Matt O'Donnell

The Turkey Hunter

                             Things shifted into higher gear despite me.
                             Or on account of me. Why not be honest?

                                                                  —Sydney Lea, “The Feud”


Do not provoke the man with the gun on the edge
of your land, I know is an easily remembered rule for living.
And there I hollered from the doorstep, clodded down the cold
dirt driveway in oversized rubber boots and boxers shorts.


While up into the yard charged a large man in camouflage,
with his blatant gun over his shoulder, beard flaming from his chin
like a burning bush in a hot wind rushing toward me
and I’m not afraid to say I was scared as hell


and might well have backpeddled like a tiny Larry Bird
in the scopes of those red eyes as he fired
Fuck you and You want a fucking problem? at my gaping bed head.
Well, you got a fucking problem now. The cloud of his voice


billowed over me with the violent conclusion that I hadn’t
handled this in the best way. I recalled with perfect practical
hindsight, “nothing good will ever grow from feuds,”
and wondered what might be reaped from this imprudence. In the poem


I’d been reading, two men carried a grudge to wretched ends,
innards steamed in piles on the ground, an appalling fire
consumed everything. Oh, god, would it be my dog heaped
on the front lawn? Or merely a messy mass of guinea fowl?


I could take the end of the hens, might even drop it all right there.
Or, maybe it’s me, lit up in neighborly effigy from the hot barrel
of a shotgun this morning, or on Thursday while taking out the trash,
Alesia waking to my foolish guts dribbled across the kitchen floor.


I say, I don’t want any problems with anyone, and might have
continued with good luck, or happy hunting, headed back up
to the house, behind the glare of the window, where I might have stayed
in the first place with my mug, merely contemplating the bright sun.


But, instead, How about playing guns somewhere other than my driveway?
and I quickly pitied myself such a waste of irony, felt it like a trickle down my leg.
He lets off again, You want a problem? Step into the road and I’ll give you one.
I do. I cross into the road to answer his call, not now unlike a strutting tom,


think back to my last brawl, fourth grade, that I’d done well
jumping Matt Bolduc from behind off a tall school desk, wished
Sister Alma was here for this ambush, too, my punishment looming
greater this time than missed recess to scrawl chalk lines on the board,


“I will fight the Devil.” Despite a super dad t-shirt, I don’t strike
an imposing figure in my underwear, which is something like
what I’m sure my neighbor was thinking. That and, “I have a gun.”
“Good fences make good neighbors,” of course, but remembering


so much goddamned poetry wasn’t helping me here, like a handful
of good-sized rocks would, or longer arms. Look, I’m not against hunting.
I’m just uncomfortable with people shouldering shotguns in my yard,
You see?
I stood my ground.


                                   You fucking liberals move in here—
I didn’t see his left hook coming and, back on my heels,
dumbly wondered when he’d read our bumper stickers,
what pithy slogans had to do with this turkey hunt, wondered


if it was good or bad that this armed man hated me
for deeper, unspoken offenses and not just the morning’s trespass.
His warning widened my stance, and in my righteous
muck boots, I wished for the innocence of toilet paper in the trees, a flaming


bag of shit against the front door, the mailbox deposted from the shotgun
seat of a pickup to score our philosophical differences—
Jesus Christ. I only have three days for these birds and every time
I turn around, someone’s shouting bloody murder at me.


His face dropped its beard so that it looked almost soft,
and if I were ever going to swing, I knew I should raise it right then,
like a crusader, up from the deep pit of justice, a sanctae crucis
to that sinister jaw, the heavy rite of reflection.


But, he turned his back and headed the other way, cursing at me
in a string that hung this ain’t over in the damp air. I tripped after him
like an awkward schoolgirl ditched as the dance ends, calling Wait.
Don’t walk away. Let’s talk about this.
And wait he does.



“The Turkey Hunter” first appeared in Ecotone, Volume 3, Number 1, Fall 2007.