"Little Killing Ditty"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Nov. 13 2012 8:30 AM

"Little Killing Ditty"

A man shooting a bird.

Photograph by Thinkstock/Ingram Publishing.

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Christian Wiman read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.   

I have forgotten the little killing ditty
whispered to the red birds and the blue birds and the brown birds
not one of which I ever thought to give a name.

In the tall mesquite mistaking our yard
for a spacious place, I plugged away with my pellet gun
and got them often even in the eye, for I was trained

to my craft by primordial boredom
and I suppose some generic, genetic rage
I seem to have learned to quell or kill.

They dropped like the stones I’d throw in Catclaw Creek
or fluttered spastically and panickedly up
whereupon I took more tenacious aim—

much more difficult now because they moved
—not me, frozen as if in a camera’s flash—
troubling the tyranny of the ordinary

as if a wave of meaning or unmeaning
went rippling like heat through the yard.
Fire and fire and they fell and they fall, hard.

I felt nothing, and I will not betray those days
if days are capable of being betrayed,
by pretending a pang in my larval heart

or even some starveling joy when Tuffy yelped.
I took aim at the things I could not name.
And the ditty helped.

For Slate's poetry submission guidelines, click here. Click here to visit Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project site.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

The Strange History of Wives Gazing at Their Husbands in Political Ads

Television

See Me

Transparent is the fall’s only great new show.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 12:04 PM John Hodgman on Why He Wore a Blue Dress to Impersonate Ayn Rand
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful.
  Business
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
  Life
Education
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 30 2014 11:42 AM Listen to Our September Music Roundup Hot tracks from a cooler month, exclusively for Slate Plus members.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 2:56 PM How Faithful Is David Fincher’s Gone Girl?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 2:38 PM Scientists Use Electrical Impulses to Help Paralyzed Rats Walk Again
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.