Paul Hunter

 

 

 

         MAKING TRACKS
 

Old guys around here got by

the Great Depression the hard way

would swear by one sure method

to bag a deer for the stewpot

without even owning a bullet

 

you just need a virgin snowfall

get out before dawn walk the edge of

a thicket where they bed down

pick a fresh track at first light

and follow fast as you can

all day till by sundown you come on

the deer exhausted to where

you can walk right up cut his throat

drag him home hang him up

 

not that we needed the meat

but at sixteen I was in shape

ran free still mostly a wild thing

got away with anything it could

hadnít yet heard how a man

shouldering his load might

clutch his chest kneel and whisper

what might be mistaken for prayer

to sense the day recede

all that sweet lightness turn rotten

 

so for a while without remorse

I could take any animal on the fly

watch it shiver and flail

as it sank down into its body

as if a little life were nothing more

 

but with only a single-shot .22

no good on big game unless

you threaded them through the eye

I listened up and thought

without a word to anyone

I might just give that a try

 

then was up half the night worrying

the angel dust sifting down

wouldnít stay cold enough to stick

 

but awoke with a jerk there it was

fresh cake icing freezing cold perfect

so I bundled up and lit out

 

skirted the swamp where they hide

and at daylight came on big tracks

I could tell when they sunk in

where they turned away from

low hanging branches

must be a pretty fair buck

 

and the chase was on

slow motion half of it

though pretty soon I could sense

I was doing whatever he did

except sailing clean over fences

jogging thin hard patches

skittering down creekbeds

floundering drifts

sunny patches breaking through the crust

 

pushing to stay with him

and not sweat what I canít see

something out ahead there making tracks

 

so through the day I unbutton

my coat to cool off

stuff my hat in a pocket

 

wish Iíd packed a sandwich anything

to go with the fluffy handful

I scoop and splash up in my face

 

not worrying noise or if

the windís caught my scent

once I find a spot near a ridgeline

he must have stood awhile watching

me huff along there below him

from then on keeps circling downwind

 

which is a good sign

urges me on through the noon hour

jogging a hundred paces then walking

then another hundred on the run

 

lucky somewhere in there cut across

an abandoned homestead orchard

where I climb for shriveled apples

just out of his reach

chew a couple catch my second wind go on

 

always stuck to his tracks

never once catching sight of him

though in one thicket up ahead I seem to see

stalks and reeds bend around

something big threading its way

 

and by late in the day a little winded

dazed and snowblind and footsore

with one hand I can barely feel

from a glove shucked off somewhere

and a tightness in the legs lets me know

bedtime wonít feel like flying

 

start to see signs he is slipping

meandering now as if lost

 

then at a steep rise when I least expect

there he is

rickety as a card table

front legs splayed

 

head lowered in twilight

eight sharp tines turned to meet me

watching from the corner of his eye

heaving plumes of exhaustion

smaller mangier than Iíd thought

 

then I sidle closer

fumble all around me for the knife

but one more thing shed on the trail

 

look quick for something to brain him

on this downslope miles from nowhere

 

but thereís nothing here besides

me reaching out emptyhanded

him feinting and fending off

trembling now breathing hard

dogged spent thing glaring back

in recognition

feeling the treacherous footing

as even turning to backtrack

uphill away from whatís left of it

live and let live I slip and fall

 

Copyright © 2003 Paul Hunter.  All Rights Reserved.

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