Early in the Rut
I get battery-operated socks from my father.
FOR WHEN WE GO HUNTING.
At Christmas, I give him two
porcelain deer, which he sets on his nightstand
and props his glasses against
He sharpens his knives
until they slice through single sheets of paper.
THIS, he says, IS HOW IT SHOULD BE.
We begin early and cold.
He gives me a camera and a blaze orange scarf
before I climb the rope ladder
into his best tree stand equipped with an overturned
five gallon pail that used to hold cherry pie filling.
On its side is a picture of a toddler
falling into the pail and drowning.
SHOOT WITH YOUR CAMERA,
I’LL SHOOT WITH THIS.
He hoists his rifle onto his back and walks
north, away from me.
A doe climbs to the valley’s edge,
to drink from the river below.
He takes aim nearby, his upper lip
sweating as he raises the butt of the rifle
to his shoulder. He pinches closed
his left eye and lines up the cross-hairs.
Aims right above the lungs.
The kill-zone. The heart.
When he field-dresses a deer, he usually
has me watch, pointing out
the stomach lining and contents, the bladder,
the heart. This time, he will send me back
to the truck before he punctures
the doe’s pregnant belly with his knife.
He will drag her out of the woods
alone and tie her to the top of our truck.
That afternoon, I wash blood off the windshield
with dish soap and rags I throw into the woods afterward.
I watch the deer drop; she hits the ground
before the sound of my father’s gunshot passes.
My father calls from his stand.
KIMBERLY, he says. THAT’S US.
You want to feel the worm’s breath, warm and sticky
like chewed tobacco on the back porch, and you want
your father to be excited
about the soft leaves on the ground and the thin clouds
that surround the moon because you
are doing this for him, after all. There’s a certain skill
to picking up worms. Night crawlers, actually.
We call them night crawlers.
You want him to wake you up from a buttered sleep
and whisper that he needs your help. Yes, that’s right.
You need boots that fit your little feet well and
how come you never have boots that fit your feet well,
we’re going to have to get you new ones
soon. You need a baseball cap too, because
the rain is still coming down outside
and your face will get wet. Your hair falls
in front of your eyes and why do you always
let your hair fall in front of your eyes
they’re so pretty
you should pull your hair back more often.
The worms are fast and slippery.
They shrink back into their holes but you’re bound
to lose a few. You’re new at this and it’s just nice
to have someone here
for a change. You have to grab the worms firmly
between your forefinger and your thumb
but not too tightly because they will slip out of your pinch
or snap in half or you will squeeze out their brown insides
and they will be useless.
After the rain stops, the worms will collapse
back into the earth and you will need to go inside
to make lemonade and peanut butter sandwiches
because picking up worms—night crawlers—
is taxing and your father is hungry,
craving something soft to eat before lying
next to your mother. And after such a night crawling,
it hurts a little to climb back into bed.
—Kimberly Bruss, Houston, TX