I exhale a fog of winter to warm my hands,
clear a black hole in the snow for a campfire
of one struggling flame, a memory barely alive
of someone I left behind. I move away,
watch its light implode like wind blowing out a birthday candle.
My blood brothers believe that even cold comfort is better
than none. Like them, I could freeze here in a dwelling place,
harden in a posture of faith and acceptance. But I was born
with an itching soul and an eye burned by disbelief.
This spirit wind pushes me deeper into the hunt.
My arrows and I are sharp, our feathers ruffled in the quiver—
may our flights be straight, our landing field be soft.
I am not the only one who hunts, not the only one who mourns
what he kills to make another live. But my targets are always moving;
my eyes never freeze in place. Yet they are locked in a vision of somewhere
beyond this stale snow. They move with the mind, alone, forgotten
by those they pass by: entranced hunters sewn in ice, sitting with their backs
against the trunks, their gaze frozen like bullseyes, their beards winking flakes
of snow and frostlight, their gun barrels loaded with snow.
I do not belong here. I belong to a future that may not come.
Others belong to a forest of civilized icicle Christmas trees
shining silver like the few coins in their pockets. They are at home
among pines that shake down snow like the salt of the earth.
They accept that they must kill to eat, let dog eat dog to payday,
let the blood make a trail of plenty in the snow. They are not charmed
by truth but by colorful lights, by the moon that never stays full,
that casts shadows of uncertain prey. When their stomachs empty
they wait for any game to come into range, their trigger fingers itching
for a crossfire of fireworks, shots in the dark.
I believe my prey may have no body, but it surely has a shape.
It is a moving target far from here stopping to graze on dark patches of snow,
and even if I aim correctly, I still may starve. So I leave the numbness
of familiarity, set off into the deeper pain of hope. I become invisible
among men, perhaps even to the prey I seek. I go alone, even ahead of myself,
a fearful but hungry critic of nature. If nature were not cruel,
prey would welcome death, enjoy the fangs in their necks, the lead
in their chests. May my targets be tired of life so that the conscience
of killing is noble. I try to forget that I too might be a target.
I spot a buck grazing at the edge of vision.
My arrow passes through his ear in a soft whistle.
He does not wish to die today.
He vanishes into the woods, leaves no blood, no footprints.
Perhaps his body is not solid enough to stop an arrow.
Did he hear me in the whistle of the feathers?
Does he understand the arrow was just a question from a frostbitten soul?
Further on, will he answer me? Will he trample me?
Or will I just follow the rise and fall of my arrows forever?
Robert S. King lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia. His poems have appeared in hundreds of magazines, including California Quarterly, Chariton Review, Hollins Critic, Kenyon Review, Lullwater Review, Main Street Rag, Midwest Quarterly, Negative Capability, Southern Poetry Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Writers’ Forum. He has published three chapbooks (When Stars Fall Down as Snow, Garland Press 1976; Dream of the Electric Eel, Wolfsong Publications 1982; and The Traveller’s Tale, Whistle Press 1998). His full‐length collections are The Hunted River and The Gravedigger’s Roots, both from Shared Roads Press, 2009. He recently stepped down as Director of FutureCycle Press in order to devote more time to his own writing. He continues to serve the press as Poetry Co‐Editor.
© 2012 Robert S. King