Poetry Wednesday: A Different Tradition

In the interest of full disclosure, this week’s Poetry Wednesday had me stumped and grumpy.

It’s not that I dislike monologuing about poetry,*and holiday-themed posts are usually a piece of appropriately decorated cake, but at last count, I have 28,100 words left of a Nano-novel—that appears now to be two different novels—most of the Thanksgiving poetry I could find is either cutesy-poo, High Purple Religious,** or not quite in the public domain, and I already shared my favorite pumpkin pie poem last year.

I was thinking about holding a Tryptophan Poetry contest, with a care package of my famous Matzoh Ball Soup as the prize, but I figured those of you who will be overeating in the traditional manner tomorrow evening won’t have the time or energy to write poetry—and I’m not sure about the logistics or legalities of mailing a vat of biologically-based liquid across international or intercontinental borders to those of you for whom tomorrow is just another Thursday.

Luckily, a dear friend*** sent me a poem about a different kind of Thanksgiving tradition that made me laugh out loud one I worked it out.  And then, she not only gave me permission to share it here, but sent me images so I wouldn’t have to do a search.

I am very thankful.

How We Shoot Turkey in These Hills
(Liza Gilbert ©2012)

Black blue dawn
Momma’s awake
swiff swiff swiff
of soft boots on the frozen kitchen floor
She lights the stove and with a
Woosh the morning
has light.

I stay warm in bed
Coiling to spring up.
I am old enough today –
Just old enough –
To shoot today.

With my eyes closed
Poppy don’t know I’m up
And he shakes my shoulder,
says, “Boy”
and my feet hit the floor.

We eat without thinking We think about shooting
I think about shooting.
Momma don’t talk to us
Like normal.
She knows today is different –
That today I’m just old enough

Wooden chairs on wooden floors
Poppy and I push away from the table
and stand.
I walk behind Poppy
out of the cabin
To the shed
To the gun.

It’s an old thing
Like Frankenstein
Pieces put together
Held together
But not very big.

Other boys in these hills
and their poppies
have bigger and newer guns
Guns with all their original
But ours still works
Real good
Fires real good.

I struggle with the old
warped, wood wash bin
Scrubbed clean by me yesterday
Four times as wide as me.
I’m just old enough
But not yet big,
But I get that old wash bin
out in the field where
Poppy wants it.

Right under the life-size
plywood turkey shadow on a post
five foot off the ground

Poppy has the gun set up
On the ground,
The ammo at his side.

I’m hot and flushed and sweaty
Even though dawn ain’t here yet
And it’s icy on the ground.
First-time jitters.

Poppy opens the sackcloth bag
Next to us
An ugly bag
And I now know this is real.

My hands are shaking
But I load the gun
And without a word
When Poppy is ready
We start to fire at the turkey

I forget every year
That the gun ain’t loud
It’s a choked poof –
That’s all.

We fire
And shoot
And fill the wash bin with our
And after a half hour
The sun has the courage
To appear over our gun
and our sack is empty and flat.

Poppy pulls the turkey outta the ground
and I try to lift the wash bin
To carry it home
but it’s too heavy
and I’ll have to get the sled.
Poppy takes the gun and the turkey and
the empty sack and heads home

And I’m proud I have
This responsibility.
When I drag the wash bin home
Poppy’s moved on
to other chores
and the sun’s full high in the sky.

I bring the wash bin to the
back of the house.
I go to tell Momma but
She sees me
Sweaty, red-faced, happy
and just old enough,
and I don’t have to say a word
to Momma.

She’s got most of the
dinner cooking and the smell
is proof she’s the best cook
in these hills.

She puts a hand on my head –
I’m not big yet –
and asks me
“You get those potaters mashed?”
“Yes ma’am”
“Good boy.”


*If I did, I’d quit and start riffing on something else I’m not qualified to parse, like parenting and theoretical physics—Oh, wait . . .

**Not that I don’t grasp the connection between Thanksgiving and giving thanks to a specific entity, or realize that prayers are poetry, too—and often gorgeously resonant poetry, too, regardless of one’s personal belief system—but in my opinion, there should be more middle ground between “I grew a widdle pumpie-kin/I fink I’ll name him Pie” and full-on Smells and Bells Spiritual Obsequience.  Just sayin’.

***That doesn’t really cover how amazing this woman is and how lucky I am that our lives intersected.