Spotlighting [poem]

Hold the lamp just up there, boy, and don’t move it, .
The deer’s just ahead, eyes all dark and unfocused and silent,
Against the line of fir. Can you see ‘im? It’s just a forked-horn.
He’s just a little thing. Oldest brother leans a rifle against the unrolled window,
And with a thump, The buck drops.
In a whoop, the creak of moving metal,
Three brothers climb out of the cab,
One with a gun,
Two with a Case knife,
All three sharing the jug of Canadian Mist.
The deer tongue slopped from his black muzzle like a wet sponge.
Hold the light on him! Hurry! Closer! We have to dress him out fast.
The forked horn never even noticed his own eyeless attrition.

They make short work of the deer.
It was, after all, just a little thing. It looked even smaller
Hanging from its legbones inside our garage,
Like a pink and white dog all skinned out, chest cavity open.
His head is loose, nearly unhinged, its tongue a ludicrous slug.
The grown-ups pass the congratulatory whiskey jug
Once around the circle, then twice.
My youngest uncle mussed my hair. I held the lamp, after all.
Now don’t go shouting all over school about this.
We wouldn’t want anyone to be getting ideas.
Strictly speaking, what we done, it ain’t exactly legal.
I nodded gravely. I’d held the lamp. I understood that night,
When I went to bed, it all made sense.
It’s surely not lying to say I did.

But later, when I am trussed upside down from the rafters,
Head facing greaseward, I want to cry cry out. My voice doesn’t work
As I try to spit the sponge-tongue from my esophagus.
I scream unutterable things as the red and blue lights spin
Around the garage, where my core has been split wide open,
My skin pulled from my body like a tight, wet shirt,
My entrails left behind in the huckleberry patch, high on a hill.
I try to tell them. I try to shout to my uncles. It is too late.
I’m just a little thing! I didn’t know the light would make anyone die.
I’m not from this place! Sacramento! Sacramento!
The brown denim sheriff—the one who, not six months before,
Had ordered my country cousins shot in the head for smoking dope,
Led me, his eyebrows and crew cut smirking at me all the while
To the his county jail, where lawbreakers go, and where they feed roadkill
To boys who hold the spotlight, until they puke on the cement cell floor
Right up until my mother flips the electrical switch and wakes me.
Big day ahead. We don’t want to be late for school.


5 thoughts on “Spotlighting [poem]”

  1. Wonderfully gruesome. For me, this captures that sense of unknowing imagination that feeds all our nightmares as children – really quite horrible in places, but in a good, writerly way. Am glad I am not reading in my usual late night time slot as may well have given *me* bad dreams! 😉


  2. There are some great lines in there, Brian. “His own eyeless attrition.” “My skin pulled from my body like a tight, wet shirt.” The switch to the dream in the last part of the poem is powerful, and disorienting. It jumps around nicely, the way that dreams do.


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