Driving the Beast

              In the thick brush
they spend the hottest part of the day,
              soaking their hooves
in the trickle of mountain water
              the ravine hoards
on behalf of the oleander.
              You slung your gun
across your back in order to heave
              a huge grey stone
over the edge, so it rolled, then leaped
              and crashed below.
This is what it took to break the shade,
              to drive the beast,
not to mention a thrumming of wings
              into the sky,
a wild confetti of frantic grouse,
              but we had slugs,
not shot, and weren’t after their small meat,
              but the huge ram’s,
whose rack you’d seen last spring, and whose stench
              now parted air,
that scat-caked, rut-ripe perfume of beast.
              Watch now, he runs,
you said, launching another boulder,
              then out it sprang
through a gap in some pine, brown and black
              with spiraled horns
impossibly agile for its size.
              But, yes, he fell
with one shot, already an idea
              of meat for fire
by the time we’d scrambled through the scree.
              And that was all.
No, you were careful, even tender,
              with the knife-work,
slitting the body wide with one stroke
              then with your hands
lifting entire the miraculous
              liver and heart,
emptying the beast on the mountain.
              Later, it rained,
knocking dust off the patio stones.
              Small frogs returned
from abroad to sing in the stream beds.
              We sat and drank.
The beast talked to its rope in the tree.
              And then you spoke:
no more, you said, enough with mourning,
              then rose to turn
our guts, already searing on the fire.

More by Christopher Bakken

Lesvos

Fishermen out before dawn. None returned.
              I asked you why they left their nets behind,

but you were looking out, across to Assos,
              and maybe didn’t hear me in the wind.

We both wore the same ironic mask:
              one blue eye floating upon a white sea.

On that balcony, beside the iron table,
              a geranium held on for dear life.

All day we watched waves capsize in the rain.
              Our shoreline here: the other shoreline’s mirror.

Those aren’t nets, you said after a long time,
              but mounds of sodden jackets and lost oars.

Stray cats sheltered in the light of the café.
              We didn’t know the others huddled there.

The wind changed course and tried to explain
              by shaking the geranium, but words sank

in the crossing, so we heard under water.
              When I opened my hands, my palms burned,

as if they’d been lashed by splintered wood.
              In sleep, you told me, we have been rowing.

Truth is, no one here knows where we’re going.
              I begged you not to leave, but you’d already

slung a orange scarf over your wet head.
              There aren’t enough boats to carry them,

I shouted, so there’s nothing left to do.
              There is, you said. I’m going down to see.

Related Poems

Michael's Wine

Winter again and we want
the same nocturnal rocking,
watching cedar spit
and sketch its leafy flames,
our rooms steamy with garlic
and greasy harvest stew.
Outside frosted windows--
claw marks on yellow pine,

Venus wobbling in the sky,
the whole valley a glare of ice.
We gather in the kitchen
to make jam from damsons
and blue Italian prunes,
last fruit of the orchard,
sweetest after frost, frothy bushels
steeping in flecked enamel pots.

Michael, our neighbor,
decants black cherry wine,
fruit he ground two years ago,
bound with sugar, then racked
and racked again. It's young and dry.
We toast ourselves, our safety,
time the brandied savory
of late November.

I killed a man this day last year,
says Michael, while you were away.
Coming home from town alone,
you know the place in Lolo where the road
curves, where the herd of horses got loose
New Year's Eve, skidded around
white-eyed, cars sliding into them?
Didn't see the man until my windshield broke.

Could have been any one of us.
Twenty-nine years old, half-drunk,
half-frozen. Red and black hunting jacket.
Lucky I was sober. We stand there
plum-stained as Michael's face
fractures into tics and lines.
He strokes his wine red beard.
Michael with no family,

gentle farmer's hands, tilts the bottle,
pours a round, as if to toast.
It was so cold, he says,
that when it was over,
he swirls the distilled cherries
under a green lamp, there was less
blood on the pavement than you see
this moment in my glass.