Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2022  Vol. 21  No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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The Hunted

Wardrobe adored us,
bought the coats off our backs.
They claimed their golden
state had no war-
torn clothes to offer them,
that their locals wore
no rags like ours
to speak of. Casting
wanted to know,
“what’s your ethnicity?
can you scream
a little louder?”
Makeup had questions too,
asked my sister &
me most days we shot,
“are we feeling dead or just
a little wounded today?”
& made us up
accordingly. Sister
Act & The Exorcist
are what most people know
our director for & I
am ashamed to say
we’ve never even seen
the flick in which that witchy girl
takes up, with pleasure, her cross. (See,
nothing really scares us
more than being trapped
in a body no longer ours.) We stood
one muddy morning in a line
of “refugee extras,” our faces
dabbed with tar-thick
blood, so chemical & sweet.
When asked if we possessed
a history in gymnastics & parents
who’d sign a waiver, my sister
stood silent as I stretched
the truth & my arm
high up in the air. The director
touched my head & I was led
away from the damp mask
of my sister’s face,
onto a set they’d set
on fire—a pale, plaster
mosque that lit the night
like a torch might the mouth
of a cave. When I died
the first time, a touch
off cue, a touch
before the blanks threw the night
air against my heels, I fell
into the ground & a scene
I almost recognized: my sister
standing in front of me
but behind a locked door, pointing
an empty gun at a devil
with a voice like an echo that scales
the walls of any valley
haunted by trees. He is asking
permission to enter
our property. He is seeking
permission to hunt. He meant nothing
by looking in our windows. My sister
yelling at him, “our father
wants you to leave! our father
is almost home!” “No need
to scream,” whispered a fellow
extra from his trench,
“you’ll wear your voice out,
sweetheart.” He was a veteran
whose wound had been renewed
under an expert’s brush.
“Go on—you can touch it
if you want,” he said
between takes,
lifting what was left
of his left arm, & I ran
my fingers over the sticky seam
of his wrist, over the mystery
his pulse continued to tell
the night & I knew
we’d have to die
many more times
& in many more ways—
on our hands, our knees,
our faces, our backs,
our stomachs—in mud,
in water, in shadow, & in light—
before we’d hear the word
“scene,” before we’d earn
the right to haunt anybody
save ourselves. Nobody,
as it turned out, would much care
for The Hunted, whose action
sequences failed
to astound & which would open
with a line from a country
song—“God said
to Abraham, ‘kill me
a son’”—& then the image
of an ancient trade
city falling into the night. Cut
to the protagonist, an American
soldier, crawling
over the nameless, painted
bodies that once laughed
with me over rounds
of backgammon & hearts
in the rain, who lined
their pockets with a brand of heat
hunters favor for its lack
of scent. Now, they’re just
what makes our leading
man a monster hiding
in the woods, a sad case
study passing through
understory. Who knew
then the film would take
such a loss or that my sister
& I would lose our earnings
to the mortgage. Cut
to my family
watching the final cut
in the theater, our sweets smuggled in
from the outside, when we see
a child call for a mother
scripted into silence. “Look,”
my sister cries, pointing
toward the screen, “you made it!
My God, she made it
in!” & our parents
nod, as if they find this extra
daughter familiar, as if
my absence from the reel
would be their own. Cut
to the protagonist’s father
figure scanning a wolf’s
blood-filled tracks
in the snow—we believe
to kill the wolf, to claim
its coat, but he cuts the animal free
from a snare instead, packs
the wound with wild
moss & spit; & they make eye
contact—the wolf
& the actor—& we
are meant to understand
our maker might not be
any kinder than this stranger,
this hunter—as the end will tell—not
of wolves but of other
hunters whose lines
he’s commanded to end.  

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