Self-Portrait In Drought by Anna Ross

          I feel guilty that I love dead trees—
their branches shocked straight, silver-whipped
and hung
          with bright yellow tangles of wolf lichen,
                    a replacement
they’re living with.

          I think of wolves,
of ranchers mixing the powdered lichen poison
          into deer fat to tempt them.
The cows,
          uneasy at the smell,
                    move to the next field.

On the news,                              
          the County Police Chief says
We may never know why
          the 12-year-old boy in Ohio
          shot his 9-year-old brother in the head,
          then shot himself:
No struggle,
          the younger boy
sitting in a children’s chair
like he was watching T.V.

          But is the question why?          
We know:
          2 bullets fired—
.44 caliber
          from their grandfather’s gun.

          In our dry valley,
the town cistern sits among shorn trunks
          on a foothill above us,
                    its squat white mushroom stem
                    collecting rain and well water
                    to irrigate the crops and fill
                    the houses’ bathtubs and cups.

          If only, it drips. If...if...if...if...
Anna Ross is the author of If a Storm, winner of the Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize for Poetry. Her work has appeared in Barrow Street, Memorious, The Paris Review, Salamander, and Southern Poetry Review and received fellowships from the Squaw Valley Poetry Workshop, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.