Sunday

A weekly poem, read by the author.
March 18 1999 3:30 AM

Sunday

To hear Rita Dove read "Sunday," click here.

Their father was a hunting man.

Each spring the Easter rabbit sprung open

above the bathroom sink, drip slowed

by the split pink pods of its ears

to an intravenous trickle.

There was the occasional deer,

though he had no particular taste

for venison--too stringy, he said,

but made mother smoke it up just in case,

all four haunches and the ribs.

Summer always ended with a catfish

large as a grown man's thigh

severed at the hip, thrashing

in a tin washtub: a mean fish, a fish

who knew the world was to be endured

between mud and the shining hook.

He avoided easy quarry: possum

and squirrel, complacent carp.

He wouldn't be caught dead

bagging coon; coon, he said,

was fickle meat--tasted like

chicken one night, the next like

poor man's lobster. He'd never admit

being reduced to eating coon,

to be called out of his name

and into that cartoon.

It's not surprising they could eat the mess

he made of their playground: They watched

the October hog gutted with grim fury,

a kind of love gone wrong, but oh

they adored each whiskery hock, each

ham slice brushed subterranean green.

They were eating his misery

like bad medicine meant to help them

grow. They would have done anything

not to see his hand jerk like that,

his belt hissing through the loops and

around that fist working inside the coils

like an animal gnawing, an animal

who knows freedom's worth anything

you need to leave behind to get to it--

even your own flesh and blood.

Former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Rita Dove received the 2011 National Medal of Arts from President Obama. Her latest book publications are Sonata Mulattica and The Penguin Anthology of 20th-Century American Poetry.