RITES OF PASSAGE
Hamilton, Massachusetts,1949. Age 8.


He’s teaching me to “be a man.”
Stepfather and I are up on our snowy ridge
with his Navy-issue .45, his hubris,
and his love of guns and hunting.

His first target of opportunity: an adult cottontail.
A sharp report echoes through snowy woods,
Blue jays, squirrels, chickadees cease chatter.
Brass shell ejects in slow motion;
arcing down, down, end over end,
silently into the powder.

Pathetic piercing squeal of the mortally-wounded rabbit;
Bloody fur on snow; agonizing cries
as it twists and contorts in excruciating pain.
He strides purposefully to his wounded target,
lifts the weapon again, and at close range fires another round.
Exploding teeth, eyes, and skull.
Grinning, self-satisfied, .45 muzzle smoking:
“That’s how we do it, Billy!”

Numb; stunned; riveted with shock, I have died my first death.
Unable to process this cold, senseless, disrespectful ending of life.
Unable to comprehend how a perfect being can be killed
not for food, but for the pleasure and power of killing.

Never shooting, I retrieved dying mallard ducks
peppered with shot, from the Parker River tidal channels.
Their deep, glossy greens and purples
damp with blood, vividly remembered today.
I retrieved wounded ring-necked pheasants from the deep brush.
He wrung their necks with glee and gusto.
I cleaned guns, as ordered.

Programmed by culture and psyche,
He killed peaceful creatures of the wild.
Killed defenseless animals for sport.
Terminated lives of harmless creatures.
Killed my gentle forest friends in cold blood
to satisfy a vestigial cultural tradition.
Or compulsion.

I cry inside – too late – for these victims.
I can never bring them back.
I can never restore their pristine lives.
I can only struggle with remorse and deep pain.

I can only empathize with small boys helplessly caught
in the vicarious pressures of insecure fathers.

–Will Walsh ©2017