Shotgun Death, with Dodge and Northern Catalpa

Greg Rappleye Click to

Greg Rappleye’s poems have previously appeared in Shenandoah, and in Poetry, The Southern Review and Virginia Quarterly Review. His second book of poems, A Path Between Houses (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000) won the Brittingham Prize in Poetry. His third, Figured Dark (University of Arkansas Press, 2007) was runner-up for the Dorset Prize and was published in the Miller Williams Poetry Series. He teaches at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

 -Catalpa speciosa

-March 26, 1951

How long have they idled, motor throttled
down, off the two-track, at rest on snow-crust
in his ’47 Dodge, its chrome bumper,
its yellow fog lamps, facing the catalpa tree,
the heater madly whirring against
a night gone entirely cold?
The man at the wheel is her first husband,
the woman who will soon enough
be my mother is seated beside his body,
hand lifting to her lip-sticked mouth,
the air in the Dodge so lit, fully blown
of gun-powder, of sloe gin and cotton wadding,
a waxy shell ejected, clattering
against the right-side dash.
She has bruised an ear drum, she says,
from the blast of that .12 gauge, hammered
flat at close range. This, the shock,
her bedlamic shriek, will muddle her
thoughts, make it hard to hear the coroner,
to understand the parish priest,
to weep sincerely, some whisper, until
his baffled parents order a marker
from the VFW, and drive back to Terre Haute.
How did the pump-action shotgun,
cut to riot-length, its butt at-rest
in the rear foot-well, its coal-blue barrel
angled at the driver’s side of the bench seat—
go off? Who clicked three shells into the magazine,
who racked the pump, and was the safety on?
The detectives who rumble out, sirens
wailing, from the far-off county seat,
who swaddle her in wool blankets,
who smoke Luckies and toe them deftly
into the snow, who light-up her footprints
with flashbulbs and prowl-car spots—
they want only sensible geometry
and a few hard facts, but she cannot say
why her husband placed the shotgun like-so,
why they idled, motor lowing, so long into the dark,
why his cob-yellow brains and bits
of seat-fluff stipple her tight pink sweater
and the blown-out windshield, or why,
high above them, the wintered seed pods
of the catalpa tree—longish, thin,
but for where the adamantine seeds swell
the pods’ tobacco-brown casings—
are splattered with the song-less tongue
and silent lips of that long-rumored,
half-hearted man.