From: Poems for the American Brother
With gear and bait strapped to our packs, we hit
the trail at 5:00. You ready, Max? Thinking back,
it must have been a thousand times I watched
my brother trek down from the mountaintop
with small game knotted tightly to his pack.
He was 21 back then – 13 years
my senior – with backwoods smarts so fresh,
so pure, that no one dared to question him.
His pace was quick, but not too quick for me.
An hour down, up near the hollow’s rim:
Hey – look ahead… You see what’s on the trail?
I squint a bit, then give a guarded nod.
You see? Another nod, more self-assured.
Yea… yea, I can see. Just a couple feet
beside the oak. Cautiously, a few more steps,
then squatting down behind the trunk: …from what?
he asks, his finger pointing at the dung.
With honesty, the truth: Don’t really know.
With twig in hand, he rolls one specimen
of feces from the clump. Don’t know this shape?
This time, his eyes square with mine, I can tell
the question is no joke. C’mon, boy – it’s coon
That dung – you see? It ain’t dried up just yet.
I interrupt: That’s cause the coon – he left
not all too long ago… that right? He nods.
You got it! …So, a little later on
tonight, you think he’ll come this way again?
I watch his fingers model how to set
the trap and place the bait. With twig in hand,
he shows me how the teeth will snap – ka-WACK!
No joke – you wanna keep them fingers, right?
This ain’t no Play-skool toy, you know? I nod.
Now go ahead and do just as I done.
Transcending past the school yard jungle gym,
no remonstration necessary. I
could sense, could tell, that I was growing up.
Credit: First appeared in the New Mexico Review Issue 5.