Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"No Surer Heaven" by Mike Carson

He taught me how to think the bullet in,
Along the flank behind the shoulder joint,
Or from the front, the line of crosshatched fur
That marks the heat upon the chest,
To not be smart and try and hit the brain
But always aim imagining the place
Behind the juncture in the bone, through ribs,
Snug in the softness of the lungs, the dark
Sung thing that I could picture even at ten.
As we sat silent against a tree, I looked
Till hand and eye were one, each made exact
Along the age-scarred, polished stock, dull gleam
of blue black metal, the tiny letters engraved—
A .22 Cal. Remington—outside
The chamber where the bullets sat tight in wait.
I lift the barrel, stare down the sight, steady
The bead into the notch, imagining
A knothole or a branch alive, the shot
Thought in through fur, through skin. It nicks the bone,
The emptied body lies in the leaves, my hand.

It's fifty years since he and I eased down
In Geren's Woods, his own heart years now gone—
So quiet and quick-eyed, kind to love a kid
Not his, by instinct never saying I love.
He put instead the rifle in my hands,
Gave me the name and use of all its parts.
And Sundays when my Dad, hungover, slept,
Though no one asked him to he'd pick me up,
Take me to Lourdes for Mass to keep me from
The mortal sin, I guessed. I had no prayer
But saw him kneel and knew his silence meant.
Beside him in the pew down near the front
Where votive candles burned in rows I dreamt
My separate dream, the trees high-arched and reaching through
The splays of sunlight sparkling with the wind,
The quiet they held because we listened for
The sound by which to sight the hidden one
That might come forth like Lazarus from the shadows
In the leaves - I hold my breath as he says to,
Think hard to squeeze the trigger slow. He is
A voice just out of sight, but close as prayer
To make me sure, to think the squirrel we'd skin
And then at dinner, tasting hard, I'd eat.
At ten there is no heaven surer than
A loaded rifle in your hands, but when
He'd gone, left me alone to be a man,
I heard his words inside my own alive
and in the woods again—You get one shot,
The true imagination of it.
The heart,
and all he meant by that.

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