Clearing the Hands (and other poems)

Clearing the Hands

Lord I miss my dog,
he said, his smile collapsed
by missing teeth, 
old blue tattoos 
of blurred wings and words 
circling the sinewed arm
he reached out to my lab,
who paid him no mind, 
intent on my fries. 

The only way I could stop 
that dog from begging 
was to show him my hands 
like a blackjack dealer, 

palm wiped against palm, 
then both palms shown, 
hands all skin no secrets, 
the first and second 
fingers on the right one 
stained yellow from smoking. 

No more, Buddy. 
No more, Boss. 

We all laughed. 
We all sipped our beer.
We all tried the honest 
gesture on for size. 

He used to root me
out of my chair. 
I gave him his own recliner. 

The February afternoon
melted the unmelted 
snow edging the weeds 
edging the bar’s grimy deck. 
We all imagined 
a big dog stretched out
in his own recliner—
like a god of happiness and appetite—
and then we laughed 
some more and got pretty drunk 
for it to still be daylight. 

Let Down Thy Milk

Cushy Cow bonny, let down your milk,
& I will give you a gown of silk,
A gown of silk & a silver tee,
If you'll let down your milk to me.
—nursery rhyme 

All the winnowing world 
is rain-blind 
& blurred with mist.
Let it be said: 

the dead are missed. 

The neighbors sold 
their late father’s
herd last week, 
	a plan promised 
since spring. 
I did not have to hear 
the cattle cry.
	They were just gone 
on my last walk. 
My child & I 
have loved 
	their black shapes 
blending into dusk, 
their large heads 
slowly lifting 
 	to observe us, 
a shifting 
of planes & deep 
eyes, a light thrown 
	back from the shadows, 
calves bedded down 
in the grass, 
one wild & leggy, 
	willing to lope 
right through the fence
& graze unbounded,
while the others tried 
	to call it back. 
Their blue vowels 
wove the tree-lines, 
the pasture-breast. 
 	The lamed bull 
dragged his hoof.
Now only one 
mother & her calf 
 	are left to watch 
for dogs & coyotes 
alone, a vigil 
of senses all night. 
	All the flies go to her now, 
her sides shivering 
with their welter. 
Otherwise she is smooth 
	& many shades & silvers 
of black, a massive heat 
radiating off her 
flanks, her gaze 
 	taking us in 
as we approach 
the fence with melon rinds 
she will not take 
	from our hands,
to eat them 
off the ground, 
	her big flat teeth 
a patience of grinding, 
a sound like the way 
the earth will 
 	one day take us in. 


  • Annie Woodford is the author of Bootleg (Groundhog Poetry Press, 2019), which was a runner-up for the Weatherford Award for Appalachian poetry. Her second book, Where You Come from Is Gone (2022), is the winner of Mercer University’s 2020 Adrienne Bond Prize. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Michigan Quarterly Review, Mixtape, and Gulf Coast Online Exclusives. Find more at her website,

  • Stills from Sunset Boulevard, 1950, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden. Director of Photography: John F. Seitz. Production Design: Hans Dreier & John Meehan. Costume Design: Edith Head