Mourning Dove

by Benjamin Garcia

One shot through the neck was all it took for the dove to go down flat. No flit, not even the tinge of a note. A clean kill, a real beauty. The bird filled my two palms up whole with its body. At the end of my fingers, the neck dipped back, eyes semi-open. And blood dribbled out in rubies.

This close, her eyelids looked larger than I would have imagined. My mother’s eyes were like that the last time I saw her—someone had powdered gunpowder-blue eye shadow to shadow the bruising. She never wore make-up, and now she would never wake up to take it off. A stray bullet sounds as harmless as a stray dog until that dog has you in its jaws.

Ten years old, I took it to my father who worked on the front porch stripping electrical cord from the plastic case, revealing a copper redder than any new minted penny. He would noose one end to the post and scrape as he walked along the yards of wire with his old skinning knife.

Dad looked at the creature in my hands. Then he studied my hands, tracing with his eyes along my arms/chest/neck/face. He asked why I killed such a beautiful thing. After my silence, he put down his knife and walked to the trash. Come here and I’ll teach you what my daddy taught me.

He snatched patches of feathers by pinching his fingers and pulling hard. Hold the bird using only your left hand. Pin the head down good with your thumb. Grab a few feathers with your free hand, then pull up and away from your body—like you’re lighting a match. Got that?

I nodded.

Do it ‘til the bird is clean, weighing it lightly in one hand as if on a scale. This won’t be enough. Keep shooting or she will have died for nothing, before handing me the body.

Benjamin Garcia’s first collection, Thrown Into the Throat (Milkweed Editions, Fall 2020), was selected for the 2019 National Poetry Series by Kazim Ali. His work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in: The Missouri Review, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Kenyon Review, and Crazyhorse. Find him on twitter: @bengarciapoet