Killing and Dying

Nov. 20, 2023


Killing and Dying

Mama cut my hair outside
so the birds could take the curls for their nests.

When we camped on the dunes, she woke me early to see
the silhouettes of spiders gathered
on the tent walls, seeking refuge from the wet sand.
My heart raced and I drew my knees to my chest.
“They can’t hurt you. Why be afraid?”

My grandfather’s pride and joy,
my oldest cousin shot a squirrel with a BB gun
and caught a fish bare-handed.

His family and mine lived together growing up.
Same shitty townhouse, where things skittered
under couches when the lights came on.
Home alone, we fantasized about how we’d kill them.
He had excellent aim with a rubber band,
I had sock feet and a dream.

Hunting in the dark, when Mama
got home and flicked the light switch,
we hid too.
Blood stained my hands.

At summer camp, we sang kumbaya
and torched the wasp nest out back.
Cheered as fumes drugged
them, paper wings failed them.

The smoke caressed my face and tangled
in my hair, still short from the spring sacrifice.
The revenants buzzed until I smacked my neck,
my ears, certain they were real.

Mama slammed my textbook closed on the sepia photo
of some president with a rifle, his boot on a dead doe.
She thought cruelty and evil were the same.

“You’ll see the death of many beautiful, wild things,”
she whispered one year, her scissors pausing, her eyes distant.

Coral reefs from her honeymoon, the final exam she took after the wedding,
the good job she gave up to raise me, the creek with the fossils and discarded porcelain,
the monarchs that used to visit us and the moth-eaten prom gloves in the basement.

“You are the beautiful, wild thing.”
My hair grew long again after that.