Gabrielle Bates

The Animals We Are

A Southern trucker’s keepawake game, and he’s up to five.
In the dark, their eyes, just two small dots. Beneath him,
fur’s becoming a flat road home. Who shouldn’t be so
steady. Why shouldn’t I.


From soft dark spots in their shells, whispering in the grass
where they’d fallen,
!200!!25!those pecans wanted out
of their hard, mudgreen blooms.
!100!!50!!25!!10!In the Whetstone’s yard,
bent at the waist, I gathered them
!100!!10!one by one. I carried them in my t-shirt,

knowing instinctually
!100!!10!how women do this.

They kept a black piglet in the backyard then.

My plan was to go home and whack the nut-flesh free
with a butter knife hilt,
!50!!25!!5!come back the next day and pet its pinky nose.


Her underthing of thin crinoline in the closet.
Each time I step into the ring & yank
for what. Waistband elastic,
but the strange skirt falls to my feet.
So I hold it instead
to me, and I spin,
clenching the garment
to the winter-yellow skin of my girlhips.

The corners are smearing, that corner I lost it,
a carving, a closet door, clock or a portrait,
window, window, light, lights in the gut.

I am still spinning when I’m called for dinner,
wearing nothing but the old petticoat
young Freda used to square dance in.

I vomit into the corner, making a mess
of the walls and the carpet.
May I be excused.


Because my hands were small enough then:

!25!turkey figs thrown whole into hot sugar
and canned, the bronze lid crystallized like a fossil
!25!to the jar’s cold lips, I ran it under the faucet
until hot, pried it open with the sharp chin
!25!of a tea-stirring spoon, plunged my whole hand in, ate

until the truck pulled onto the carport.


My plan was to come back and pet its pinky nose
but the dogs got to it that afternoon and there was no stopping.


Like pearls, but bigger, scratched
of their white, to see them first in the jewelry box
then in your palm. To pinch the clamp open, close it
on your left ear lobe, feel the flesh stretching
under the weight. It’s that good pain. You look straight on.
You turn side to side, over the shoulder. Lips part.
Spine bends forward and back again. The fan
clicking overhead spreads warm air
over the fine hairs on your legs and neck. No one knows
where you are right now. Panties on the bureau
on top of the shorts and shirt. You take a picture.


In the mirror, I am still a naked child in clip-on earrings.
In the mirror, I am still hungry.

Don’t ask is the new stain on her petticoat.
Don’t ask is the bent spoon buried in the yard.

Who could have guessed, at such an age,
how ordinary are a dog’s teeth and four black hooves
like split rocks, scattered on a porch.

Dawn. Freda lifting the rabbit’s body from the road,
lowering it into a pot.

Gabrielle Bates is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Washington, coordinating editor of The Seattle Review, and twitter editor of Broadsided Press. She is an Indiana Review Poetry Prize finalist, an Awesome Foundation grant recipient, and winner of Gigantic Sequins' poetry comic contest. Her work appears in Guernica, Rattle, Southern Humanities Review, Radar Poetry, Thrush, and other journals. She can be found online at or on twitter (@GabrielleBates).