Your Browning 16 gauge, oiled and blued so smooth
that it looks automatic even before firing,
is still with me in the corner of a backroom closet,
slowly silting over, lost in my will
to fish, not hunt. This evening, through a window
blackbirds burst like flack from bare trees

and leave a black lattice, like the trees
lining the Salt Fork years ago, when the smooth
currents hissed on sand banks and windowed
a distant world beneath the brittle fire
of fall’s late reflection. The sun soon will
take all of this down. We’ll wear the black clothes

our dreams and tradition force us into. The closet
will become a way of speaking, and those trees
that sift the past from red to pink will
only return like this: a river smooth
as catfish skin, and the clear pop of firing
in the distance. Black fills the window

now. Sweating on my sheets, I hear the wind
all night and think of my first hunt. Close
under tamarack and limp vines, I fired
and saw a flurry near the base of a tree.
The rabbit still spins shrieking but smooth
in its circle of blood. When I try to will

this away, I can only hear your voice. “It will
die. Don’t waste another shell.” The wind
outside dies, and the dream is real, smoothed
into the weather. Through darkness toward the closet,
I feel my way from bed. Outside the trees
move against the house. Fire

pops on in the furnace. Again the dream of firing
returns as real as sharp branches, and I will
see this over and over: the brittle trees,
the trivial path of a rabbit in its unwinding
spool of blood, then your eyes, closed
by cancer, then Father’s. The barrel is smooth

and cold from the closet though the room is warm. The fire
clicks off in the furnace below. The sun will
be up again soon. I watch the tops of the trees.


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