Young and walking home
on its dirt road at night,
the neighbourhood was recluse.
At times in late fall,
the same garage was open,
spilling light, silhouettes and blood.
My neighbour inside would wave.
I didn't know him.
His boots sop with peat and wild rice,
dancing to the radio as he stripped
another dead moose
hanging from the rafters, so large
its neck bent against the cement.
Its blood draining away in ribbons,
its slack tongue pointing
to the rifle propped aside.
I’m thinking of this now
over the beer-brown water,
dragging a paddle, leaving brief eddies.
The shore gorges on my wake.
Landed. In my rented cabin,
the smell of burnt newsprint fills the air,
a glow of stirred ember. After chopping wood,
and stripping the outhouse’s webs,
I raise a bulrush blind.
I prop up a .22 rifle, bought for the occasion.
Clumsily, I aim at a mallard. The day cracks in two.
My boots rattle on the rotted bridge back,
heavy and unfit in the silence,
the gunshot still ringing in my ears.
The bird dangles from my hand
and holding up that reason I came
I pluck as I walk, a delicate trail,
and a feather’s broken rachis draws blood.
Soon the cabin breathes smoke again.
In its single lantern-lit room,
I lie the gun on the table and look again at it,
the small and limpid thing, just a carcass,
a mange of skin and down in my hands,
and toss it on the table. It flops.
The bullet hole stares:
How it withered in the sky when shot.
It was as beyond me then as it is now,
these scant gains of a stilted confrontation
I started, not even here but long before,
in some remote genetic recess
belonging to someone else, to whom
hunting was everything.
And reemerging from hunting that hunter
with only a mallard's corpse.
(J.P Karvatski lives in Montreal. His poems have appeared in a few University & small press publications including Inwords & Soliloquies.)