Hunters and Gatherers
Shelley Arlidge (Massey University, New Zealand)
Fortunately for my father, a teacher
the duck shooting season would usually coincide
with his May school holidays.
So while we kids sat inside by the fire
with books, jigsaw puzzles, Monopoly and Chinese Checkers,
he would be out in a chilly maimai
honking on his duck caller at dawn and dusk,
keeping himself warm from a thermos
of Mum’s first bacon-bone and split-pea soup of the winter.
In the afternoons, he’d walk the hills with his English setter,
hunting pheasants. There’d be strings of dead birds
hanging by their necks in the garden shed, waiting
to be plucked, sometimes pukeko or a swan to be skinned, and feathers
fluffy nose-ticklers, tan-and-black-barred tail quills for old fashioned writing,
midnight-blue green from the wings of drakes,
slanting silver at the turn of small, inquisitive fingers,
gizzards sliced in half to tip out tiny swallowed stones,
the stink of singeing pin feathers, too small to pull out
bloody guts, webbed feet, necks and heads buried deep in garden dirt.
Once, a family of quail, peacefully sleeping, feathery heads
with closed eyes on the pillow of my sister’s toy pram
stray shotgun pellets, found under the skin of roasted breast or thigh,
would line up around our plates, the rest scattered at the bottom of a lake
the cleaning of the guns with oily cloths, rods and brushes
special oil for the barrels with their hard, metal smell and dark residue
another kind for the warm wood of the stock,
reloading the shotgun shells, blue, green, red or gold
with their shiny brass ends and tightly crimped tops.
Sometimes we’d have target practice with the .22
the ejected shells’ lingering odour of gunpowder,
their breathy whistle, when you angle your lips just right—
holes around the bullseye or bleeding into the soft fur of a rabbit
flung in an old sacking pikau, together with
lemons or peaches from an abandoned orchard
or from the bush, kiwifruit or chokos, growing as wild
as the hair of my tender-hearted sister
who first turned vegetarian and then became a Buddhist
liberating spiders from all the corners of her house.
Shelley Arlidge is close to completing her MCW at Massey University, working from her home in Kororareka, Russell. Her poems have previously been published in Poetry NZ Yearbooks, Landfall, Fast Fibres and Russell Review.