I live on a farm. We raise kidneys
to meet the overwhelming demand
for transplants after the explosion.
Nearly everyone, it is believed,
will need to replace one or both
of their kidneys by age 54.
When my grandparents were alive,
corn filled the fields. But now,
rows and rows of kidneys plump
beneath the moon. They thrive
in the night air. By day, they must
drink from a constant spray of water.
The stable looks like an ICU.
Hospital beds nest in stalls where
fat cows and their wobbly calves
used to wait. Hundreds of people
(livestock, too, really) pass their days
with dialysis here until the crop ripens.
During the harvest, we’ll feed
dozens of doctors at the long table
in the farm house. The military police
eat under their tent near the guard shack.
We barely notice them anymore,
and our fear is mostly gone.
My job is to teach English to field hands,
who primarily speak Snorvlak. Humans
never developed a liking for tending
organs. Interplanetary treaties permit
laborers to work in specific industries.
They travel years for jobs like these.
My brother said they spy on us.
I didn’t believe it until he
was arrested. I don’t know where
he is now, but I don’t think he’s alive.
It is rumored that prisoner organs are
cut away and dried for use as seed.
We don’t feel safe asking about
the people we don’t see anymore.
No one ever dies of old age. They just
disappear. I pull weeds at the old family
plot near the forest and wonder,
What will become of my bones?
I squash a lightning bug and smear its glowing pieces across my cheeks. The killing is a dare, and within the adolescent caste system, I become a warrior. But beyond this June night, boldness is no triumph. Parents swat brazen children. Entomologists place lids on jars and pin down grasshoppers.
I learn to turn myself inside out, wear on the surface my skeleton, peek out from behind my sternum, corral developing breasts in a boney white fence. Bugs survived millions of years just like this.
Some insects click. Some hiss. I rub my exposed shoulder blades together ’til they moan. It is the sound rocks make while waves dull their edges.
My bones weave around me like basket reeds. I sit inside with berries and flowers and bread for grandmother. I swing through the forest on the arm of a little girl. I let her face the wolf.
Bugs developed wings long before bats and birds. I think about that prehistoric moment, insects flying safely in the air, no predators evolved enough to pursue them. I want to be like that, a few steps ahead of danger.
With a flashlight and a book, I crouch beneath the covers. I hide inside a wooden horse, preparing to sneak out and infest the city.
A life can be less than a day if you’re a mayfly. But if you’re born queen of a termitarium, you’ll last five decades. Butterflies and moths live only months or weeks, so many drawn helplessly to the light of my flickering face. I am a warrior again. I hold behind my back a net on the end of a stick.