Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
 print preview

The Week Before Christmas

When my wife was finally able to tell our son
we would separate, he told her where I would hide
the deer rifle, a dinged-up Marlin, sold from
the trunk of a car by a house painter. My son
would watch me, after hunting each season ending
at the New Year, oil the receiver and its walnut stock
over a drop cloth, then climb the steep ladder
to the loft where I would lay across the joists
its horse-blanket case, and where, over one more season,
dust would settle upon it, the rifle he had taken
from me, although suicide would not enter our family
again, like a stranger at a block party,
his untoward, lowered voice and reeking breath,
that hiss of confession in mixed company, that a deer
pitched down with one shot will sound just like
a bundled square of roofing shingles thrown to the ground at dusk.

That fall, on an empty weekday before Christmas,
I left the truck empty-handed and walked into the still-dark woods
down a faint road until I saw my brother
tap the brake lights. In the dome glow of his car,
he loaned me a cold rifle, unfamiliar, bolt-heavy, the safety
I flicked on and off in starlight before I chambered
a round and changed into the camouflaged coveralls
I had bagged the year before in black plastic with pine straw
and oak leaves to leach the human scent—this, how
were this to go in another direction, I might have been
found months later, leaf-fall scattered upon my body;
though that late night I made my way below
a hill of frozen sedge, delivered from what had touched me
once, like the cold finger of that hitchhiker
I had picked up one night so many years ago,
whose brother lay sleeping in a hospital in the next town,
shot behind his right ear, which this boy would explain
more than once, as if it were complicated, touching
my neck each time from the backseat, this
chill, though he spoke so softly I had to turn my head to hear
how it had been exact and sudden, the way
when something will fall from our hands
we will not wake up.  

return to top