The boy kills the engine, curses the bruises
on his chest and legs as he drags his soft heft
from the truck cab, unlatches the gate,
inhales musk still clinging to bone,
takes what remains of a buck by the neck,
drops head, spine, and rib cage on gravel.
His cousin said shooting would calm him—
then the gutting, skinning they did together,
but he needed the drive, the dumping, alone.
Last night’s punches echo through his flesh
as he shuts the gate, his hands still in fists.
The crank head his mother won’t leave
must still be awake, third night in a row.
She must be sleeping, right cheek on the pillow,
the left still black. He won’t say the man’s name.
He will still call her mama. He won’t step
between them again, or telegraph his right cross.
There are ways he can strike at a distance.
Seventeen in a month. He can stay with his cousin,
who knows of a man across the river, night work,
money enough for them both. The woods
behind his mother’s small house—shadows,
trees all the way to the water. The scope’s
perfect cross. Windage dialed. Zeroed
at two hundred yards. Empty the lungs,
the delicate fingertip press, hold the gaze
through the shot. Take the recoil inside him.
Robert Lee Kendrick has previous work published in Birmingham Poetry Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, Tar River Poetry, and Louisiana Literature. His first full-length collection, What Once Burst With Brilliance, was released in 2018 by Iris Press. His chapbook, Winter Skin, was released in 2016 by Main Street Rag Publishing.