Today’s poem responds to Maureen Thorson’s “elegy” prompt. I’m grateful that her prompt put a purpose to this poem, which I started over three years ago in a workshop (led by the fabulous Nance Van Winckel) but hadn’t been able to finish satisfactorily. That’s because I didn’t know then that the poem was trying to be an elegy.
Ten years old in a mowed oat field,
I plodded through stubble beside
my much-taller father. His shadow
covered me like a low roof,
his black-oak shotgun slung between us
in the crook of his left arm.
My own shadow bulged heavy
with three dead pheasants in the canvas sack
strapped across my shoulder.
The first two hens had died from the birdshot.
The third was live and flapping
when our retriever brought her back.
My father, who had seen me cry
over the death of my pet guinea pig
and decided I needed toughening,
seized the moment to teach me neck-wringing
and made me use my own hands.
He’d always despised my vulnerability as a girl,
tried often to thicken my skin with ridicule
to protect me from greater hurt.
Tried, that day, to toughen me past grieving
by putting the feathered neck between my fists
and making me twist it down to strings.
What he achieved was to make me face
a different loss, begin my grieving
of something I never have succeeded
in bringing back to life.