Hunting Song


Years gathering scattered drafts,

fragments on scraps, and still

a receipt or napkin sometimes slips

from a book or box.

Just last week, this:


A kestrel fell from the sky

and took the chickadee. I

found a ripped wing in the field,

told you to hold it, to feel

the resistance. Even ripped

from the bird it grips the air.

This is how it is with us.




Another scene that hounds: you

at the table we sanded and stained together,

bowed over words: swaying outside

the window behind you, assault

lilies bent red with blooms: memory,

like dream, like film, sooner or later starts

to warp, to waver: the tongues of lilies

turn to flames hell-bent on erasing

what had been written: there.




Fitful sleep always does the trick,

calls you back. We separate

to throw the hunters, their husk


and skew of shadows, flashlights.

Their leashed beasts growling.

What form will your signal take:


Owl, mourning dove, wolf, hawk?

Sense of watching and being

one of the men who had been hidden,


begin to run. Of course, to each other.

Motion slowing as they draw

closer—are drawn closer?


You want to stop them though

you’ll never wake or reach them

before the deafening report, pity


of doves drumming from the wheat

again. Some dark and gleaming thing

a phone? a weapon? falls to the ground.


Slurred light. Surely, you missed

something. It couldn’t just end

like this, that shadow


slipping between them and the sun.

And us. Of course, it slipped

between the sun and us.

Wayne Johns received the Rane Arroyo prize for his chapbook, The Exclusion Zone, forthcoming from Seven Kitchens Press in Winter 2018. His first collection, Antipsalms, received the Editor's Choice prize from Unicorn Press and is forthcoming in Fall 2018. His poems have appeared in New England Review, Ploughshares, Image, Prairie Schooner, and Best New Poets, among others.