by Nick McRae
Deep in a mid-December chill,
frost covers everything—
grass, the vacant sidewalks,
cigarette cans spewing
charred paper and ash—
ice everywhere, so soft and loose
the stinging powder
clings to you like chalk dust.
Everywhere cool grays, browns,
the sharp, singing, dismembered greens
and yellows flecking the mass.
Breath hangs thick and ghostly.
I slouch on a low wall,
each pockmark a tiny bowlful of ice.
And then the quail perches
on the pouting lip of brick.
He rummages flank feathers with his stubby beak,
digging to the skin for some mite to taste.
When I was ten, my brother thirteen, we prowled
our father’s hayfield—found a quail atop a limestone jut.
We shot him, carried him home, victorious.
Grandmother was the first witness,
laughed at us holding the quail by his
tiny claws. I know just what to do, she said.
When she called out,
we ran to see two china saucers,
plucked, skinned, gutted, fried golden. I sampled,
pretended to like it. The meat stringy, tasting of brine.
What is the cost of sunsets so rangy the night
doesn’t know what to do with them?
What of the moles sleeping tenderly
in their baskets of earth?
Frost again. The quail offers me
his darting head triangles,
hops to the grass at my feet,
beaks stale bread crust.
I turn toward home, a quail song in my head.
I made restitution. I didn’t sleep for days.