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.
Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).