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Our parents wouldn’t let us name him, so we called him
421, from the yellow tag stapled to the black fur of his left ear.
More dog than calf, he liked to lick the salt
from our skin, followed us beneath the grape arbor,
through clover patches, back to the chicken house
where he’d tickle corn from our bare hands.
I liked him because he followed us and hated blackberries,
toothy brambles and fat berries hiding too many
seeds. And though we couldn’t name him, like the Toyota
we’d christened Pearly, the rabbit Clover, the persimmon tree
by the clothesline Sam, we sang him songs with his new name,
murmuring into his too-big eyes, the number growing
sweet and fat as he did, as the blackberries, as the corn
when it sat in water. In a few weeks he outgrew
the chicken house, moved to our neighbors’ pasture with George,
the mean old cow, who chased us if we came inside the barbed wire fence.
Six months and he was sold, the pasture only George.
The things we cannot name are splinters
working slowly out toward skin:
my blackberry stain memories of the pasture
with mean old George and piles of manure,
my brother and me leaning on the fence, stretching our hands through.