On the Road to Kirkuk
Beth Thomas

On the road to Kirkuk, in this field of smells like mossy breath, Papa holds my hands sometimes when my head and eyes hurt. Bedouins appear in the dust, groups of three or ten, Papa says, “Don’t say anything,” and then usually tells them that I am blind and retarded and they move aside. The sun is deeply red, a harbinger of storms coming. As our shadows grow protracted down the path, we walk beneath a sky full of black birds, who, upon a distant call to sunset prayer, alight and face directly into the setting sun, as though an entire species excommunicate save not even one. In the night’s dark mouth we lie still, rest together; I rub my belly until my mind clears of hateful things. When we pass into the outer lean-tos of Kirkuk, Papa says, “This place is run by the Kurds and they’re absolute thugs, so we’ll be pretty safe.” He says, “A head for an eye, like that.” And I imagine sinking my thumbs into old skulls past eyes and loose teeth into the void where brains used to be. I fear that these visions are important. On the road into Kirkuk, I can feel my belly growing, my folded silk shawl sisters waiting for their new skin.

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