"No Picnic" Copyright 2000 Rain Jordan
The sky is the red of the healing wound
of St. Agatha. New light
cast on the seven dead geese
stacked in the bed of the truck.
Their wings stiff around their bodies
make them cocoons of former flight.
The boy's breath, like a white wing,
hangs in the air above him.
His ears pink with wind,
the steel ridges of the truck bed
stripe his jeans with cold.
The sleeping dog rides in the back with him.
He can hear his father & two uncles
in the cab laughing. Their heads bob
between the guns on the rack.
On some of the geese the eyes are open.
A nonliving eye not quite clear,
like the clouded face of a watch.
He thinks of flying, how it would feel
to have nothing surround you.
You can hear their call
long before you see them.
He remembers hearing a flock
on another morning. Geese
stitched across the gray cloth of sky
just before the sun rose
red over the uneven mountains.
The birds flying over a boy's sleep,
distant voices lifting up memories--
the lull of silence after the rodeo, the bull
grazing with the clown's pony.
The grain sack full with struggling rabbits
slung over his shoulder, their vigorous feet
pounding his back as he walked
to the Saturday stock auction.
That distant call
made him want to be good.
The truck rattling over a cattleguard startles
the boy alert & he hears a moan.
At first he thinks it's the dog,
dreaming after birds.
But then another drone releases
from one of the geese.
He had watched them fall, spin around
& crumple like a kite in a dive,
dying in midair.
He sorts through the bodies,
black heads, pliant collared necks,
plush silvered breasts piled
limp & ruffled. He finds the goose
& holds it, unfolds the shut wings.
In the soft rush
of riffled feathers he feels
the clotted blood where the shot entered.
Opening the black visors of the bill,
he covers the nose holes with his fingers
& blows a few breaths of air
into the silty hollow of the bird.
And the dead bird gives back
the boy's own breath
in distinct syllables, nasal & conversational,
before the bill goes slack.
Then the boy breathes harder into the goose,
cradles it & listens
until there is music, a swell of air
returned over the bird's vocal chords, a purr,
a dirge, a lost-soul quaver.
A blue cone of sound, human-made,
or made human.
Gary Short copyright 2000
from Flying Over Sonny Liston
(University of Nevada Press)
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