When I was a boy
there was a bounty on coyotes in Maine.
I don’t remember if my stepfather collected it,
if he went out at night
locked and loaded,
seeking a reward in exchange
for eliminating a threat.
I do remember a friend’s house
and a tree in the yard with three
of those grey carcasses hanging from it.
I remember that I cried for them
and that my friend laughed,
and my stepfather
took me aside and told me to stop it.
He had now seen something in me:
A shadowy weakness.
The kind of thing that cries at the end of books;
he didn’t know just what it was but he hated it.
He started taking me
to the slaughter house with the hogs.
The first animal I killed
was a skinny buck deer,
the buckshot from his borrowed shot gun
in its neck and shoulder and throat.
He showed me where to cut the deer across its belly,
to spill out the guts and organs.
As soon as I put the blade through the skin
my eyes began to leak
and my throat swelled
and he clenched his fist.
what ails you?
I said, I fink, I fink
I fink I’m allergic.
He laughed then
and told me to breathe deeper,
tied his handkerchief around my head.
Told me that when we were done
he would take me to McDonalds
and buy me an apple pie
and not tell my mother.
He put his hand on my shoulder,
take your time,
When he thought I was ready.
he put the knife back in my hand
and pushed it down.
Showing me where and how I should cut.
Telling me while he did it,
where and how I should cut.
He no longer feared that weak thing in me.
He still didn’t understand it,
but now, he knew how to kill it.
Zeke Russell grew up in Central Maine surrounded by artists and lumberjacks. Since then he’s been a cook, a teacher, a security guard and a social worker. He lives in South Boston with his partner Emily and PJ,the world’s worst behaved pug dog. He does his best to try to end homelessness, writes poems, and usually needs a haircut.