Special Guides » The Poetry Issue

A Day Engraved

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I struggled against my father
as he dragged me across the yard.
"Where are we going!" I screamed.
He didn't respond.
I could see tears swelling
in his bloodshot eyes
and smell the whiskey rolling hot
from his sun cracked lips.
He let go of my wrist
at the entrance of our barn
and told me to stay put.
He disappeared in the shadows
cast by bales of hay
stacked crooked in the loft above.
I stood trembling in a patch of sun
overwhelmed by fear.
A fear that would revisit me
years later in that very spot
where I would stand looking
up at the pale blue soles
of feet swaying gently
as a length of rope groaned
from the dead weight of a hanging.
My father reemerged
with a shotgun on his shoulder.
He dragged me behind the barn
to the edge of our field
where my dog laid whimpering on a bed
of golden wheat wet with blood.
"What happened?" I sobbed.
"Wolves."
"Are you gonna shoot him?"
"No, it's your dog and your responsibility to put him out of his misery."
"But I can't."
"You can and you will."
He racked a shell in the chamber,
placed the shotgun in my hands and
stood behind me.
I began shaking uncontrollably.
He placed his hands over mine,
pressed the barrel to my dog's head
and squeezed the trigger.
The gun knocked me backwards
deep into my father's arms.
I listened to the crack echo over the field
startling birds that sprang from their branches
and climbed with black wings spread
against the setting sun
that stained the sky red
like a butcher's apron.
"You did good" my father whispered
as I sank in his arms
with a spray of blood on my cheek
watching my dog and the day exhale
what little life they had left in their lungs.