​​H E R M E N E U T I C   C H A O S   J O U R N A L

R A T T L E S N A K E   S P R I N G S   (I) 

William Woolfitt is the author of the poetry collections Beauty Strip (Texas Review Press, 2014) and Charles of the Desert (Paraclete Press, 2016). His poems and stories have appeared in Blackbird, Image, Tin House, The Threepenny Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Epoch, and other journals.

B Y   W I L L I A M   W O O L F I T T 

When the girl wakes, her feather bed becomes frozen mud, and the woodlot on her father’s farm shrinks, is only this palisade of logs that closes her nation in. Logs fifteen feet high, driven into the earth, some peeled and split; some whole and bark-clad; some upside down, with roots tangled overhead like a nest of snakes. She searches the logs, and steps over snoring soldiers, and reaches past a cane shelter leaning against the palisade. She presses her hands to the logs, then her nose. She cannot find what she might need. Sometimes, she tears a bark-shred, holds it on her tongue. Her grandmother knew the uses of trees, could fix tonics and soothing plasters.

 The girl’s mother cries for water before the daily ration is given. Even before she touches her mother, the girl can feel her burning like a stove, giving off heat. Bloody flux, says the doctor, a bald white man in a handsome suit. After he leaves, her mother says, I don’t want him near me; he brings evil from the tent of the dead to the tent of the sick.

 The girl fixes corn mush for her mother, then unwraps a small vial. She dribbles in the doctor’s cure—a syrup that’s dark as tar, and sharp-scented, and sure to be detected.