First Kill
by David Bowles



Anointed with deer blood
by hard men of the bayou
my father became a master hunter.

And since I was his eldest son,
he sought to apprentice me
to rifle and knife and silent death.

He led me into coastal woods
beside cotton-mouth swamps
down shadow-dappled paths

Till we saw a flash of movement
in the gnarled boughs. His nod
told me to raise my sights.

Target practice had carved the habit
into mind and muscle—butt to shoulder,
eye glaring down the barrel, finger taut.

A fleet squirrel stopped and turned.
I squeezed. It fell and lay among the dead
leaves and flat-capped destroying angels.

It was twitching, clinging to life.
“Put it out of its misery,” my father said,
so I pointed my rifle at its round, blue eye,

Which looked up at me wetly, almost pleading.
I shut both my own and fired, a sob hitching
my chest. I turned away. I could hear

My father calling me as I dropped the gun
and hurried back through looming oaks
that bent their mossy beards in hate.





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