"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.

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Christian Wiman's most recent book is Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet.