Last Father’s Day
The ride to Dad’s was uneventful. I mean,
except for the squirrel, who seemed to have it in
for himself anyway, the desperate scurry
and lunge, certain thud. But that was nothing
much in the grand scheme of things, and so it was her
putanesca for dinner, and we grinned
little grins to register the irony.
Dad never flinched, and when had he begun
to drink white zinfandel? Budweiser cans
were nowhere in sight, our mother’s photo
was nowhere in sight, not even in a closed album
placed upon the Ikea coffee table
the evening before as a gesture
we’d have seen as a gesture. Where Mom’s Home
Sweet Home had hung was a museum print—
El Greco’s View of Toledo—casting silver-
blue electricity along the wall,
its cathedral’s spire conducting heaven,
light humbled into dark conspiracy
with storm clouds, torrents about to batter rooftops
and flush the valley clean. “The dog got old,”
Dad explained, “and I had to put him down.”
Did we want the boxes in the attic?
Report cards, class pictures, ‘A’ papers,” he said,
“and who knows what else your mother saved.”
I threw my pellet gun in the back seat, too,
the case of bootleg tapes I’d play so loudly
they trembled the house with bass. My sister lugged
Mom’s wicker sewing basket and Di-Ann—
that’s how she spelled it, DI-ANN—
didn’t like it one bit, but there went thimbles
out the door, tailor’s chalk and the yellow tape measure,
tins of hemming pins, a myriad of spools,
dizzying arrays of colored threads, plus
the two of us, and Dad and Di-Ann
awkwardly waving goodbyes from the edge
of the driveway, flabby arms around each other’s waists.
My clunker twitched into gear, leapt backward
into the street like a startled cat. We heard
the tearing; you and I both swore it was so;
the worn-out seat of the universe
expanded then. We’d heard it split a seam.
The Gentleman Hunters Run Their Hounds
—Lake Anna, VA
Let’s hasten through this early spring plague,
ladybugs whirring about on pitiful wings
while their homes are burning. Earlier,
two does clambered uphill from the lake,
disappeared beyond construction waste
we’ve yet to haul to the dump. Minutes later,
a pack of howling dogs followed, numbers
stenciled on their sides, antennae protruding
from tracking devices attached to their collars.
I wished I were a hunter in camouflage,
tracking down those canine killers.
What would it be like
to sip Armangac and smoke cigars
beneath their stuffed heads, bared teeth
polished and glistening in the firelight?
Some cultures eat them, I’m told,
but we scratch the fur behind their skittish ears.
Sunday morning, on ESPN, the celebrity hunter
murmured absent-mindedly as he kneeled
over the eight-point buck he’d just plugged
through the heart from three hundred yards,
stroking that same soft spot
behind the corpse’s ear, almost whispering
to it: he was saying, “beautiful animal,
such a beautiful animal.” You and I
are happier now that we’ve seen the error
of our ways. Though it is nearly dark,
coyotes will likely keep their distance
as we pick through our dense woods.
The last flaring of sunlight incites
the tree line into flame that will surely burn
everything to the ground, but I have never loved you
so much as I do now, yelping dogs
and their red-necked masters be damned.
John Hoppenthaler is the author of three collections of poetry, Lives Of Water, Anticipate the Coming Reservoir, and the forthcoming Domestic Garden, all with Carnegie Mellon University Press. Recent poems have been published, or are forthcoming, in Subtropics, Copper Nickel, Cutthroat, Blackbird, Southern Humanities Review, Spillway, Mead, Laurel Review, Greensboro Review, StorySouth, and elsewhere. An Associate Professor at East Carolina University, he edits A Poetry Congeries at Connotation Press: An Online Artifact.