From a Tree Limb

Jean-Baptiste Oudry “A Deer Attacked by Dogs” (1725)

From a Tree Limb

By Sean Karns


Outside my house, a gutted buck dangles
from a tree limb.  Two men pull the buck’s hide
like tugging on a bell rope in a tower.
Their children swing on the swing set.
I’ve never seen a deer slaughtered,
never seen many things slaughtered.

I once saw my father gut a squirrel.
Doesn’t smell right, he said.  He put the squirrel
an inch away from my face.
Sniff it, he said. I smelled it, sucked in the odor
like my last breath and shrugged my shoulders
not knowing what I was sniffing for.
He dug a hole in the yard.
You got to dig the hole deep enough,
he said. So the dogs can’t smell it and dig it up.

I wonder where the heart is,
where the spleen is,
if the men will leave the buck
disemboweled in two locations.

I press my face to the screen door.
A child pets the hide splayed over
the laundry line, the other watches
the hacking off of hooves.


“From a Tree Limb” first appeared in Pleiades and is in Jar of Pennies. 


About the Author: Sean Karns has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Illinois and a BA from The Ohio State University. He is the author of a collection of poetry, Jar of Pennies, and his poetry has appeared in the Birmingham Poetry Review, Hobart, Rattle, Pleiades, Los Angeles Review, Cold Mountain Review, Folio, and elsewhere; and his poetry has been anthologized in New Poetry from the Midwest. He is currently the poetry editor at Mayday Magazine.

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