AXLE GREASE NATALIE SIEDE We’re going overland, west, by wagon. George traded up the Iowa homestead that I kept so stubbornly clean for two yoke of oxen and that was that. They’re weaker now. I walk beside the wagon and let the children who run through prairie grasses sit up in the shade. When they fall or cry, the men get ornery. I’ve said nothing since Dakota Territory; too tired, too hungry, too wind-dried to speak. I watch the other women take fingerfuls of grease from the axles and spread it across their mouths. They say it helps with the splitting lips. They’re blackened for days after, don’t eat or talk much, either. And I don’t want to frighten all the children; I like it when they stay close, so I bear it, taste the chap and tear of my lips. I spend nights chewing the dry skin and listening to the fires when we can get them to light in the prairie wind. And to the bump of tin pots on rocks, the crickets, the conversations. Last night I heard a man in the next wagon tell his shushing wife to move. I heard his feet on the floor of the wagon, heard him pick up a crying baby, heard it in the catch in the infant’s sob, then something heavy on wood. The crying stopped and the woman in the wagon was quiet, too. This morning I rose, went to the axle, and sealed my lips.
Inspired by an Oregon Trail diary entry by Keturah Penton Belknap, c. 1848 62 Siede