Note: This is a prose-poem, written as flash fiction.
If you go to my grandparents’ property, you’ll see our cows: black and mottled brown, an o-k—smushed together like a fish—scarred into their right hip. It was on their stomach when the fire first kissed their skin; now it’s how you recognize them as your own.
I heard once that—was it in Sunday school? at the dinner table?—the early Christians would draw half of a fish somewhere and then, if another person came along and completed it, that’s how they knew they were a Christian too—recognized them as part of the family. One of the flock.
Now that brand’s been around for a generation, making billboards of our cows. I don’t know if my great-grandfather chose it at the brand office or just took what was assigned to him, but there it is, marking the side of each animal. Now, even if they’re lost, someone will bring them back home to you—or, at the very least, you’ll get a call from the brand inspector or a helpful neighbor woman, running back from her garden.
I gave myself that brand. I locked it just above the crook of my arm, right where I may someday hold a child: cradle its head, lay a holy infant to rest, wholly mine, not needing a brand to be recognized. I’ll whisper into that little head the truth, the nature of family, of life: pain is present, but so is joy.
I wonder who they’d call if they found me lost. Would they stretch out my arm and pull out the book, call my grandparents or uncle, “you’ve got a heifer down here, two-legged but
healthy enough.” Or would they glance at that Kerns-icon and send up a prayer?