Run to Seed by Matthew Poindexter
Our wives and sisters shoo us from the kitchen when Uncle Jeff won’t stop opening the oven to check on the roast. The brothers spill out through the back door and I follow, a herd of men shuffling toward the barn, where Ed and Lee will talk about who needs to borrow the Kubota next, and Jeff will again tell me not to fail the family.
“It’s all yours when we’re gone,” he always says, “so no mobile home park, no subdivision. Just beans, tobacco, hay, then cattle. Rotate the fields in that order. Don’t make me roll in the grave.”
But before I get Jeff’s lecture, I stop with Ed and Dad, standing with hands on hips, looking down.
“Crabgrass,” Ed diagnoses.
“Crabgrass,” Dad confirm in a grave voice.
“Crabgrass,” I say, but I don’t sound disappointed enough for them. Dad shoots a skeptical look before carrying on to the barn. Ed takes a detour to hold the head of a long screwdriver to the electric fence around the pasture. The current snaps, he offers a satisfied nod to the cattle down by the creek, then resumes his path.
The steers lift their heads and begin to climb the gentle, clipped slope of the field. First one, then a couple, then the whole of them loaf toward us, bawling for grain. The faster they move, the more explosions of hot breath that rise and hang above them like a fog. A brown one trots toward me and I meet him at the fence. Between his white-ringed sockets a swirl of fur widens and widens, as if the entire cow grew from that gyre in the middle of his skull, as if it were a third eye. He lets me rub his snout, and I push my palm up and over that chakra.
I can tell he knows: that I can’t save him from a slaughter, can’t save this farm. I was raised too soft, Jeff accuses my father of that sometimes when he thinks I’m out of earshot.
“He doesn’t want it enough,” Dad says.
“You didn’t make him want it,” Jeff always replies.
I keep my palm on the steer’s face, pushing against his half-ton frame.
“Help me,” I think. He steps forward, stretches his thick neck over the wire. I hold my hand out, but he curls his pink tongue around my wrist and leads me with him. I step through the wire and feel its current, but no pain. The wire snaps, the fence posts tilt and lay down where they stand. In my footsteps, cudweed sprouts, and broomsedge patches together in ugly bunches. I grow thinner and thinner as scraggly pines appear. The steer only stops when my hand, the last bit of my body, scatters to the ground as a few prickly burrs. In our wake, a thicket of pokeberry stretches overhead, broad, veined leaves and fuchsia stalks weighed down by black globes. Let the cows run away from this toxic spot. Let the birds consume the fruit. Let them drop their seeds in flight and turn this whole place into waste, until no one knows we passed it down for generations, from one man to the next, each more resentful of his inheritance than the last.
Matthew Poindexter is the editor of Inch. His work has appeared at ESPN.com, The Awl, Meridian, Best New Poets 2009, and elsewhere. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.