The rain rolls from the clogged gutters. I wish I’d drank the last of that whiskey squirreled away with the cooking oil, the big pot for potatoes, the cookie sheets. The hinge on one of the upper cabinets fell apart, and I closed the corner of the dangling door inside it facing mate. One door holding the other until I find parts, learn to operate them. For now, I’m dry, still. I listen to the earth collect what it’s owed by the sky. There are no gifts. The clouds offer their hearts but hold to the receipts. My wife said she’d call before church in the morning, but I know she won’t. The rain will have passed to cool breezes and flooded streets, and six missionaries are coming to plead their cases. They’ll play slideshows of foreign lands, their neat, straight families in tow. They are selling all they own and going. I’d like to hold that debt, but my heart stoves up. The rain swallows and shifts across the rooftop. There’s been no thunder, but the dogs curl at my feet. We’re all learning to sleep even when noise and light and every endless moment walk close enough to lay hands, pray the last of that old life out of us.

Everyone A Stranger


I ain’t forgot what you said to your daughter the day I married her. I’m a day out of the tank and somewhere in South Dakota. The girls at the gas station looked at me like I’m crazy when I asked where I am. Maybe I am. Crazy. I don’t have a change of clothes or direction or hardly a dollar to my name. I’m missing a handful of beard Cathy yanked out my face and my eye’s black from that man she’s gone to running with. But they’re all rude here anyway. Looks they give you and the little they’ll say. Everyone a stranger.

I ain’t forgot what you told her, and I remember what she said. She’d be right there with me long as she felt like being. Jesus was their truth to that. She was gone soon as the feeling passed. First I blamed the guy and that jacked-up pickup and that smile of his and all the shit it eats. Then I blamed you a while. I know how you like to crawl inside her ear, spin the words around for everything she sees. Now I think maybe you was just warning me. That’s a kind way of looking, I guess, but you turned out right either way.

Out here the plain just keeps picking up and rising, mostly like home but drier and no one’s trying to do anything with it. All prairie grass and sunflowers. The sky stays purple. Billboards far as you can see. If I keep going I imagine it rising to great sprawling peak, or maybe it only falls away again and disappears. Dip in a landlocked sea. I don’t reckon there’s much need for this, but there’s not much farther I figure to go, and I remember how you told her I was a quick fix to the wrong problem. I’ve been thinking about it mile after mile and I think it’s close to the case. I think she wants to make everybody love her but still just knows the one way. I think she’s always at an altar and halfway through a vow. Never matters what’s behind. I think about you standing there shaking with your list of reasons and your big damn-it-all finish. You said it’d be hell and ugly. Said I’d be gone before long. You said the end would be quick. You were right.


War Bride

My Daughter,

They’ll line you up with flags and rifles, swords depending on the branch, but you can’t love a man in uniform until he’s out of it. You’re not his mother. You’re not Jesus. Just throw your hands up. But not in praise. Get him on his back. Dim the lights and make him wait. He’s been across a desert or two and dreams of the jungles his father crossed. All he thinks about is water, how to cross over or else between it. Make yourself an oasis. Let him scan the horizon, rise after rise, until your face breaks. Then bury him with your body. Let him drink you in. He always smells blue like steel and aftershave. He’s too gritty. You only can scrape raw until you melt away against his teeth. Say his name. He won’t answer, and he’ll look away. He’ll look back and push a little harder. It’s okay if you’re okay. Pull up your heart and stare out into the uneasy rockets and starbursts of night. The sun will take him away again. The wind and endless black seas and hopelessly shifted sand will ferry all but the slightest piece you hold into far-off conflict and death once more. He’ll glance over his shoulder and smile, or grimace. Wave. Weep. He’ll miss you, but he won’t stop. You’ll carry on. You have to, always.

Keep love,


MARVIN SHACKELFORD is the author of the collections Endless Building (poems) and Tall Tales from the Ladies' Auxiliary (stories, forthcoming). His work has, or soon will have, appeared in The Kenyon Review, Wigleaf, Hobart, and Tar River Poetry. He resides in the Texas Panhandle with his wife, Shea, and earns a living in agriculture.