind back to where I concretely am, and then be there, looking at my shower curtain and extra shampoo bottles, smelling the smells, tasting mint when I brush my teeth, redrawing the blueprint. I could be folding laundry and fighting the Big Fight inside my head. Then the future reconfigures itself; its possibilities assume the shape of his face: a quarter moon out my window.

I slipped out for drinks at the Maverick in Santa Ynez.  I gave my number to someone.  I did not go home with him.  He was a friendly guy, home from law school.  Perhaps I should have gone home with him.  I liked what I could smell of the inside of his mouth when he talked. I got tired after the wine wore off, less excited to go home with him and smear the rhetoric of another person’s wet all over my body, which I suppose is growth, since I have not always seen that doing so would indeed have been nothing but rhetoric.  These days whenever I wake up I feel I am tied to the bed with velvet rope.  It is that kind of soft immobilization.  I cannot stop picturing actual human hearts, their weight, the blood.  I have seen viscera before, in mice the cats leave on the doorstep and in antelope corpses the vultures got to before our father burned or buried them.


Ming Holden grew up on zebra farms and went to hippie schools and loves working in Mongolia and cashews and lakes.  You can read her fiction, nonfiction, journalism, poetry, and translations in The Best American Poetry Blog, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Poets & Artists, Huffington Post, LICK, The Poker, Slice, and other stuff.
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