GRAY SUNDAY, 1963
I was at the sink stacking dishes in the washer
after breakfast. Dad’s face appeared
at the kitchen door. Something was wrong.
I don’t remember how they told me.
My horse was dead, spooked
into a metal post, must have hit
an artery, bled to death.
It was Sunday. God didn’t let
things like this happen.
Didn’t go to church that day.
We had to bury Big Red.
My parents wouldn’t let me watch.
The bulldozer had to drag him to the hole.
Spent the rest of the day trying to be brave
but after every phone call, I cried some more.
I’ve had other horses,
watched one die
as wind picked at his mane.
But I haven’t been back to church.
The ultrasound shows
the tumor that slips
between vessel walls
letting blood pass
into your gut.
I watch as the veterinarian pushes
sodium pentothal into your vein,
wait for the drug to leak
into your cells.
Was the last image
to reach your darkening brain
my blurred remains?
The painted bunting cannot escape
the mesh. Wings and head tangled,
feet twisted in black net. It rests in the net,
begins to flutter at the bander’s approach.
Quietly, she encloses its wings in her hand.
Pulling the net from its feet, wings, head,
it flaps and pecks at her fingers, the angle
of the sun that drives it to flight fading for the day.
She places the rainbow bird in a white bag
Painted buntings have taken this route
since time has been measured. Only Archaeopteyx
can reveal if flight grew from a glide to another tree,
a hop to a branch. Its ancestors have seen the growth
and retreat of great ice, birds follow the same path
despite clear-cut forests and barrier islands
swept clean by Katrina. The bander
places a silver bracelet on its leg, measures
wing, tail, and bill. It rests for a moment
in the bander’s hand
this strange perch.
The triangle floats in formaldehyde.
Hemangiosarcoma on the pathology
report, unusual on the ear.
I am disoriented
looking at my cat’s ear
separated from his body.
I remember my high school job,
pushing patients and cleaning
whirlpools. Judy came down
every day for the Hubbard tank,
I was asked to sit with her,
a suicide risk. She and her boyfriend
rode a motorcycle, played chicken
with a car. She lost her leg.
After she left the hospital, we went swimming
at the park, everyone stared. I wonder,
does Ivory have an altered body image,
like Judy. Mother taught me not to look at amputees
but with only one and a half ears, he is funny.
The stump rotates to collect sounds, a clumsy ballet.
The edges are crusty, the remaining cartilage
still bruised and red. The soreness
must be gone, he rubs his head
against my hand as he settles for a nap
I-85 North-my tires bump
on the spaces between slabs
of concrete sections, a rhythmic
thunk. The rumble strips rattle
to wake me.
And it doesn’t matter if I am coming
or going when I cross the black snake
of the car counter.
One of my favorite sounds—
the tire scrunch on the gravel
that welcomes me home.
That double thud is the one I hate.
The rabbit in the early dark,
a squirrel’s moment of indecision.
Later still, the turkey vulture,
not finding anything larger,
sits in the road,