My First Stepdad was a Hunter

I grew up with his woods at my back.
He only took me into them once.
I was too small and slow
for him to keep an eye on
while he was lining up his sights
with our winter meat’s beating heart.

When I was five, we got a hunting dog,
a beagle he clutched against his red chest.
After looking into her full, brown eyes,
he could only shoot bucks, said
her face was just too much like a doe’s.

What did he see in my mother’s eyes
when I watched his fist come up,
catch her jaw?
He clattered her teeth
like antlers rattling to conjure
a fight, a shot, a killing.

When she growled get out,
he grabbed his gun.

The day he left for the last time,
he sat, cradling our beagle.
She turned out too gun-shy for hunting.
He loved her anyway.
He wanted her to stay gentle.

I’ve never fired a gun,
never taken aim, never
gotten the taste of buckshot
off the back of my teeth.