The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

George Kalamaras

Jack Huntley and Ivan James Go Rabbit Hunting with Their Dogs

 

     Based on a photo of five men and four hounds, rabbit hunting in the snow,

     Michigan, 1950

 

 

They have a dog.  Their dogs have four legs.

Four dogs.  Four legs.  Sixteen

candles on a birthday cake could be a way

to say almost-adult.  Strange, this almost.

Like five men with four dogs.

Like five men named, in the photo’s description,

only Jack Huntly and Ivan James.

Are there two Jack Huntly’s and three Ivan James’?

Four James’ and one Jack?

I have five fingers on each hand.  Four, really,

and a thumb.  I use the thumb for all kinds of things.

From tying my shoes to hitching a ride to

balancing a cup of tea I guide to my mouth,

which very mysteriously guides the tea

to the necessary parts of my brain.

Strange, this brain.  Almost an almost.

Almost smart.  Almost cold.  Still, very dumb.

Child-numb.  Still, very much

alive, but moving toward

the inevitable end.  I hope it doesn’t come soon.

I’d like time to be with friends.  John.  Ray.

Sam.  Tasha.  Michelle.  I’d like time to meet a man

or two like Jack Huntly and Ivan James.  Maybe

go hunting together, though I’d likely dart ahead

of the dogs and tell the rabbits who and what

we intend.  Maybe be a dog, a beagle-hound sniffing

out the many aspects of death

lying in the Michigan snow.  I always wanted to know

what it felt like to have snow inside, as if my body

cooled the November rain whipping in from Lake Superior.

As if my breath could warm the dark spots of an inland sea

or the frozen breaches of the north.  I’ve always wanted to know

what it felt like to scour the ground and sniff ahead

for death, as if I wasn’t headed there myself

but was only here to wag and scent and howl and maybe even bring back

the bloody thing in my mouth.  What would it taste like?

How might my four legs respond to its four legs

flopping around as it made strange burbling sounds

in my mouth?  Strange, this brain and all it can imagine.

How the missing, the skipped, can make me trot ahead—

beyond this 1950 photo—and consider

who the other three hunters might be.

Or why Jack and Ivan brought along three extra men

when they only had four dogs between them.

What was missing in their lives

for them to make so visible the gaps

of faulty math?  I have a dog.

She has four legs.  I have two.  And Mary Ann

has two.  When we walk in a field of snow

with our hound, our four legs match hers.

These are the things that don’t add up,

even when they do.  That lay me awake

in the below cold (even when I struggle to decide

in the dark if I lay or lie).  Strange, this almost,

this brain.  Almost smart.  Almost old.

Thinking itself, almost whole, even those days

when it knows five men went out with four dogs

to look for what was missing.  For what was

perhaps trembling in some hutch

or other.  In the snow.

 

 

 

George Kalamaras

The Now-Wet Slapping in the Throat

 

The excitement of the hunt by kerosene. By moonlight. By strange moth milk.

The hound dogs bagged a goose in Carolina, but their yelps, their excited breathing, was

     the border between true north and south.

 

There is no mention of gaps in the chain of evidence.

That four stoats should carry the corpse of another is not so easily dealt with.

 

Who will claim this music, this antidote to death?

The hills and hollers of Indiana are partly butterfly-hinge in the now-wet body of the

     rain. In sycamore leaves. In the back-and-forth slapping inside the gutters of the

     throat.

 

With this bucket of burnt gravel in my chest, there was cause for caution and concern.

Someone asked for a photograph of 1956, and the entire year was conspicuous with

     snow.

 

It is not enough to cover the ground with sound, no matter how pure the denouncement of 

     a mirror.

Clothe me with the bright adornment of the sizzling outburst of a scar.

 

We knew each other’s insides by how and why we cried.

When you brought me the hound pup, wriggling and wet—her ears already long from the

     strength of the journey—I knew the spaces between my words would never again be

     the same.

 

 

George Kalamaras

Recipe for Cooking the Heart of a Hound

 

1.   First, don’t cook it. Don’t even remove it from its placement, by the wind, onto

       the tongue of your left shoe.

2.    When aging the heart of a hound, do not hang it upside down in the smoker; allow

        it to spin, counterclockwise, above a pit of a half-fired bushel of Indiana corn.

3.    When considering whether to remove the heart in the first place, look long in the

       mirror at your own chest. Listen deeply to wind through the hollers. Consider

       moon-splash upon the leaves of your throat. Imagine what it would be like if you

       lost the hound heart from inside the throbbing of your left ear.

4.    Now prepare the remains for cooking. Lay sheets of everything you neglected to

        hear this week—sycamore hollow; raccoon scratch in your sleep; eelgrass in the

        spine—upon the counter. Roll flat. Lightly salt.

5.    Now go ahead and add the mixture you have prepared from the night before. We

        have not provided that yet but suggest this consist of fear, regret, and an

        abstraction or two more. If you find this difficult to concoct, simply lie in bed

       (any time of day), toss and turn (even if not bedtime), and allow your mind to drift

        back to regret. We are certain you can find something to add as base.

6.    Select the hound. We recommend this be done sooner, but it is often helpful to

        wait until this step for final selection.

7.    Ask the hound slantwise into your throat. Remind it that the indigenous peoples

       asked deer to reveal themselves and offer themselves unto the hunt. Take to your

       knees and see if you can hear the vigorous hound heart pounding up through the

       forest floor.

8.    Find the heart inside your own heart. Ask the wind for direction. If during this

       point of preparation you suddenly cannot hear, be assured that the silken ears of a

       beagle or a bluetick coonhound may be clouding and preventing you from

       blistering your own skin. (Wrong action can burn, so also keep ointment nearby.)

       Ask of it if it is so. Don’t worry if it is awkward in the phrasing. Say it precisely

       that way—almost Biblically. Find a porch in Logan County, Kentucky—in

       Russellville—rock on a chair, and thank the semen secretions of the moon for

       fiddling in your chest.

9.    Now allow for woman talk to merge with semen secretions. (You may rely upon

       owl scent in river willows if necessary.) Allow your heart to cuddle afterwards

       with regret.

10.    Repeat step three, only backwards, while facing the mirror. Since step three

         already includes looking in a mirror, facing the mirror again to repeat this step

         will allow you to reflect upon reflection. This will help balance all opposites,

         including male, female, and hound parts of the heart.

11.    Repeat step four, attempting to hear other lost moments—the sound of shoelaces

         as you walk; echo of urine in the night toilet; the caress of kerosene in the spine

         when night turns to dawn and sleep has abandoned the ants climbing rakes in the

         shed.

12.    Consider cooking your own heart instead. Ask of it if it should be so. Again, don’t

         worry about any awkward phrasing. Say it exactly that way—almost ritually, like

         steps of a fire ceremony described in the Upanishads. Locate a porch in the house

         of your body. Sit. Rock. Sleep.

13.    Let the preparation cool. (Fire ceremonies are meant to cleanse.) Prepare tea.

         When drinking tea, drink tea. Look again for a porch in the house of your body.

 

 

 

GEORGE KALAMARAS is a former Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014-2016) and has published fifteen books of poetry (eight of which are full-length), including The Mining Camps of the Mouth (2012), winner of the New Michigan Press Chapbook Award, Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck (2011), winner of the Elixir Press Poetry Contest, and The Theory and Function of Mangoes (2000), winner of the Four Way Books Intro Series. He is a Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990.

 

 

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