Stray Hunter's Bullet:
A Failure in Narrative
L. Le Grys

"Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire"

                                    Thomas Gray
Gabriel God knows was no
beauty even when young
a scarecrow
made out of barbed wire
and grain sacks
a few fistfuls of dry grass
for hair
and to tell his story
for so many years now
I have tried to tell
the story of Gabriel Ferris
but there is no story
just a death
a life most would scarcely consider a life
of odd jobs gardening carpentry yard work
a trailer up back on the land he got from his uncle
where he grew superlative pot
a legendary gardener
which he sold cheap to keep him in beer and vodka
the trailer a ruin
surrounded by flowers and fruit-trees
each fall spent deep in the woods
hunting alone
where he died
a stray hunter's bullet
that struck
if aimed at all
if not simply shot off
in some fit of exuberance
or inattention
at something else
his body
to be found in the spring
by chance also
for no one had missed him
who would have known he was missing
not even his daughter
went up there three times in a year
and the genius
which it seems didn't interest him
for he played as years passed
a happy man
there it is

to begin
or rather
to get to the end
with dispatch
it begins in a barn
Jesus just like that
and a crowd of drunk teenagers
in late spring
just seventeen
aloof and artistic
applying to schools
out of here
which is nowhere
and certain to get there
but why was she here
for no reason at all
almost certainly
bored and uncertain
the friend who had brought her
an alibi probably
getting fucked in a stall
laid in a manger
unconsciously sipping a bottle
hoping to blend
in the rough grain of the wall
small black-eyed crop-haired
calculating miles
of dirt road to be walked in the dark
if she doesn't wait for her ride
of the boys on hay bales
with electric guitars
playing not badly
for the others not using the stalls
the smell of cheap beer and pot
and hay and manure
and heavy machinery
and some sort of perfume
from somewhere

Gabriel she knew of course in a town of a size
where no one is unknown
knew that he played
the guitar
knew he was good
everyone knew
yet she never had heard him
as she never had lain
on the floor of a stall
and so did not know
what he was who he was yes
everyone knew
yet no one
even those who had heard him
especially those who had heard him
knew what

the others loved it also
everyone did all
who ever heard him loved it
but none ever knew what it was
they thought it was him
the girls did the ones
who briefly enchanted
fell in love while he played
with it
thinking it him
the spell lasting long enough
for them to lead him
to the floor of a stall
the tall brush at the gravel pit
the back of a car
almost anywhere some of them
so long as it lasted
but it didn't last long
and none of them ever went twice
until Carrie
because she alone understood
that it was not him
she alone fell in love
with him
it first but then him
she alone knew
on her back in the stall
it was he not it
she was getting

I heard him much later
this a party
for grown-ups
where I was the one
the one
who knew
what he was
though I didn't know who
a living-room this time
at a house by the lake
with glasses and wine and nice clothes
though Gabriel looked like the yard man
which he was
certainly everyone wondered
who didn't know him
what he was doing there
drinking beer from the keg on the lawn
from a plastic cup
when the host
impeccable in a blazer
called him to play
and sat at the grand piano
to accompany him
the company settled resignedly
filling glasses
as Gabriel sat
a bit drunk already
with an old telecaster
on a folding chair
emptied the cup
and they played
and I knew
who the hell is that
I asked someone
under my breath
he mows Frederick's lawn
was the answer

I alone knew
the others knew he was good
very good they enjoyed it
like the kids in the barn waiting their turn in the stalls
but he was not good
but something else
beyond that
beyond him
and he knew it so long as he played
he played with it
or it played with him
then it stopped
when he stopped
for he was not it
it was not it the girls led to the stalls
though they thought it was
he went back to the keg on the lawn
he had mowed that morning
and I followed him
I knew he was not it
but I followed him for it was
in him
and we knew
our eyes met
and we knew

Carrie followed him too that first night
their eyes met as he played
she had moved closer
to the front in the light
and there he had seen her
seen her look
and she was the first
she knew what it was
and he knew
she knew when she followed him
he was not it
she followed him
she was the first
and he knew

that was the summer of Eden
spent it would seem
in their memory
as one endless day
by a pond in the woods
on a rock
naked in post-coital repose
and lucidity
skin cool from the water
droplets damp hair
he fingering idly the frets of a guitar
she sketching
intent oblivious to all but lines
tracing with a pencil
the edge of his back
the ribs through pale skin
the tight ridges of his scrotum
pulled cold from the water
the feet scratched and calloused
and long fingers
with hair on the knuckles
and countless nights all dark away
from fires and porch lights
in barns in tall grass
backs of cars
against the tin walls of sheds filled with heavy machinery
as common as dirt

she told me much later
after the death
both of us
a bit drunk
she still in a rage
almost beautiful still she must have been beautiful
she was pretty I've
seen the pictures
small compact dark hair
cropped short
her eyes black and challenging
as she talked in a rage
though she was no longer beautiful
but a middle-aged woman
her hair now long
drying gray in an early drought
her funky clothes self-made
she wasn't yet forty
having entered the period
and the class
where a decade or two is irrelevant
a few years of work at the mill
and a child
a wild one
and there she was
though the hair was still something
like flowers hung to dry upside-down
now grown out a single luxury
never quite reaching luxuriant
but still something
and the funky clothes she still made for herself and the child
the eyes black
always angry even
when smiling aloof
but no longer ambitious but
for survival
a simple ambition against
in the mill and the child
she loved that had ruined her a child
conceived surely
out of control
and beautiful
much more fucked than her mother

no there is no story
so long I have tried
to tell
for Carrie yes there's a story
as common as dirt
it's the lack of a story
that calls the attention
look there is nothing
would you believe it
a vacuum
and he of course the happy one

that child
the wild one
beside whom even Gabriel
seemed staid and respectable
for his manner always was quiet
gentle and friendly
whether drunk stoned at work
or all three
but Gabby
Gabriela named in the first burst of enthusiasm
when the ordeal of birth had ended
for a seventeen-year-old mother scarcely five feet tall
without hips
already out of the house
of shocked Presbyterian parents
graduated two weeks before
as salutatorian
giving the speech on a milk crate
in order to reach the microphone
and her belly
my God what a belly
I saw the picture you'd think it'd
pull her right down off the rostrum
below the picture her name
grade-point average
to attend in the fall
New York University to study art
a caption perhaps
not the child
at least she wore shoes

in two months she was caught in the mill
and Gabriel
who would never get caught in the mill
was already up back on his land
in the trailer his uncle's old hunting camp
for the end had come
when he offered to marry her
for that was the source of her rage
not in twenty years
not after when he had died
would it rest
for she knew she told me
he was offering not

he was perfectly willing
she told me
he wasn't begrudging
he loved me he always loved me
but I saw
for the first time I knew it
or knew what it meant
that for him
it was indifferent
one way or the other
not just marriage not just the child
to him
everything was indifferent
the music this place
this place I hated
that all my life I
had aimed to escape
for to me
then I knew it
when I suddenly knew him
when I knew what he meant
for to me
nothing is ever indifferent

it wasn't his fault
I never said that
he didn't seduce me
he didn't abandon me
he just struck me
by chance
a stray hunter's bullet
but unlucky for me
unlike him
I wasn't struck in the brain
just winged
a bad wound
but it never will kill me
it never will kill me
but God he was beautiful
useless and beautiful
I know what he looked like so did he
the only man alive he said
ugly as his own dick
the kindest gentlest man I have known
deadly and beautiful
Typhoid Mary was probably
sweet as a blackberry pie
and pretty
as a goldfinch she said

but Gabby the child
the frail lovely scene
of countless quite maculate
and many various
hitherto untried experiments in chemical reaction
by the time she had reached seventeen
a head taller than her mother and
a body thinner
also without hips
long hair of dry grass
from her father
one of those girls
found in trailer parks mostly whose body
even when clothed
seems naked the clothes merely hanging for the time being
as on a rack
bright sweet raucous
utterly careless
with her mother's gifts
more than her mother's
her mother says
at nineteen she was waitressing
partying fucking
even I
I never told Carrie
had her once
she's too kind

to control such a child
once she hit puberty
Carrie must have known it was coming
that child of nature
lovely savage
I saw her first
four-years old in a loose homemade dress
bright red barefoot shrieking
chasing a kitten through Gabriel's fruit-trees
to control such a child
once she hit puberty
just when a corner
had maybe been turned
for Carrie broken
free from the mill
she had opened the gift shop
selling water-colors
began to turn pottery
now we're both pot-dealers
Gabriel said
and she laughed briefly
above the still rage
but she knew she must have known what was coming
to control such a child
who can always break out
to her father's
up back in the woods
away from lectures harangues
to get pot alcohol
sleep with boys
or the older men she attracted
even at fifteen
when a child has access
to a world without law
just a step in the woods
to her father's
a father whose comment
on finding his daughter at sixteen years old
giving statutory head
on his door-step
to a friend of the family
take that out of your mouth you
don't know where it's been as she chokes
with laughter and says
tastes like the back of a cow
to control such a child
she must have known was impossible
a feral cat sleek lovely elusive
licking milk from a bowl
submitting perhaps
to a brief stroking before vanishing back
to the woods
from whose darkness the echoes
of her nightly carousels
destroy sleep

destroy sleep
the look of the mother
who never sleeps
the face which even unconscious
for the body at least
must fail sometime
knows no repose
is constricted
in dread of the blow
to come
not to her
not to the mother
to the child
to the child run loose in the forest
in hunting season

I saw the face
collapsed on my sofa
the half-empty bottle of whiskey
still open
on the kitchen table
where was Gabby I wondered
as I tucked in the blanket
and turned out the light
probably drunker
much drunker I thought
when I sat on my bed
and stared at the window
imagining her
in the night
that stray hunter's bullet
that Gabriel
now five months dead
and half a day buried
once shot off
in a fit of exuberance
or inattention
of this alone we can be certain
at nothing at all

just what he was aiming at
nothing at all
so you see
as I said
the trouble
for to tell a story
one must see a trajectory
the beginning the end the arc of its passage
yet for Gabriel
he began and he ended
was there
almost forty years
it's laid out before me yet
the connections between these points
elude the grasp
so many years
I have tried to tell
no story

that first night we lit out from the party
ten minutes after
our eyes met
I climbed in his truck
and we drove out to the trailer
half an hour on rutted dirt roads
without lights
the guitar in its case sliding back and forth
in the bed of the truck
and I followed him through
the lush darkness of Eden
at night
to sit on the porch smoke pot drink beer from a can
and talk about music
John Coltrane Gram Parsons
Howlin' Wolf
and Icelandic sagas
the Bactrian campaign of Alexander the Great
we smoked too much pot
and drank too much beer from cans
Jesus he said you're going to wash out the hollyhocks
pissing so much off the deck
and I spoke
not turning around
staring up at the stars
as the piss hit the ground
what the hell are you doing here
exactly where
he said
ought I to be
do you think
I turned back the joint glowed at his lips
he smiled
then again it was dark
you know
yes I know he said
and I knew
he had heard it before
and it bored him
and even that night
I had known him six hours
even that night I could already hear him
without asking the questions
and the laugh
for the laugh I had already heard
if you would believe it
there it is

Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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