To hear Rita Dove read “Sunday,” click here.
Their father was a hunting man.
Each spring the Easter rabbit sprung open
above the bathroom sink, drip slowed
by the split pink pods of its ears
to an intravenous trickle.
There was the occasional deer,
though he had no particular taste
for venison–too stringy, he said,
but made mother smoke it up just in case,
all four haunches and the ribs.
Summer always ended with a catfish
large as a grown man’s thigh
severed at the hip, thrashing
in a tin washtub: a mean fish, a fish
who knew the world was to be endured
between mud and the shining hook.
He avoided easy quarry: possum
and squirrel, complacent carp.
He wouldn’t be caught dead
bagging coon; coon, he said,
was fickle meat–tasted like
chicken one night, the next like
poor man’s lobster. He’d never admit
being reduced to eating coon,
to be called out of his name
and into that cartoon.
It’s not surprising they could eat the mess
he made of their playground: They watched
the October hog gutted with grim fury,
a kind of love gone wrong, but oh
they adored each whiskery hock, each
ham slice brushed subterranean green.
They were eating his misery
like bad medicine meant to help them
grow. They would have done anything
not to see his hand jerk like that,
his belt hissing through the loops and
around that fist working inside the coils
like an animal gnawing, an animal
who knows freedom’s worth anything
you need to leave behind to get to it–
even your own flesh and blood.