The father is teaching his eight-year old
to clean a grouse, the purple-gray skin
pimpled by plucking,
and so delicate that one roughly-pulled
pinch of feathers could tear it.
With little bruises where
the shot went in.
If you push on the bumpy
sole of a foot, the toes
wrap around your finger
like a baby's hand. It's a reflex.
He says clean, not gut
as the other fathers do,
the organs slippery and ruby,
nothing soft, even the liver
rubbery, and the heart
hard as an unripe cherry,
all of it smelling
like neither excrement nor sex,
but something in between.
At the piano someone's great uncle
entertained the children in the uninsulated
octagonal room, clean Yankee architecture
a century old. We sang "Auld Lang Syne"
and I have ridden the wind, I have ridden the sea,
I have ridden the ghosts that flee
from the vaults of death with a chilling breath
over all of Galilee.
I already knew that words
do not live entirely inside language.
No one told me;
I could see exactly where the breaches were,
the place we're supposed to turn around
and go back. Beyond that was the sting,
electric fence, and beyond that
a feather caught in a twig,
and I made a note to myself:
don't ignore this,
thus inviting the sting.
I often think about the doll's house
in "The Tale of Two Bad Mice"
by Beatrix Potter.
While the two dolls were out,
Tom Thumb and his wife-mouse,
Hunca Munca, briefly set up housekeeping
there, though it was a disappointment—
the miniature plaster foods inedible,
the lead knife bending on the painted ham,
nothing real, nothing as they expected.
In their disillusionment
they vandalized the place,
smashing the lobster glued to its plate,
jamming the fake fish into the fake fire.
It was a scene of seduction and abandonment,
the riches glimmering all around them,
and then the joke.