KEITH LONG


 
Killing Puppies
October frost catches the porch light,
promenades it about the back yard where
Babe
drops her litter like
sudden
flowers,
she in a whining fluster and
me in stocking feet,
for there had been no time for boots.
It is her first litter, she
surprised last summer by some
vagrant neighborhood beagle.
Father follows her around,
standing unusually erect,
carrying the garden hoe
which
with the sudden, clipping stroke
that suckered last summer's corn
catches the newborn
behind the ears, the blade slipping
between mushy vertebrae.
The blind, wrinkled,
sack-slick heads roll over
to salute the deep autumn stars.
In the dark
I cannot follow the downstroke
but I need no vision to sense
the gasping pink mouths searching --
thinking the beheading natural
of birthing nights --
for somewhere a warm nipple.
Each time, seven times, an invisible clip.
I watch in wired silence.
Babe cannot
tabulate her losses,
feels on those deepest imprints
of motherhood, nervous,
tries to comprehend the dark grief And in her
confusion
devours the restless body of one puppy,
the moist crunching amplified against
the short efficient clips from Father.
I sicken and go inside.
Morning. The back yard empty,
the stiff drama removed
in a potato sack. Babe sits chained to her
house, perky, smiling, content.
The hoe leans against the shed, stout, simple,
disarmed by raw sunlight.
But my resolve is not softened.
I fetch the hacksaw and hammer.


Varmints and Villains

The kildeer shrieks,
my right-flank monitor,
vibrating,
piercing my planned silence.
Wings catch air.
I turn, vision dilated by magnifying mist,
see you swarming, night swift,
fleet shadows, pattering,
floating in from the timber.
Clever, you and your pack,
circling,
a safe distance,
snouts turned to the center,
toward me.
The clouded night gives up none of your face,
but even the meadow knows your loping grin,
your dangerous, hunger-sharp eyes,
the craving flanks
and steady teeth.
I know.
You angle in, circling still,
softly padding, wary,
I shiver, wait wait,
hear finally the panting urge
of your breath, imagine
against the disturbed
indian grass the strained
curve of your grinning, grinning,
you angling, loping, grinning, grinning,
until I raise my sights,
pin your heart against your striding shoulder,
broadside for my slug,
and you grinning, angling.
I squeeze and the night rocks.
The pack thunders a retreat,
evaporating into other mysteries,
but you, torn red and wide,
push yourselt in circles
with one spasming foot
away from my terror.
No good.
I stand over you,
wondering that you would still run,
loping with that one foot, grinning.
I chamber another shell, more fire,
to darken, for sure,
your greedy eyes.


A Ketchum Morning

that unshakeable hangover, Papa,
dissolves me like the fog the morning
the mallards arrived over
the peanut fields,
falling from the sky
like green-headed envelopes into
the barrels of our guns.
you were not there then --
you were in idaho, or hell, or worse,
but i felt it anyway,
and imagined your trickle of a grin
as the hungry ducks lifted,
circled through their cloud,
and came back to attack my
number four shot again.
i had but to stack them
against a cornerpost.
mallards are big birds, Papa,
and taken from forty yards
do not roll, but hit the ground
with a satisfying thud,
grand enough to warm
the tips of frozen fingers before
your skipping heart retreats
into the fog with the surrounding flock,
leaving you to fondle
a cooling assemblage of feathers
and wonder, against the discussion of
distant wings, that one moment
could matter so much.
oh yes, Papa, i too reek
with the bridled fury that
led you downstairs
to the gun cabinet that
crisp ketchum morning.
but i, paralyzed,
wonder if in that snap
of frozen time
-- between the trigger and the triumph --
the cold impotence we
have charged to everything
everywhere,
could matter so much,
and if, with your mouth filled
with the stench of the barrel,
you managed, once more,
that trickling grin.

Mount Scott Sestina

Only those with the natural, bold vision
Can sense beneath the rocks the supple dance
Of the mountain's heart. It harbors secrets,
Vibrant; its boulders hold my blood and regrets.
The mountain rules through ageless hearts,
Pleads under thunderclaps for a tandem grace.
Scott rises above wheat fields with bowing grace,
Refuses to bend to any civilized vision
Above Oklahoma's dust. The keeper of hearts,
Smaller, scared mountains tremble before its dance,
Prehistoric hidden flames presumed our regrets,
And Scott's suckling fire unknots our secrets.
The Comanches, Apaches traded a cache of secrets,
In the red evening sun, they forfeited tribal grace.
Atop, Geronimo's spirit shades his eyes and regrets
That the jutting boulders thwart his vision
And close his ears to the fated war dance
Of ancient and tortured but not forgotten hearts.
Beneath the mountain's stare, as a weight to our hearts,
The land lies linear, bares its artless secrets
That its former shape, against the primal dance,
Had bargained against the promise of Grace.
The land, but not the mountain, reduces its vision,
Has become the tattered orphan of progressive regrets.
We would undo what we have done, for regrets
Build powerful unities in reaching hearts
That know those ambitions strangled the vision
Of the mesquite country and its secrets.
Under quiet roofs, heads nod with ignorant grace,
And forget the tragedy of that original dance.
Scott clears its eyes, revived by the tom-tom dance.
She knows that she outlives any regrets,
And in the dark she commands her own grace
That all must come full circle in her subject's hearts,
To bring into sunlight the wonder of secrets
Resting in wait of a new, questing vision.
For our grace, the mountain remains our vision;
Despite our racial regrets, we are the secrets;
Together, we create a dance for future hearts.