Bart Galle

My Father's Hands,

Like Birds Themselves

When I was twelve I helped my father clean grouse
in the garage           on a piece of plywood
set across two sawhorses.          With a hatchet
he chopped off           heads, feet, and wings, then tore off
feathers,                     and threw it all in a bucket.

Cradling a body,        he slit it open
                                    to the liver
                                    the gizzard
                   the limp intestinal string

and the rasp of his thumbnail
on the fretwork of the ribs.

He handed me           the little clot of a heart
and guided my fingers on the mysterious crop
kneading the bumps of juniper berries
and grit of roadside gravel picked up the night before.

My hands were numb and red up to the wrists
in a galvanized tub of           icy water,

my father’s hands like birds themselves.

Did death come like a hunter
                                   crashing through the woods?

A frantic leap to flight,              heart clenched,
wings reaching toward an opening in the trees,

a sudden loosening like a string untied,
                          a tumble to the ground?

When a hand reached down to pick you up
                          from the blood-wet leaves,

                          Was it gentle? Did it cradle you?


On Burning Old Maps

I could say it’s because
I finally know my way or
the world has changed again,
but really it’s about coffee
stains, campfire soot, scribbled
notes (I took the canoe),
streams that change their course
because they’re torn and taped,
mute seams that blindly
track their alien grid
across the wilderness,
the accumulated burden
of abandoned plans.
It’s about a map drawer
that won’t close
and the slab of darkness
now within that slides
on rails of clear intent
while the fire burns down
and the everlasting sky
begins to fill with stars.

When a Butterfly Ran Into Me

I knew the wind
had bones. And intent.
And sometimes
drank too much.
Which made for
an interesting tale
if one could
follow its flight.
Orange hawkweed.
Pearly everlasting.
Moss-covered boulder
in a collar of horse hair
fern. Crooked birch
ready to fall
at the foot of a dock
slapped by waves
dragged down the lake
by muscular clouds.
Darkening sky.
And aging human
sitting in a chair,
stubbornly planted
right in the middle
of everything.