Photo by Steven Gnam

Back 40: Click…Click

Predator eye honed,
since turning BB-gun-five,
to its feathered edge, I catch
the ruffed grouse flashing
its neon-red failure
to blend into the November gray-
black bed of quaking aspen leaves
matching the bird’s mottled jacket
not quite exactly. It cocks
its head, eyes me up
and down, crouches,
stretches, sets
sleek-plumed for the raucous
launch that trips my neurons
to cue my arms vaulting into the shotgun’s
buoyant choreography, into the port de bras
wings of the poised
ballerina on point.
I click
the safety to OFF. With this brisk slap
smack across the ear of silence, I take bead
while silence, in defiance, turns
its tearful cheek. The bird fading
out of range — fifty years of habit sapped
just like that — I click
the safety back to ON. What unfamiliar
whisper from behind the scrim
is this that flips the trigger
finger’s dimmer switch,
helix-deep, to soothe us
into beatific bloom? Thrilled,
bedazzled by the shattered jagged bits
of fragile masculinity, I jig
and juke down rocky slope, shotgun
shells jumping in my jacket
pockets like maracas keeping tempo
to a syncopated pulse.
Grappling
the sinewy old pickup truck’s steering
wheel over gopher-holed meadow
back to gravel road—my Montana
manhood dancing in the cab with mistresses
I no longer need to please by squeezing
off the shot—we rock
into a requiem dusk, our roughed-up hearts
drumming hot, our knuckles, white
with love, bloodied only on the inside.

For Gordon Stevens

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