In late spring, under the Osage Orange fence row and a simmering sky, I find her.
She was born May 13, the same day as my son.
Bella lived through the summer of 1901, long enough to grow fat, grin, grab her toes.
Grass grows thick around her headstone in this prairie graveyard. The church is gone,
blown down in a summer storm forty years ago.
My son runs the edge of the tangled windbreak. He is red-haired, freckled,
sturdy. He stops at my side, breathing hard. Sweat slips down his temple.
I remember his birth, nine years ago. The salt water sack release.
My pain, a crawling tide, waves rising to breakers,
until he was sliced out, yelping, but whole.
His hair was thick as a wig, sideburns stretching chinward like a man's.
Fur covered his shoulders and back, his mammal ears.
The first latch was a pounce, a kitten leaping on a cricket,
then a hanging on, a barnacle, a stick-tight.
Bella's mama felt her agony first at the breast—the engorgement
hedge apple hard, a deep ache seeping from armpit to dripping nipple.
Fever followed, her body's rage against itself, the waste.
She would not know emptiness for another week, when she finally dried up,
like the creek bed in summer.
Did she ever forget she had once been a living spring?
Under the hedge row's jagged umbrella, the gravestone draws moisture.
Gray lichen smoothes its rough corners, even here, where sun and wind
sharpen angles, siphon color.
I grab my son's hand. It is warm, damp.
"Let's get home," I say. "It looks like rain."
Kristin Van Tassel lives on a farm outside of Salina, Kansas with her husband and two sons. Kristin teaches writing and American literature at Bethany College (Lindsborg, KS). Read Kristin's essay, "How I Conquered the Infant Car Seat."