They were the grinning stars
of our childhood museum,
looming above the conches
& fossil ferns, the brain coral
& the blue & green glass bottles
that once held medicine.
We’d found them in the woods
not far from the houses,
their other bones littered about,
but it was only them we carried
home, those skulls: two cows & a mule.
Our elderly neighbor remembered
the mule’s name: Charlie.
Some of the teeth were loose
& soon went missing,
like strip-mined mountains.
We didn’t think about their deaths
or even what they’d been
before, as working livestock;
they were still live enough for us.
The zigzag sutures where
the parts of the skull fit together
made them self-evidently whole
& perfect, & the way the lower jaws
hinged behind the empty eyes
inspired awe. Every kid,
no matter how bored, would stop,
lift the mule’s top jaw
& make him talk.