Baba Yaga’s sister was a loose tooth. Jagged branches tore at her gown when she danced, the fallen leaves swirled and spun around her. She liked the feel of a thorn’s scratch, the heat and shiver. Sap rose and old trees tried on coats of new green, wore garlands of birds. She was bold enough to not duck at low clouds.

Baba Yaga’s sister went west. Always restless, she took her daughter, the plump one. They hid in the cable tier, kept aboard by the ship’s boy, skinny but horny, until they ate him. Hid in the powder magazine where they pissed into the grains to make it stronger, the dark room as rank and foul as the gunner’s kiss. Bored, they swam ashore in Madeira.

Blond, the daughter was, and she changed her name in the New World from Yellow Fever to Quick Promotion. She didn’t sleep well and roamed the jungle. It talked back at her while others claimed all the best hiding places. She caught a whaler’s glance and despite the owner’s best efforts—Quakers and Elders—she tended the trypots to stay warm. Oil soothed her mother’s aches. When a fisherman came alongside to sell cod the women realized they hungered for salt.

Where the woodsmoke said Virginia a crowd met them with halberks and pitckforks. No matter, all new roads lead to the mountains. Old snow and new flowers. A stolen mule. Whiskey, Baba Yaga said, is the blood of this place. Listen to the fiddles play.

Her daughter abandoned her for a buffalo hunter. Took the best knife. Left the trading post blankets. Good riddance, Baba Yaga hissed. Good luck.

Years later they found a cairn of stones in that place. Wind Song, they named it. Mother’s Wail. When the stones were claimed to build a fortress at the very bottom of the pile they found the skull of a newborn child. It bore tiny nubbins of horn.


“Parts is parts,”
one chicken killer says to the other,
an inside joke
and his face folds up in a smile.
These guys are never allowed
to work the counter
in their slimy aprons
and unspeakable boots.
One sees me and waves a drumstick,
it’s still got a foot on,
a yellow naked claw
pink, shocked skin.
He uses a shear instead of a knife,
snipping away pin feathers
and sawing open gizzard lumps
to spill grain on the floor.
Crack the little bones,
split the breast,
arrange the pieces into a
Styrofoam tray and sheet
it with plastic film.
Free range no more.
Once they were tennis balls
huddled beneath heat lamps,
standing in pie tins of cracked corn
or bowing to the water pan.
Those awkward weeks
gave way to runs of hard, packed dirt
where ants lost the battle.
Those were the best days.
All plans led to a shipping crate
and a short ride.
The butchers grab them by the legs
two or three at a time
and toss garroted birds in a pile
of wide-eyed Sunday dinners.
This place smells like soup gone bad.
Don’t even look at the beef case.


Flunking the Bechtel test,
she is talking, again, about her husband.
Who, when awake, seems
preoccupied by the height
of the grass in his lawn.
Or baseball.
My neighbor wonders aloud if
AOC is going to ruin this country
before or after she becomes
the first woman president.
She’s a communist, he insists,
bound to ban the Bible and take
away our freedoms like it was an
order of Chinese moo sho pork.
I don’t think he knows how this
Representative thing works; he is not
in AOC’s district; he is not in her time zone.
I try to give a 435th of my attention to
his frantic, fearful thought loop.

He looks at me, I’m sure,
a male of the species,
to see if I watch the Astros too, and if I
will grunt in agreement.
I consider at the way his belly—
“bought and paid for”—looks less
like a piece of masculine musculature
and more like a pile of elephant shit.
Shit. Shat. Shot.
The same guy has a few guns
he likes to take to gravel quarry and
plink at bottles and cans.
Because recycling is for pussies.
Because a good firm recoil
is the stuff of wet dreams.
Consider this the same guy who
risked sunstroke to carry a watercan
and soak my new fruit trees last summer when
my grass was sweating toward brown.
We were out of town and heard about it
from the neighbor’s kid on the other
side who cuts our grass and knows where
the irrigation controls are.
Funny kid.
I believe he watched the sweating guy
lug the water from the console of
electronic teenship.
Bummer, boomer.
I value my neighbor’s consideration and
left him a cold six-pack.
Like AOC would, you know,
with the best intentions.

TRAVIS STEPHENS is a tugboat captain who lives and works in California. His book of poetry skeeter bit and still drunk was published by Finishing Line Press. Visit him at